Short Title: “The Dutch Government Collapse, No Yawning Matter”
Judging from the number of comments in response to my “Back-to-Back Dutch Government Crises: First Iraq, Now Afghanistan,” and to subsequent updates on the collapse of the Dutch coalition government over the weekend, the reaction was one big yawn.
On the surface, such indifference on our part might be justified.
The politics in the Netherlands, some will say, don’t have that much of an impact on the rest of the world, or on the United States.
European governments are “collapsing” all the time. In the Netherlands, this will be fifth minority cabinet headed by Prime Minister Balkenende since 2002. None of his previous coalition governments completed their full four-year terms.
Finally, Balkenende’s resignation will most likely be declined by Queen Beatrix; Balkenende will continue to “do what is in the nation’s interest”; new elections will probably be held by May (the Queen should make a decision on this in the next several days), and everything will then be back to “normal.” Or will it?
As discussed in my post, this latest crisis, and government collapse, was caused by a serious disagreement within the Dutch government over extending the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan beyond December 1, 2010.
Back in 2007, the Dutch parliament agreed to extend the Dutch military mission in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan (or Oruzgan) under the condition that the last Dutch troops would be out of Afghanistan by the December 2010 date
Last week, NATO asked Prime Minister Balkenende to maintain a smaller contingent of Dutch troops—between 500 and 700—in Afghanistan for an additional eight months. The Netherlands currently has close to 2,000 troops serving in Afghanistan.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos of the Dutch Labor Party reaffirmed his promise to the Dutch voters to bring the troops home as scheduled.
After marathon talks into early Saturday-morning failed to bring an agreement on the issue, Balkenende announced that the labor Party was quitting the government coalition—in effect, the “collapse” of the government.
Today, Balkenende announced that he expects Dutch troops to come home as expected (by December of this year), unless something else “takes its place.” Many sources now say that the departure of the Dutch troops from Afghanistan appears to be inevitable.
But why is this latest Dutch government crisis—this latest collapse—not a “yawning matter”?
First, this development comes at a critical time when NATO and the U.S. step up the offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marja.
It also comes at a time when the U.S. and NATO are hoping that the allies will add as many as 10,000 more troops, mainly from Germany and France, to the Afghanistan mission. Instead it could result in even fewer European troops augmenting NATO in Afghanistan—a setback for the Obama administration.
According to a Wall Street journal article Friday, Germany and France have “largely rebuffed the U.S. requests, with France sending 80 new troops and Germany committing to 500 reinforcements while reiterating plans to begin withdrawing next year.”
It is not a yawning matter because, as the New York Times puts it in an article today, this immediately raises fears “that the Western military coalition fighting the war [is] increasingly at risk.”
In the Times article we read:
The question plaguing military planners was whether a Dutch departure would embolden the war’s critics in other allied countries, where debate over deployment is continuing, and hasten the withdrawal of their troops as well.
Also, the words of Julian Lindley-French, professor of defense strategy at the Netherlands Defense Academy in Breda:
If the Dutch go, which is the implication of all this, that could open the floodgates for other Europeans to say, “The Dutch are going, we can go, too”…The implications are that the U.S. and the British are going to take on more of the load.
While the war in Afghanistan has been increasingly unpopular in the Netherlands, and in other countries in Europe, “the tension in the Netherlands also reveals how deep the fissures over the war have grown within the NATO alliance,” according to the Times.
The Times also mentions that, as the number of Dutch military casualties in Afghanistan has increased — 21 soldiers have died —“the public back home has grown increasingly resentful at the refusal of some other allies, in particular the Germans, to join the intense fighting in the south.”
But on a positive note:
Although American officials are concerned that an exodus by the Dutch could prompt other allies to follow suit, a sudden rush to exit seemed unlikely