A Ship Without a Keel


IN THE GENERALLY pacific Dutch capital, the highpoint of the political summer is often the forgotten invitation to an ambassadorial cocktail party or the unreturned phone call. But this past summer in the Hague saw an angry American community denounee the Dutch government and the Peoples Republic of China sever diplomatic relations. Because Holland has long been a close ally of the United States and was one of the first members of the United Nations to recognize the Beijing government, the summer's events beg the question of what this tiny lowland state--traditionally and self-consciously moderate--could have done to offend these behemouths. The answer lies in Dutch government policies which blind it to the international consequences of its domestic actions.

The problem with the Chinese grew out of Holland's considerable economic problems. Like most of western Europe, the Netherlands has experienced an extreme recession; unemployment has hit ten per cent and is rising at the rate of 100,000 per year, a substantial figure in a nation of 14 million people. The crucial ship-building industry, hit hard by Japanese competition, has suffered most of all. So when the Nationalist government of Taiwan approached the largest Dutch ship-building firm with a contract for two submarines in May, the company jumped at the offer and its promise of 3000 jobs. After brief consultations with government officials, the deal was approved.

Peking saw deal as a chance to send some signals to the United States. The Chinese wanted to warn the Americans that they would not appreciate any coziness with the Taiwanese, and they used the Dutch as an unwitting messenger boy. Peking declared that if Holland delivered the submarines to Taiwan, all diplomatic ties between the two nations would end. Confused and shocked, the Dutch government reconsidered the sale but decided it could not afford to lose the 3000 jobs. The Dutch, perhaps thinking the Chinese were bluffing, gave the government a vote of confidence. But the Chinese were serious and pulled out their ambassador. Blunder number one.

The second example concerns America using the Dutch to send a signal--this time to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Holland was a founding member of NATO and despite a reputation for laxity--a long-hair and unionized army--it has always been a solid citizen of the alliance. But the Dutch never took much interest in the politics of the Cold War, hoping that the missiles, if they ever flew, would pass over European soil.

But the new administration in Washington had plans for tactical missiles in Europe. NATO members, including Holland, have been traditionally reluctant to allow the bombs in their homelands, making themselves a target for a Soviet first-strike. So when the Americans once again made clear their intention to install the tactical weapons, the Dutch stood up against the plan. But they neglected to join with any of their European allies in opposition; they now stand alone. West Germany and Sweden might have been willing to present a united front, but the Dutch neglected to ask. So Holland--with its less vocal neighbor, Belgium--now have committed themselves against the missiles and they have no leverage in opposition to Reagan, Blunder number two.


THESE PROBLEMS have been exacerbated by internal bickerings in the government. After 112 days a government has been formed at last, but its life-span is predicted to be brief. Queen Beatrice called for unity and compromise when she opened Parliament on September 15, but the members of the coalition cabinet were already at one another's throats. The government was created only on the condition that certain issues would not even be discussed, let alone resolved. One such issue is the placement of nuclear weapons in Europe. While the majority party, the CDA, favors Reagan's plans, the D'66 and the PvDA, two parties which, absolutely critical to the success of the government, were elected on an anti-nuclear platform. As a result, the Netherlands' government has been entered into a deadlock, leaving it catatonic on the subject of nuclear arms. This frozen state drives the Dutch daily to an increasingly precarious position regarding the U.S.--their most valuable ally.

America has chosen to adopt a particularly hardline view of this matter because of the ambivalence many European nations feel about nuclear weapons. The U.S. now believes Europe is in rebellion and the recent assassination attempt on the American General Kroesin in West Germany has only aggravated the situation. Accusations have even been made that anti-nuclear protests throughout Europe and especially in Holland are secretly Soviet-supported and financed. America has, rightly or wrongly, singled out Holland as the leader of this apparent 'revolt', but she is a leader without support. Important loans and industrial contracts have been held up and the Dutch are powerless to respond. As with the Chinese fiasco, the Dutch, because of diplomatic shortsightedness, have been placed in a damaging predicament now beyond their control.

Holland is apparently unable to comprehend her peculiar place in the international world of politics--too small to dictate independent foreign policy and too large to have its economic and political movements ignored. As a political entity Holland is a relatively young country, formed as a kingdom in 1848, but the Dutch have an ancient cultural and moral heritage which often causes them to be overly vocal. Holland's recent disasters have resulted directly from a lack of vision and planning in the Foreign Office. The new building for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now under construction, seems to lack windows in its design. With hope, this is no symbol of the new Foreign Minister's future perceptiveness, as some politicians have already suggested.

Holland can no longer focus its full attention on its domestic problems for it must at all times be keenly aware of its position in the international community. There are any number of models which it may follow--neutrality like Switzerland; diplomatic union with the Benelux; distasteful, though practical, subservience to the industrial giant neighbor, West Germany. But Holland is currently drifting like a ship without a keel, the captain so concerned with what is in the hold that he may soon find himself and his cargo on the rocks. If the Netherland's political history is not very old, its commercial legacy is long and distinguished, and the Dutch would do well to apply business acumen to their international politics. This might insure success for it is a well known fact that one never gets the better of a Dutchman when it comes to dollars, cents, or, particularly, florins.

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