By Nate Thayer
July 23, 2014
Today, we are all Dutch.
The Netherlands taught everyone today by example how to be a proper member of the global community. After a week of depressing ring side seats to the darker face of man, government, and politics, the Dutch reminded us that there are two different faces of humanity.
Declaring today a day of mourning to honor the dignity of man, tens of thousands of Dutch turned out on behalf of the citizens of the properly organized world, in addition to and equally representing the aspirations of the citizens unfortunate enough not to be governed by the Dutch and their moral allies.
The performance of the Netherlands today bypasses any inclination to avoid sounding trite.
Of the 298 people who died aboard the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight in airspace over the Russian instigated and controlled conflict in Ukraine, 193 were Dutch. But to the Dutch, it didn’t matter who were in these 40 caskets who arrived in Holland today.
Today, the Dutch came together in a spontaneous and unanimous show of unity for respecting the dignity of man, and they led the world by example.
For the record, the breakdown of nationalities was: 192 Dutch; 44 Malaysians; 28 Australians; 12 Indonesians; 10 Britons; 4 Germans; 4 Belgians; 3 Vietnamese; 3 Filipinos; 1 American; 1 Canadian; 1 New Zealander; 1 Hong Kong Chinese.
But nobody knew who were in those caskets that arrived by Dutch military airplanes today, and the Dutch didn’t care.
The Dutch have not forgotten their own role in modern era war crimes. It was Dutch military contingents who were responsible for the territory of Srebrenica under United Nations control in Bosnia when the worst war crimes in Europe since world war two took place. After Srebrenica, Martin Sommer, a columnist for the leading Dutch paper De Volkskrant, said, “people do not trust other nations when it’s about their body bags”.
After today, I would disagree. I trust the Dutch.
With the poignancy, restraint, patience, and determination which marked the response of the Netherlands, their tremendous show of Dutch character, the decorum shown by the representatives of their government, the dignified deployment of their military on behalf of their people, the Dutch personified how to be a properly organized member of the world community of shared values by according calculated priority and unflinching respect to the rights of the dignity of their citizens.
Can there be any greater difference between the Dutch reaction and that of its antithesis, Vladimir Putin, and his Russian separatist controlled territory in Ukraine?
Six days after the disaster, the first bodies of the women and children and civilians left territory under the control of a Russian worldview of government.
Only Russia and its separatist proxy army has defended and excused the desecration of the crime scene of mass deaths of civilians representing the world community, a real time manifestation of the imperial ambitions combined with national inferiority and insecurity complex of Russia.
The insults to the dignity of dead women, children, family, civilians of the world community in the fields of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to the honor and respect of the individual dignity of man being accorded those same civilians in the Netherlands today.
Holland accorded the dead the respect and dignity of military honors, the opposite of that which was given to them by the military buffoonery and thuggery of Moscow and their pro Russian Ukrainian separatists.
“I was shocked at the pictures of utterly disrespectful behavior at this tragic spot. It’s revolting,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
He was right, of course.
The real world theater show cased the different approach to politics, the rights of man and individuals, justice, and humanity.
In Holland it is a national day of mourning.
In Russia it should be a national day of sober reflection, if not shame.
The differences go well beyond the air tragedy in eastern Ukraine.
Putin, in contrast, is focused on supporting naked military aggression and using the apparatus of the state to abuse any opponents on any issue, domestic or foreign, showing no respect for the rights of man, and getting personally rich at the expense of the common good.
Indeed, Russia to this day denies supporting the insurgency which, in truth, is made up of members of Russian security services, trained by the Russian military, funded with Russian money, and armed with Russian weapons.
But the ugly uncomfortable truth is that 80% of Russians support Putin.
The price for supporting his attempts at being a legitimate member of the global community should be commensurate. Harsh economic sanctions should be employed as both punishment and re-education to dispel the delusion that the global community will tolerate, little less welcome, such despotic thuggery into the community of nations.
The unimpressive truth is that the Russian economy is smaller than that of Italy. Putin has nothing to offer beyond the tactics of a schoolyard bully.
The bodies of those killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash reached Ukrainian government-controlled territory, leaving a Russian controlled war zone en route to the Netherlands after delays and haphazard treatment and belicose and impotent Russian resistance. The crash site itself, in farmland held by the pro-Russian separatists, remains unsecured six days after the disaster.
But Russian president Vladimir Putin has remained unrepentant and combative, lashing out at Ukraine’s military, and encouraging ludicrous conspiracy theories to take the focus off Moscow.
