Friday, May 2, 2014

A Dutch Take on The World

I spent this morning at a breakfast talk where the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans gave a talk on his view of recent events and the Transatlantic relationship.*  He was pretty open and quite interesting.  He did a nice job of tying Canada and Netherlands together, given their history, although I doubt that Canada is closer to the Netherlands and to the U.S..  However, more friction in the latter relationship precisely because of the proximity.
*  I am pretty sure I can post a summary and my reactions since (a) no one mentioned Chatham House rules; and (b) there were media folks there.

Timmermans argued that we need to focus on and behave according to our values, which would strengthen our claims, reduce the hypocrisy accusations that Russia and its friends raise.  This suggests that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Iraq still undercut the US and its efforts, along with Snowden, which he mentioned indirectly.

Timmermans tied the left and the far right together in their anti-Americanism, which then leads to support for Russia.  Indeed, much of the talk addressed this rise of the far right and its anti-EU, anti-US stances.  A key difference, he asserted, between Canada and Europe is not just tolerance of immigrants and minorities but integration of difference.  He must not have watched Quebec very closely.

Timmermans referred to the age-old tendency to look to others to blame and then dehumanize: Jews then, Muslims now.  Indeed.  Anyhow, he was explaining something that had been puzzling--support in Europe for Putin.

He focused on need to fight Russia's propaganda--that the elites of Europe (and elsewhere) need to do a better job of explaining to their peoples what is at stake.  

A fun point: that Germany took a step in the EU that Russia would never do its faux economic bloc: be willing to be outvoted and expect losing on important issues.  

We may have seen the end of defence cuts but probably not the start of increased defence spending.

Timmermans raised smart defence obliquely, saying that countries need to overcome their concerns about sovereingty and cooperate more efficiently on defence.  I chose not to poo-poo this.

His stance on Ukraine in NATO?  Not good for Ukraine, as it would be divisive and not good for NATO.  He sees Ukraine as bridge between EU and Russia.  

Finally, Timmermans made a good point--that the lesson of Ukraine for Iran is: give up your nukes and bad things will happen.  Um, second time given lesson of Libya is the same.  

Anyhow, it was an interesting morning that got me thinking about a bunch of different things.  Tis fun living in a national capital.

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