Providing the tools for foreign policy: the Dutch government's presence abroad

August 16, 2017 - nr.32
Advice request

Urgent request for advice: ‘Providing the tools for foreign policy: the Dutch government’s presence abroad’

As a medium-sized power, with an open society and an open economy, and a historically rooted global mindset, the Netherlands is highly dependent on the world beyond its borders. The wide array of external challenges has a considerable, direct impact on the Netherlands and its citizens.

The influence of developments abroad on security, prosperity and sustainability in the Netherlands is changing in nature and increasing in scope.

The security of the Netherlands and Dutch citizens is directly influenced by an increasingly assertive Russia, fragile and failed states on the fringes of Europe, terrorism, cyber- and hybrid threats, the rise of ‘illiberal democracies’, a considerable increase in the influence of non-state actors (including hostile ones) on foreign policy, and increasing foreign influence (undesirable or otherwise) on the Dutch sociopolitical system.

Our prosperity is highly dependent on exports, which are being affected by the ‘rise of the rest’ and an economic shift to Asia, on the consequences of Brexit, and on protectionist tendencies, as well as on opportunities to tap into new markets.

The sustainability of our society is being influenced by the geopolitical consequences of climate change, the population explosion in Africa, humanitarian crises and inequality, and the migration flows that result from these developments.

In keeping with its traditions, the Netherlands has sought to respond to these issues, which directly impact Dutch society, by way of a strong transatlantic relationship, strengthening the multilateral system, and European cooperation. However, many people are now uncertain about the transatlantic relationship, while the multilateral (liberal democratic) system which arose following the Second World War and the universality of certain organising principles – such as human rights and international law – are the subjects of intense debate. These organising principles, which underpin a level playing field and international free trade agreements, are essential to the Netherlands’ economic interests. Cooperation within the EU is intensifying, with the interests at stake for the Netherlands becoming ever greater. Issues on the agenda are also increasingly becoming the subjects of political controversy, both at home and abroad, in Brussels and in other European capitals. In a Union of 28 member states, negotiation no longer just takes place around the table in Brussels, but also between capital cities. The quality of the information at a country’s disposal helps determine the effectiveness of its position going into negotiations.

All of this requires the Netherlands to operate actively and flexibly abroad, both in multilateral forums and bilaterally, in order to protect Dutch interests and promote and defend our value system.

In light of the above, the government would ask the Advisory Council on International Affairs to provide an advisory report that addresses the following three questions:

  1. How should the Dutch government be equipped in order to effectively serve Dutch interests abroad and promote Dutch values in a rapidly changing international environment? What does the Netherlands require in order to do this?
  2. Is the Dutch government’s presence abroad, that is to say the mission network (embassies, permanent representations, consulates-general and Netherlands Business Support Offices), sufficiently equipped to operate effectively in a rapidly changing international environment?
  3. With that in mind, has the Netherlands set up Dutch missions in the appropriate locations (countries/cities/organisations)? What gaps are there from a geographic or thematic perspective?  
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