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United Nations (UN)

In the past the third constant of Dutch foreign policy,
‘internationalist idealism’ primarily took the form of the promotion of
international law. More recently it has also surfaced in foreign policy
statements and documents in the form of role-conceptions such as
‘example’ and ‘developer’: protecting human rights abroad and providing
aid to developing countries. These activities are pursued primarily, but
not exclusively, within the context of the UN. The peace-keeping
missions of that organisation have also been supported either
financially or militarily (as most recently in what was formerly
Yugoslavia), but that has not been the most conspicuous Dutch
contribution to the UN.

As a result of its historical links to the Boers in South Africa, the
Netherlands voted in 1961 against expelling the country from the UN for
its policy of apartheid, but subsequently the Dutch have become ever
more critical of South Africa. Since 1963 the Netherlands has complied
with a non-mandatory embargo on military supplies to South Africa, and
as a temporary member of the Security Council from 1983 to 1985 it took
the initiative for a resolution boycotting weapons made in South Africa.
The Dutch have also offered financial assistance to victims of
apartheid. The Netherlands has similarly sought to put pressure on South
Africa through the EC.

It is not only in South Africa that the Netherlands has supported the
cause of human rights. The Dutch have always advocated the appointment
of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In terms of governmental
policy, this support is to a degree symbolized in the person of the
Foreign Secretary, Max van der Stoel (1973-7, 1981—2). Streets have been
named after him in Greece and Eastern Europe because of his support for
democrats and dissidents when these countries were still ruled
autocratically.

In the absence of objective and quantifiable indicators it is, however,
difficult to gauge the importance of human rights in Dutch foreign
policy compared with that of other countries. The Dutch preoccupation
with development aid lends itself more readily to cross-national
comparisons. Whether out of a sense of guilt about its colonial past, or
as a modern extension of the churches’ missionary work, the Dutch
attitude towards developing countries borders on tiers-mondisme. The
importance of development aid is probably the one aspect of foreign
policy on which all major parties are most in agreement. Political
disagreement is largely confined to which criteria should be used to
select countries for bilateral aid. Constant among these criteria are
the degree of poverty, the degree to which the indigenous government
puts in an effort of its own, and the existence of an historic
responsibility (i.e., to former colonies such as Indonesia and Surinam).
More controversial are criteria such as respect for human rights
(especially when it conflicts with the historic responsibility for
former colonies turned dictatorial), or the degree to which Dutch
exporting companies can profit from the aid. In 1992 such conflicting
criteria led to an ironic episode in which the Indonesian government
retaliated against Dutch criticism of its human rights’ record by
suddenly announcing that it would no longer accept Dutch development
assistance.

Bilateral aid is not the only element in the Dutch development program.
Multilateral aid constitutes about one third of the total outlays for
development assistance and, officially, is preferred to bilateral aid.
The Dutch minister without portfolio in charge of these matters is
therefore called the Minister for Development Cooperation, rather than
Development Aid. For the same reason the Netherlands is an active
defender of Third World interests within various UN organisations in
this field. As chairman of a UN commission, the Dutch Nobel
prize-winning economist, Tinbergen, was instrumental in setting as a
target for the 1970s that all rich countries spend at least 0.7 per cent
of their national income on development aid. Only Sweden and the
Netherlands met this target before the 1975 deadline. In absolute terms,
the Netherlands spends as much on development aid as the UK.

Too much should not be made of the idealism in Dutch foreign policy. It
is striking that references to Dutch vital national interests are
extremely rare in documents and debates devoted to the country’s foreign
policy. However, this should not be mistaken for political altruism.
Interests and ideals are often compatible, or the ideals are formulated
as ‘aims that are as vague as they are pious’, leaving sufficient leeway
for an interpretation that does no harm to national interests. When
interests and ideals do clash, it is fair to say that, generally
speaking, the Dutch merchant carries more weight than the Galvinist
minister. The example of how the Netherlands adjusted its Middle East
policy after the 1973 oil embargo has already been mentioned. On the
other hand, the idealism is more than mere rhetoric. In 1976 the
government refused to give export guarantees for the sale of nuclear
reactor parts to South Africa; in 1981 the government narrowly escaped
being censured for its rejection of an oil boycott of that country. Most
significantly, development aid, now at over 1.5 per cent of the national
income, is the only chapter of the government’s budget that has escaped
unscathed in budget cutbacks until the early 1990s

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