Before I start, I would like to make two brief introductory remarks. First of all, I am very honoured and pleased to be here and to be able to speak to you. Secondly, I am not a politician, or a diplomat, and I am not representing the Dutch government in any way. I am a historian, specialized in International History. I am, of course, a Dutch historian, so perhaps in some respects one-sided, like we all are perhaps sometimes a little one-sided. That is why I am very interested in your opinions and your reactions, because I know that discussion and exchange of opinions, in particular international exchanges of opinions, can make us better and sharpen our minds.
Today, I would like to discuss three topics. First, I want to say a few words about the long-term history of Dutch foreign relations from the early days of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in the seventeenth century until the end of the Cold War; secondly, I will make some remarks about present-day developments and problems concerning Dutch foreign policy and foreign relations; and thirdly, I want to focus on relations between Russia and the Netherlands, mainly seen for a Dutch perspective. [slide] And I will try to pay attention to some theoretical discussions in the field of IR. Theoretical discussions that can shed interesting light on the role of the Netherlands and the relations between the Netherlands and Russia
First, the long-term history of Dutch foreign relations. International history of Kingdom of the Netherlands is the history of a state that was, and still is, small in geographical terms. Look at a world map. You’ll see that the Netherlands is a tiny state, certainly compared to your country. It was, however, in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century a political and military great power. Since the early eighteenth century its military power has been in decline. Nonetheless, the Dutch Republic continued to be a significant trading and financial center with world-wide colonial possessions and commercial interests. And nowadays the Dutch Kingdom is still a successful, industrialized state and trading centre (that, in spite of all the ongoing changes in the world, still produces – although being geographically small – a Gross Domestic Product that is half of that of Russia’s GDP. This combination of wealth, world-wide financial, trading and (and up till WWII) colonial interests, with military vulnerability, has contributed, at least in Europe, to a status quo oriented policy of neutrality and free trade.
Some Dutch authors have called this neutrality and free trade orientation The Holland Tradition [slide], a tradition, because it – at least in their eyes – goes back to the early history of the Republic of the United Seven Provinces, and in particular to the interests and standpoints of the trading bourgeoisie of the Province of Holland and the City of Amsterdam. As a maritime and commercial power, the Dutch Republic (and later the Kingdom) – have always been inclined to a policy of: – 1) commercialism, free trade, 2) a policy of neutrality, not interested in military adventures, and not in territorial expansion, 3) a tendency towards legalism and internationalism, an advocate of the development of international law (and perhaps 4) a certain Calvinistic moralism). This is – following this idea of a Holland Tradition – up till the present day the basic orientation of Dutch foreign policy.
This so-called Holland Tradition leads us immediately to an interesting and classial discussion within the academic discipline of International Relations. The classical debate between Idealists and Realists – the IR students must be familiar with this debate – between a more ideological and internationalist approach, and a more cynical approach, that assumes that world politics are about power and interests, and that ideals are mainly called upon for opportunistic reasons. [slide]
Going back to the Holland Tradition. The more cynical realist approach questions the existence of a Holland Tradition. Realists argue that the Dutch Republic, in particular in the seventeenth century was a powerful state. In those days, it was constantly at war, with Spain, Britain, and France. A state with a powerful navy and a considerable army. A state that only advocated free trade when it was in the interest of the Republic; a state that was prepared to use military power against economic rivals if necessary. A state that built – with military ruthlesness – a huge colonial empire (and did not respect the principles of free trade in its spheres of colonial influence). A state that tended more towards neutrality in the eightteenth and nineteenth century, not because of idealist or noble motives, but as a result of military weakness.
Seen from an idealist approach one could argue that the Republic of the United Provinces and later the Kingdom has always been a typical liberal and later even a democratic state, a trading nation, oriented at neutrality and free trade. A protagonist of international law, a state that was not interested in territorial expansion (but in making profit). A state that did not use its military capabilities for territorial expansion but to fight hegemonic powers, such as Spain and France, and thereby contributed to the restoration or maintenance of a multipolar balance of power, preventing the rise of a European hegemonical power. [I Will come back to this ‘classical’ debate between Realism and Idealism; I am – by the way – very interested to hear how you as Russian IR and History students look at the Netherlands, and the foreign policy of the Netherlands. Do you see an old, liberal, commercially oriented state, a trading nation, a protagonist of free trade and international law. Or do you see a state that has mainly been defending its interests, like any other state, be it under different circumstances and most of its history with limited military means?]
Anyway, neutrality was certainly a leading principle in most of the nineteenth and the first half of twentieth century. In military terms, the Netherlands had indeed become a small power. The days of the powerful Republic (the Golden Age) were long gone. The years between 1815- and 1830 were remarkable, because for a brief period the Netherlands and Belgium were united. But the revolutionary year 1830 meant the end of the Dutch-Belgian Kingdom. After a following decade of confusion, the Netherlands returned to a strict policy of neutrality and later on also free trade, as in informal junior partner of Great Britain.