The world would benefit by going beyond this moment of silence and explore how the Netherlands has addressed issues of the rights of civilians, its citizens, and the often dirty work of compromise in navigating foreign policy.
The Australians are calling it “Operation Coming Home.” The aircraft’s black boxes, after a tortuous and embarrassing week long amateur hour, were handed over to representatives of the Malaysian government, who sent them to British air disaster investigators, who are working with representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, all in cooperation with the Dutch Safety Board.
This is how a cooperative world in communal grief acts.
The general, shared responsibility is understood by everyone but the Russian government and their allies.
Dutch foreign policy was once characterized as based on “peace, profits and principles.”
As a foreign policy instrument, the use of its armed forces is not a primary choice; instead it is the strengthening of international rule of law and multinational organizations to create stable and peaceful international relations.
While historically the Netherlands had been a neutral state, since the second World War it has promoted multi laterilsim as the centerpiece of organization of world power and stability. But what really distinguishes the Netherlands is its focus on transatlantic relations to keep its independence from the major continental powers.
But as Europe is no longer the first strategic priority in security of the Americans and defense matters, the Netherlands tries to find a new balance between traditional transatlanticism, which is embodied in NATO and the European Security and Defense Policy.
But the rest of Europe doesn’t appear ready to take moral leadership. The British aren’t going to give up the billions of dollars that has been invested by Russian oligarchs who they give sanctuary to. And the French are going ahead selling $1.2 billion in warships to Russia, unwilling to subordinate its money interests to greater European strategic security.
It was only 300 years ago that the Netherlands was arguably the most formidable power in the World.
Dutch aversion to power politics and its priority with consensus seeking are centuries old.
It’s extraordinary wealth obtained through foreign trade and a powerful navy to protect its commercial interests, the Dutch still refrained from abusing it its power and wealth and were disinterested in territorial expansion.
The Dutch have always been focused on making money in the global marketplace and their commercial interests prompted them to refrain from partisan affiliation with other nation’s political quarrels.
While sometimes labelled as proponents of pacifism, the Dutch are no pacifists, having fought many colonial wars, but have avoided big power conflicts through embracing international law as an important national central policy for the last half a century.
The Dutch commitment to international law and multi-lateral consensus can be traced to the 17th century and Hugo Grotius, one of the founders of international law.
This legal tradition is reflected in The Hague being the world capital of international law. A centuries-old tradition of rule of law has made the Netherlands the home of the International Court of Justice, Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, and the headquarters of the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Abandoning a national policy of a neutral foreign policy after world war 2, they embraced and led the move toward multi lateral organizations of international power, and were among the original proponents of the European Union, NATO, the UN, the OSCE, and the World Bank, among others.
This was supported by its economic weight: at present the world’s 11th economic power and 6th export nation, and economic health means stability. Only a stable Dutch economy allows Holland to avoid becoming a minion of greater powers.
The Dutch have an uncanny ability to get along well with most anyone. Netherlands – United States relations were described by George W. Bush as “brother nations” and by Barack Obama as “closest friends which friendship will never die”.
Obama said that, “Without the Netherlands there wouldn’t be a United States of America as everyone knows it now”.
He isn’t just puffing smoke.
The U.S. partnership with the Netherlands dates back to the American Revolution. The Dutch colonial settlement of New Amsterdam later became New York City. The present-day flag of New York City is based on the previous flag of Holland. The Netherlands was the first foreign country to recognize the American Flag in 1776 and the first nation to recognize the United States as an independent country. On 19 April 1782, John Adams was received by the States General in The Hague and recognized as the Ambassador of the United States of America. Adams purchased a residence in The Hague which became the first American embassy in the world. The bilateral ties share a common commitment to individual freedom and human rights.
The Netherlands is the fifth-largest direct foreign investor in the United States and the United States is the third-largest direct foreign investor in the Netherlands.
The shared history and values between the Netherlands and the US typically form the basis, in the minds of the Dutch public and policy-makers alike, of the relationship between the two countries. While recognizing that the US remains a vital ally for the Netherlands, and that common values are an important asset in the Dutch-US relationship, the Netherlands does not base its American ties on deference to anyone. The Dutch recognize that American bilateral relations are based on realpolitik and that when the chips are down, American attitudes are determined by direct American interest only.
Today, we got a glimpse of how, when the chips are down, Dutch interests, if not determined by, reflect that of the world.