Speech Hans Hillen: Defense, The basis of prosperity
Your excellencies, especially our host, dear mr. Darius Semaska, ladies and gentlemen, it’s good to gather with allies and friends. In general, receptions and parties are there to celebrate happy occasions. Glasses are raised to wish each other well, and soft music adds to an atmosphere of cheerfulness.
Although the company here present mingles excellently in various ways, the reason to meet today is not a joyfull one. Of course we are among friends, there are sounds of laughter and one overhears funny stories. But the theme that brings us together to-day is concern. Not only concern about international relations, concern about Russia, concern about the Euro, concern about the Middle East. No, most of all concern about ourselves. Are we really in the right condition to perform?
Until now, this new century did not deliver what we had ordered, such as love and happiness in the Age of Aquarius. On the contrary, she shaked our self-confidence heavier than we ever could have imagined. 9/11, Madrid and London, the Credit Crunch, an Arabic Spring, or should I say Arabic Fall, and on top of that the take-over of the Crimea by Russia and the first signs of political frost, while we figured that the Cold War was definitly over. Taken all together we are deprived from our certainties in many ways.
We are not in control
I hate to say, but we are not in control. All those crises happened to us and we were not prepared. That’s a nasty conclusion, but I’m afraid it is quite so. The outcome of an assault depends not only on the strength of the attaquer, but also on the readiness of relevant counterweights. One could look angry towards the usurpator, but one also should raise questions to those others. What were the odds? What did you do to prevent this? Why wasn’t he daunted? To-day I will not try to analyse all those disruptions in our time by blaming the enemy. I’m not going to bash Russia nor will I criticize fanatic fundamentalism. To-day I invite you to come with me and look into the mirror.
I’d like to start with a non military item, the Credit Crunch. As we all know this shake-up of our complete monetary, fiscal and financial system was not caused by intruders from outside. Our own system of freedom, international trade, liberal banking, yes our very own economy, that mighty and impressive locomotive of western prosperity, was nearly blasted from inside. Cues were: greed, presumption, gambling and arrogance. Again, we may look for the guilty. But how could we be harmed so painfully, yes almost perilously? There was lack of surveillance, so they say. Maybe so, but apparantly there was also lack of self control, lack of moral behaviour.
Have we delt with this dangerous virus in the meantime? Will it not happen again? For sure? Is modesty the new sign of our financial centers? Is decency the last hype? Or do we need ever more control and inspection, ever more rules and regulations? And, if so, is the general idea that all is permitted which isn’t forbidden explicitly? Are we prepared, are we really willing to fight the lethal virusses that we carry inside? Can we proudly present our democratic and economical system to other countries, pointing out that it really is sound and self-disinfecting?
The picture in the mirror is not very convincing. But let’s look onward. Let’s turn to the military. What is our shape? Do we impress? O certainly, but formost because of legacy from the cold war era and because of the mighty presence of the United States. But if we look to Europe itself? For some 25 years now, Defense expenditure is a privileged and high esteemed donator to the treasury. Well-being and wellfare became top priorities in western society. But isn’t security the foundation of prosperity? As we know these days, the end of the cold war did not bring the end of military violence, terror or expansion. But couldn’t we foresee this? Or did we regard ourselves as invulnerable? Why did we not measure the big ungoing changes in terms of security? I will only mention some of them. The enormous and growing need for energy, worldwide. The ever growing population. The massive migration movements. Moslem fundamentalism. The climate change. Refering to this phenomenon: if the arctic will be navigable and the huge mineral resources are to be exploited: does one really believe that the only thing to worry about will be the possible ecological damage?
Our world has to deal with big challenges, big interests, big influences big risks and big consequences. Yes, it is the big time for the prophet Jeremiah. Let us pay tribute to him. He noticed the changes and the human behaviour in his days. And he prophetized disaster. Not because of outside threats, but because of internal bad shape. Nobody payed attention. When in the end Jeruzalem was destroyed, he was left alone in a burnt city. I will not predict that things will go wrong inevitibly. But imitating him I call upon our society to recognize the signals of our modern times. Are we really in good shape? Can we perform better?
