Rob de Wijk: The Netherlands can no longer do as the Americans do

The Netherlands should rethink its foreign policy, writes Rob de Wijk.

It was hardly commented on by the press: Australia is focusing on Asia and turning away from Europe. The title of a recent white paper – Australia in the Asian century – says it all and fits in with a wider trend.

President Obama called himself the ‘first Pacific president’, former foreign secretary Clinton said the Asian century determined her policy, and the United States is concentrating its troops in the Pacific. This movement can’t be separated from American attempts to generate oil shale gas or using electric cars in order to put an end to its energy dependency on Africa and the Middle East. In short, the economic balance is shifting in favour of the Far East.


As a result of this geopolitical upheaval, Europe is turning into the Remote West, a relatively prosperous but politically unimportant corner of the world struggling with debt and integration issues. According to France and Germany, the geopolitical changes mean the euro and the European Union cannot be allowed to fail. The European countries will only survive the geopolitical earthquake by working together.

Does the government accord have anything to say about this? Apart from some pro-European noises, the accord has precisely nothing to say about the subject.

Is this a bad thing? Not if we make a start with a new kind of foreign policy. New foundation stones have to be laid, especially now the trans-Atlantic cooperation model is undergoing such drastic change. What will come in its place? More Europe? More cooperation with former colonies like Indonesia, which, unlike the Netherlands, is now part of the G20? Or are we just going to see where the current takes us?

I don’t think foreign minister Frans Timmermans will let this happen. He has a diplomatic background and knows that cooperation is the key to influence, prosperity and security.


The government accord is not completely devoid of ideas. The most important passage is the one in which the government calls for a rapid development of alternative energy sources, such as solar power, biomass and geothermal energy, in order to deal with the consequences of climate change and the depletion of raw materials.

Here in a nutshell is the recognition of the fact that the world is changing fast. Moreover, emerging powers are putting a brake on solving the climate problem and are hogging the already scarce resources which are also becoming a battleground. China and Japan are currently in dispute over a few uninhabited islands that are sitting on top of undersea oil and gas fields.

The Australian white paper should serve as an example to the Dutch government. Not that the Netherlands should focus its economic efforts completely on Asia but as an example of strategic thinking. One thing is certain. The Netherlands has to adapt. It can no longer do as the Americans do. It has to stand on its own two feet, if only to become more influential in Europe.


Rob de Wijk is a professor of International Relations at Leiden University and director of the Centre of Strategic Studies HCSS in the Hague

This article was published earlier in Trouw


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