zaterdag 2 februari 2013

Address by the Dutch Minister of Defence, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, at the Munich Security Conference

From splendid national isolation towards an enhanced ability to act for all

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert
Ladies and gentlemen, friends, colleagues, A debate about the very foundations of trusted institutions is ongoing. Some say these foundations are shaking. The world economy has been facing its worst period in decades. Some say we tend to take our prosperity for granted. Military budget cuts are being made in many countries. Some say Europe is at risk of becoming irrelevant...

But ladies and gentlemen, I say this is an opportunity. It is up to us to turn the corner!

Like NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated last year: the financial crisis is one more reason why we should strive for greater military cooperation. And indeed! It is urgent for us to further optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of our armed forces to further enhance our ability to act.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me be frank. We do not need more headquarters. We do not need more civil servants. We do not need more bureaucracy.

In order to enhance our strength, to maximize the use of our capabilities and to optimize our combined operations, what we do need is leadership, long-term commitment and courage. A pragmatic bottom-up approach.

Of course, international cooperation is already a fact of life. All of us, gathered here today, share a history of combined military operations. And I believe that it is high time we took the next step. International cooperation is not free of obligations and we should start to act accordingly.

Ladies and gentlemen, for most countries, including the Netherlands, international cooperation is no longer a choice but a necessity. Our armed forces are - remarkably - well aware of this notion.

It is at the political level, rather, that we find obstacles to closer cooperation.

International cooperation is - still all too often - perceived as a limitation to sovereignty and national control and admittedly a factor that causes emotions to run high.

Most national parliaments tend to get increasingly involved, pushing more and more for a wide variety of strict conditions, under which our armed forces should operate.

Perfectly understandable as the lives of our men and women are on the line.

As a consequence, however, we are all too often dealing with too many national caveats within one single operation, undermining the efficiency and effectiveness of our missions.

Ladies and gentlemen, the question we have to ask ourselves is should we really fear the loss of sovereignty? Or should we define the concept of sovereignty in a less traditional way? And thus change our perspective?

When we consider our armed forces working effectively within the EU, within NATO, enhancing our ability to act in times of crisis, we can only conclude that international cooperation is beneficial to our sovereignty and security instead.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a different priority in the field of international military cooperation is for us to seriously align our collective requirements and national priorities. That goes for acquisition, training ánd logistical support.

If we are serious about preventing gaps in essential military capabilities, we should end the current practice of making military investments in 'splendid national isolation'.

Rather than counteracting each other, our respective national investments should complement each other. This is of crucial importance in order to, yet again, enhance our ability to act.

Ladies and gentlemen, we should not be afraid to critically address political decisionmaking processes, including the role of our national parliaments. We need to engage the members of parliaments in this debate.

They too should feel ownership when it comes to enhancing our strength, maximizing the use of our capabilities and optimizing our combined operations.

Their inclination to team up with fellow MP’s in partner countries has not yet been up to par with the standard set by our military professionals.

Ladies and gentlemen, in these times of shaking foundations, financial crises and military budget cuts, I would like to conclude by quoting a famous Belgian writer, Willem Elsschot: ”Between dreams and deeds, laws and practical objections remain.’’

Let us prove Elsschot wrong!

(Ministry of Defence, 3 February 2013)

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