Netherlands Report



It is fair to say that the Netherlands is relatively advanced in the realisation of a WGA if one considers its explicit formulation of policy and its implementation at headquarters level and in the field. Whether this has been a success in practice is harder to establish. The two most prominent examples of the country’s integrated approach – Afghanistan and Mali – have hardly been resounding successes in terms of international interventions. However, on a smaller scale, the Dutch approach has been successful in ensuring greater policy coherence between the different ministries and departments as well as in building trust and confidence by having military and civilian personnel engage in real-world cooperation.
There are a few reasons that can be identified for this relative success. On the political level, there has been commitment to an integrated approach since the early 1990s, particularly among successive ministers for development cooperation. Integrating development cooperation into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1994 meant that joint policies had to be developed to demonstrate the added value of this concept. That, in turn, meant that there was already a solid foundation in terms of policy when the ambitious deployment in Afghanistan put the integrated approach to the test. For the coalition government of the time, the so-called 3D approach to the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) in Baghlan and Uruzgan was useful, as it allowed the coalition parties to stress different aspects of the mission (cf. van der Lijn 2011). The high political profile of the mission meant that there was great pressure from the prime minister on down to make the integrated approach work. Structures were created, compromises were made, and a common language was settled on to make this happen. The frequent debates with parliament meant that the details of the integrated approach were familiar to parliamentarians across the political spectrum, and the importance of this approach became almost axiomatic. Although the Netherlands certainly wasn’t alone in developing this kind of approach, the 3D policy became something of a Dutch brand thanks to the innovative and ambitious way in which it was implemented.
On a working level, the role of the Steering Group Missions and Operations (SMO) was crucial. It allowed for day-to-day management at the highest official level as well as for the resolution of conflicts and friction between the various departments involved. Under the SMO, a range of both inter- and intra-departmental working groups were formed to manage specific aspects of the integrated approach. These working groups – sometimes having a formal mandate and sometimes being more ad hoc in nature – normalised day-to-day contacts with colleagues from other ministries and the cooperation across silos.
In the field, the deployment of significant numbers of diplomats, development experts and police personnel along with a military contingent meant that they had to determine how to apply the integrated approach to practical issues under difficult circumstances. Although this undeniably led to friction and frustration, it also built trust and mutual appreciation. In addition to taking this experience back into their departments and helping to further develop policy, these men and women formed an informal network across ministries and organisations. The value of this practical cooperation is hard to quantify, but it has undoubtedly been important to the internalisation of the integrated approach.
One downside, which can mainly be attributed to the Afghanistan deployment, is that the integrated approach is now strongly associated with military missions. This can potentially be a handicap now that the Netherlands no longer has an ambitious military deployment with an integrated civilian component. Currently, the potential for an integrated approach seems to be most obvious around the nexus of internal and external security – and particularly with the issue of irregular migration. This is mostly a matter of cooperation between different civilian agencies and departments with little military involvement. The existing frameworks for a WGA will therefore need to be adapted in response to these developments.
Looking ahead, the real test of a Dutch whole-of-government approach may be in dealing with the hybrid threats from Russia and the challenges posed by China. These will require a coherent response by a much broader spectrum of ministries and agencies than has been needed in dealing with the external crises and conflicts of the past two decades.
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