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Lessons of the MH17 disaster revisited

27 Jun 2017 - 14:56

On 17 July 2014 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in eastern Ukraine. All the 298 people on board were killed, including 196 Dutch nationals. This opinion presents an analysis on lessons learned and what action the Dutch government needs to take in view of the results of the ongoing investigation to the tragic combination of circumstances that led to the crash of flight MH17, nearly three years ago.

The crash was the result of the unfortunate coincidence of four factors. If only one of the following four factors would have been absent, the crash would probably not have taken place:

- the use by commercial airlines of the airspace above Eastern Ukraine;
- the availability of BUK missiles to the separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine;
- the interference of Russia in Ukraine;
- the incompetence and corruption of Ukrainian governments.

The MH17 disaster was caused by the collision of the airplane with an exploding missile and made possible by the Russian military interference in Ukraine. But at a more abstract level the crash was the collision of two different worlds, a world where people cross borders to trade and cooperate with people on the other side and a world where people bomb and kill people on the other side.

The investigations of the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigation Team both deal with the technical questions: What exactly happened? Who is responsible? and How to avoid the risks of flying above a country in conflict? These are important questions, but they should not make us lose sight of the fundamental problems that led to the disaster. These problems have so far received far less attention of the Netherlands government.

For some time, the Dutch government has cherished the illusion that diplomacy is something of the past and that foreign policy is little more than promoting short term national interests. As a result it has sometimes yielded to the temptation to behave as a passive consumer rather than as a co-owner of the international order. However, diplomacy is clearly not something of the past and the promotion of a just international order should be the cornerstone of an active Dutch foreign policy.