Since the 1870s, after the unification of Germany, Dutch neutrality changed. It became a balancing act between the great powers, in particular between England and Germany, maintaining good relations with both sides, under the assumption that Germany and England were both of considerable economic and political importance for the Netherlands and also assuming that Dutch sovereignty (both in Europe and Asia) was based upon good relations with these two Great Powers. This position on the fault-line of two spheres of influence (an Anglo-Saxon and a Continental-European) and the balancing act that characterized Dutch foreign policy at the time, would be typical for the role and position of the Netherlands during the twentieth century.
During WWI the Netherlands remained neutral. After the war the Netherlands became more active, not in the least because it became a member of the League of Nations. But in the 1930s the Netherlands returned to a policy of strict neutrality and resumed its balancing act, trying to please both London and Berlin. [Some historians, by the way, have criticized this role as the posture of an ostrich. The Dutch should have increased its defence budget; they should have move towards a kind of military alliance with Britain. Others have pointed out that Britain was not in a position to make military commitments, and certainly not to guarantee the territorial integrity of the Netherlands.]
During the WWII the Netherlands was not able to remain neutral. Not only the Kingdom was occupied, but in 1942 also the Dutch Indies (a remarkable moment because the Netherlands would never be able to regain full control over its colonial possessions in South East Asia). The first years after the end of WWII were years of transition and confusion, dominated by the decolonization of Indonesia and the German Question. By the end of the 1940s a new phase started: the Netherlands became part of the emerging international Cold War structure, in 1949 it joined NATO, and a year later it began participating in the process of European integration.
The membership of NATO meant the formal end of a long period of neutrality. Most authors tend to assume that the Netherlands accession to NATO, and its more or less loyal attitude within the Alliance, was rational or inevitable. Realists would argue that NATO membership was logical, in view of the geographical location of the Netherlands, necessary, in order to protect Dutch sovereignty and territorial integrity against the Soviet threat; idealists see NATO more as an ideologically based alliance between the Western liberal-democratic states against the expansion of communism.
I suppose, a mixture of geography, interests and more ideological opinions can explain why the Netherlands joined NATO and (perhaps even more than other West European states) welcomed American hegemony over Western Europe. There was a general feeling that a return to prewar neutrality was out of the question. NATO and American leadership were deemed necessary, in order to receive US military guarantees, against the Soviet threat; but also as political backing against possible German of French aspirations to dominate Western Europe. So in Dutch eyes, NATO and American hegemony were meant contribute to a balance of power, both between East and West, and within Western Europe itself. The Netherlands also welcomed and supported the US policy to liberalize Western Europe’s trade relations. And, of course, The Netherlands were interested in US economic and military support.
By the way, in some respects Dutch politicians still had to internalize the consequences of the post war world and superpower dominance; for years, there was some resentment, not in the least against the US because of the loss of the Dutch Indies and the American role during the years of decolonization.
Anyway, during the 1950s a process of modernization took place, which meant the end of Dutch neutrality, accepting American hegemony, joining the process of European integration as one of the Six Founding Fathers of the EEC, in particular interested in the establishment of a West European common market. And within the UN the Netherlands tried to build a reputation (in particular in the sixties and seventies) as a progressive UN member: one of the leading nations when it came to the percentage of the GDP the Dutch were willing to donate as aid to the developing third world countries. A country perhaps more than others interested in humanitarian issues, such as human rights.
So, during the sixties, seventies and even eighties, the Dutch strategic orientation seemed to be consistent and clear: 1) within NATO, accepting, and benefiting from, US political and military hegemony, but without getting involved in Great Power conflicts; 2) within the EEC aiming at the development of common market and preventing French and German great power domination; 3) and within the UN, building a reputation as a progressive member state. [slide]
This policy seemed a clear break with the prewar tradition of neutrality and free trade. Looking back, one could conclude that – to a certain extent – the prewar policy of neutrality and free trade was also continued; NATO was supposed to guarantee stability on the European continent. Perhaps, the Netherlands were still performing a kind of balancing act, like in the late 19th century: economically part of Western Europe, and politically/militarily, part of the Anglo-Saxon world. And free trade was still an important goal: European integration’s main result should be the establishment of an open, common market.
Again, it is an interesting question how to analyze or explain this orientation. Is this the typical and logical attitude of an open economy, liberal political order (as a more idealist approach would conclude) or the product of well understood political and economic interests (as realists would argue). Power and interests are of course important. In the case of the Netherlands, this typical combination of global economic interests and limited military means and political leverage. But I think that ideals, ideology and political culture played a role as well, to a certain extent coloured or determined the exact interpretation of interests. By the way, even a more Marxist approach would be relevant to understand the history of Dutch foreign relations: pointing out the Netherlands’ colonial history, and its geographical position in the traditional core of the capitalist world economy.
