Leadership: What's Worth Fighting For


February 7, 2006: The Dutch are having a hard time deciding what's worth fighting for. The Netherlands, as part of NATO, is obliged to send another contingent of 1,400 troops to Afghanistan. Unlike earlier Dutch contingents, this one would head south, into Taliban country. This creates more risk for the Dutch troops. In Kabul, they patrolled a largely peaceful city. In the south, there are plenty of hostile people with guns. An opinion poll in January, 2006, found that 45 per cent of the Dutch favored sending the troops south, while 47 per cent were opposed. While anti-Americanism is high in Europe, the Dutch has some historical baggage causing them to resist participating in Afghan peacekeeping. The most recent item was a 1995 incident, where a battalion of Dutch infantry stood aside as Serb troops killed over 7,000 Moslems the Dutch were protecting at Srebrenica. Going back to World War II, the Dutch put up an ineffective defense when the Nazis invaded in 1940. Thereafter, many Dutch cooperated with the Nazis, and thousands volunteered to serve with the German armed forces in the war against Russia.

During the Cold War, the Dutch dutifully provided forces for the common defense of Western Europe, against the Russian armies massed along the Iron Curtain. The Dutch were often criticized for some of their practices, like a union for their troops, and long haired soldiers. But Dutch troops always excelled in military competitions and exercises. The Dutch have a long and impressive military tradition. Even after their experience in World War II, everyone expected them to fight if the Russians invaded. But then the Cold War ended, and the United States and Europe drifted apart on the subject of what was worth fighting for.

Many Dutch believe sending their troops to Afghanistan, to do "hard" (dangerous) peacekeeping, will just make it easier for the United States to continue peacekeeping in Iraq. Many Dutch believe the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and that the United States running around, removing dictators from power, is a threat to world peace. At the same time, many Dutch feel that their soldiers should have a chance to show that they can do the right thing in peacekeeping. So do many Dutch soldiers. The massacre at Srebrenica caused a lot of soul searching, and it was considered a very shameful incident.

The Dutch parliament eventually approved sending Dutch troops to Afghanistan, but in order to get the votes, agreed to impose a very restrictive "rules of engagement" (ROE). This, of course, was the main cause of the disaster at Srebrenica. Thus the Dutch are setting themselves up for another embarrassing situation.


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