Dutch Afghanistan stance an embarrassment for former NATO chief

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Dutch Afghanistan stance an embarrassment for former NATO chief

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Euronews interviewed the former NATO Secretary General (2004-2009), Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in The Hague, about his country’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

Olaf Bruns, euronews: “Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, what was your first reaction to the fall of your country’s government over the question of Dutch military participation in the mission in Afghanistan, which was one of the major NATO commitments while you were heading the alliance?”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “Well, I was of course very disappointed, to put it mildly, because in Afghanistan we now see a coalition of I think 46 nations and I think it was rather embarrassing to see that the government was not able to decide about the continuation of the Dutch presence in Uruzgan province, in the southern part of Afghanistan.”

euronews: “Are people in Europe or in North America becoming less prepared to accept far away — missions which can lead to casualties who are their fellow citizens?”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “Yes, I think the battle – if I might use that expression – for the hearts and minds, for support in the troup-contributing nations has proven to be a very complicated one, and I must admit that also during my five and a half years in Brussels as NATO Secretary General we [were] not able to fully convince public opinion in general why we are there.”

euronews: “But can you understand people’s anger?”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “I can. I can, because many soldiers – NATO soldiers, Dutch soldiers — 23 I think at the moment — have paid the highest price. And I had the obligation as NATO Secretary General to explain to the mothers and the loved ones of those soldiers who had paid the highest price that they did not die in vain. So there is, I think, a moral element in this as well, which presents an obligation for politicians — not only here in the Netherlands but elsewere as well — to defend our presence, to defend it vigorously, and to defend it on a permanent basis.”

euronews: “Many of your Dutch fellow citizens don’t want to stay involved in Afghanistan; in the election campaign there was almost no good word to be heard about the European Union; immigration has [also] become a major controversial topic. Is this open and tolerant country turning away from the world?”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “There is a tendency, I can’t deny it — and I think it’s a wrong tendency and I’ll fight it as long as I can — that the Dutch think, that many political parties think, we are rather safe behind our dikes, so why should we permanently be active on the world scene? Why should we be interested in foreign policy, interested in the European Union or NATO? My answer to those critics always is [that] the Dutch, and the Netherlands, has a lot of ‘abroad’ [comparing country’s size to that of other international players]. We are a small nation or medium-sized nation; we have a lot of ‘abroad’ and the problem [is that] if you hide your heads behind the dikes, nobody will see you, and nobody will take your arguments seriously.”