I call upon NATO to think deeper and more intense on the geopolical challenges of our time and how to respond to it. It seems that we were taken by surprise by all the threatening events of past years. We didn’t foresee them. At first, we didn’t know how to react. We didn’t think and act really united. Whether it was the Arabic Spring or moslem fundamentalism or Syria or the Ukraine. Over more than a decade we brought many billions of money and all together millions of military into Afghanistan and in the end we notice only a tiny output. A not all too united NATO forced regime change in Lybia and ever since it is a failed state. Good show. The same coalition neglected the support of both Russia and China to a Security Council’s resolution on Lybia and harvested Russian and Chinese distance when Syria was at stake.
European politicians demonstrated in the streets of Kiev, but when the Russian bear started to grumble Europe wasn’t ready to react. Suppose mr. Lavrov in those days all of a sudden had popped up in the eastern part of Berlin, marching along in some nostalgia Ossie demonstration? We would have suspected all kinds of serious things behind that. But we underline the abstention of whatever intentions, when our foreign minister Frans Timmermans was seen in the Kiev rallies.
Do we have a well-considered and well-balanced answer to the question how to associate with the Russian people. Is the Russian Bear vicious? And if so, is he vicious by nature or nurture? Or maybe he is not vicious at all but he regards clawing, grumbling and biting as for hi mto be the most succesful way of communicating, drawing attention or getting recognition. Is it in our interest to have a dangerous and not predictable enemy at our borders? Can we afford this? Are there other ways-out? Ways-out in the interest of both parties? Both our presences are there and cannot be wiped out, not even with military means. How to deal with those countries who buffer between Russia and western Europe? When the Soviet Union collapsed, the essential nucleus, and that was Russia, lost much influence. These days Russia is looking for a new balance. That may be hazardous, but how do we influence this process when for instance we carry on inviting Russian neighbours to join the western hemisphere? Couldn’t we agree on a cooling off period for some time?
After the Crimea and the shooting of a plane with Dutch civilians Europe announced a boycott. Was this the firm answer? Was this the right answer? A boycott sounds severe, but why damage commercial ties which are important means of interdependence. Interdependence was the magic word for Europe to unite after World War II. What was the line of thoughts? Just: for heavens sake, do something? I guess this boycott will harm us more than Russia. It is harming our own export positions, giving way to competitors from elsewhere to take over our positions. Lots of questions, not too much answers. Again, looking into the mirror, I notice too much a glazed look when geopolitical questions are at stake.
Prosperity doesn’t come or stay by itself. We have to work on it. And, as I mentioned, security is an essential condition for economic growth and human well-being. Still we cut and we reduce military expenses year after year. When I was a minister for Defense here in The Netherlands it was estimated that the expenditure for cure and care alone would rise with twice my complete budget. I had to deliver nearly one billion euros out of eight and the budget for health was granted some 16 billlions in the then forseeable four years. And nobody seemed to care. Looking into the mirror I notice too little awareness of the costs of security. The costs of environment are well taken into account when we are striving for economical growth and therfore we are prepared to pay that price. Developing the weaker countries is in the interest of the global society and moreover we regard this also as the white man’s, or should we say the European’s burden. So we pay that price as well. We are a little bit too late on that, so we are now confronted with massive migration from the south and south east and mainly because of economic ambitions. Let us agree that we will not be a little bit too late when security is at stake. We should stop economizing the budgets for Defense. We should organize and raise funds for a well considered huge European Defense investment plan.
Of course we must integrate our military planning, efforts, training and investments. But therefore we sincerely need a fundamental national parliamentary debate on modern sovereignity. One cannot invest and train together and not deliver together when the game is on. Each plea for more European Defense cooperation is not to be taken seriously as long as the sovereignity case isn’t taken into account.
Ladies and gentlemen. I took the freedom of inviting you to look along with me into our own mirror. To-day I preferred not to blame others, but to have a good look at ourselves. The pictures that were drawn were not complete. They were impressions. Nevertheless I notice lots of possibilities to improve.
To improve ourselves, to begin with.
To accept reality and stop lingering on in self-evident wellfare.
To improve our emanation.
To imagine ourselves more often in other’s eyes.
To observe more intensely and to try to understand and foresee.
To concentrate more on geopolical questions.
And finally to invest seriously in security.
Not only to protect when necessary but also to discourage others at first. Our Defense expenditure is the basis for security and therefore for prosperity and economic growth. Let’s pay that price with pleasure, for it is a well invested insurance premium.
The Hague, 31 October 2014
Former Minister for Defense in the Netherlands
De Bijeenkomst op de ambassade werd geiniteerd door de Coalition for Defense, partner van het Defensie-Platform.