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Security requires diplomacy and international cooperation

05 Dec 2016 - 16:35
Source: US Mission Geneva/flickr

Investing in armed forces is back in fashion. Since the end of the Cold War the foreign policy of many West European countries, including the Netherlands, seemed to be based on three assumptions: wars between European countries were something of the past, wars outside Europe were of no direct concern to Europe and, anyway, the United States would come to the rescue if things would go wrong.

These assumptions were build on wishful thinking, but they provided the Netherlands government a welcome excuse to focus its diplomacy on economic interests, to economize on international cooperation and to neglect its armed forces. Indeed, when one believes that foreign policy is mainly about promoting economic interests, why invest in armed forces?

Now the Russian military involvement in Ukraine, the flood of refugees from the South, the terroristic threat in Europe and ominous remarks of the next president of the United States, have disproved all three assumptions.

As a result, the requirements of an effective army are taken seriously again. This makes sense (although it remains to be seen whether the necessary funds will indeed be made available), but it is not sufficient.

First of all, a well-trained and well-equipped army is an instrument of security policy, not a substitution for diplomacy. On the contrary, an arms build-up can be destabilizing, unless it is combined with a simultaneous investment in diplomacy and arms control. The stronger the forces, the greater the need is of cooperation with potential adversaries to prevent brinkmanship and misunderstanding with potentially grave consequences.

Cooperating with non-likeminded countries is probably the most difficult part of diplomacy, but also the most essential part. It cannot be handled as a footnote to economic diplomacy. It requires long-term investment in personal relations, in knowledge and in institutions.
Secondly, increasing the defence budget will do little to address the root causes of international insecurity. To address poverty, bad governance, corruption, climate change, etc. it is essential to increase investments in international cooperation.

However, during the last few years the Netherlands government has gone in an opposite direction by systematically lowering the budget for international cooperation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) has in a written opinion (Briefadvies toekomst ODA - only in Dutch) justly criticized the Dutch government on this point.

Investment in defence should therefore be combined with stronger investment in diplomacy and international cooperation.