Since the eighties, and above all since the end of the Cold War this strategy is falling apart; the end of the Soviet Union (and the Soviet threat) and the weakening of the US-European alliance, the changing relations in world politics and the world economy since the end of the Cold War, the enlargement of the European Union, have undermined the basic assumptions of Dutch postwar foreign policy.
It is interesting to see that the first period after the end of the Cold War, let’s say from the early 1990s to the beginning of the 21st century is characterized by a certain liberal-internationalist optimism. [slide] I realize that most Russians have different memories of the 1990s, but in many Western states there was optimism, not in the least over the new perspectives for trade and investment in the former Soviet world. After some hesitations, the Dutch government endorsed the enlargement of NATO and later of the European Union as steps towards a more liberal and stable Europe. The Dutch also supported the establishment of a Monetary Union and the introduction of the euro, as former Prime Minister Wim Kok later acknowledged, a quantum leap, a decision based upon optimism, upon thrust in the functioning of the financial markets, and upon the assumption that the EU leaders had to make use of the historic momentum to complete the EU Common Market with a common currency.
There were high expectations of a further globalization of the world economy. And there was also optimism over the possibilities to export liberal democracy and free market capitalism to the non-western world. Now the Cold War was over, the Dutch armed forces were transformed into an expeditionary army in order to contribute to so-called peace missions or humanitarian interventions. Dutch development aid, still some 0.8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, was supposed to support ‘developing nations’ on their way to prosperity and freedom. In spite of the dramatic experiences at the safe area of Srebrenica, the Netherlands fully supported the American ‘War on Terror’ that was started after the terrorist attacks of nine-eleven 2001. The Netherlands contributed to the stabilization missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But from the first years of the 21st century, the political climate in the Netherlands, and also discussions about foreign policy, began to change, like they began to change in other western states as well. The days of Western optimism seemed to be over. Both in world politics and in the Netherlands themselves. The Netherlands saw the rise of right-wing populist parties, first led by Pim Fortuyn, later by Geert Wilders (you probably know him), while the traditional parties began to lose more and more ground. And in world politics, the Western states seemed to lose their dominant position, because of the rise of new powers (in particular the so-called BRICS) and because of growing internal economic and financial problems (in particular, the banking and euro crises). The world seemed to become more ‘multipolar’. [slide]
These developments affected Dutch public opinion and foreign policy making. The Dutch attitude towards Europe and the European Union became more surly, more negative. Dutch politicians and commentators concluded that the days of European idealism were over. The process of European integration, they argued, was more or less completed. And Brussels, or the EU bureaucracy, had become too powerful. Dutch European integration policy became more a matter of short-term, material goals, for instance concerning the financial contributions to the EU. The less, the better. The Netherlands were becoming more skeptical concerning the enlargement of the EU, and the status of new member states. In 2005, in a referendum the Dutch electorate rejected a new ‘EU constitution’. For many Dutch politicians, European integration was not an ideal or a prospect anymore, but a problem.
Although the Netherlands continued to participate in military missions, preferably led by NATO or NATO states, there was growing concern over the legitimacy and certainly the effectiveness of such peace missions and humanitarian interventions. In 2010, a Committee that had been appointed by the government to investigate the Dutch role concerning the invasion and occupation of Iraq (the Commissie-Davids) concluded that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been a violation of international law. Therefore, Dutch participation in the stabilization mission ISAF had also been – to a certain extent – ‘illegal’. The conclusions of this committee embarrassed the Dutch government. They showed (not the only indication) that Dutch opinion- and policymakers began to question the wisdom and effectiveness of western military interventions, and also question the ability of the western states to ‘make the world safe for democracy’. The rise of new non-western powers, in particular the so-called BRIC-states, seemed to undermine the legitimacy of western views concerning democracy and human rights, as well.
There was also growing concern over the still considerable amount of money that the Netherlands spent on development aid. More and more politicians and advisors, in particular ‘free market’ economists, concluded that development aid was counterproductive. The right-wing parties, above all the new populist parties, argued that the Dutch government should abolish development aid and invest this money in the Dutch economy and Dutch society itself. As a result of this, in the past six years the budgets for development aid have been reduced significantly. Moreover, development aid should be spent in such a way that Dutch business could also profit.
Nowadays Dutch foreign policy is more and more discussed in terms of Dutch economic interests. No great ideals, long-term strategic goals, humanitarian responsibilities anymore. Former Foreign Minister, the conservative politician Uri Rosenthal, was very explicit in this respect: diplomacy, he stated several times, was in the first place, economic diplomacy. Remarkably, his successor the perhaps more idealist social-democrat Frans Timmermans, also underlined the prime importance of economic diplomacy. Now, it is not surprising that a foreign minister stresses the importance of the Dutch national interest. What is new is the emphasis on economic interests. In the past, foreign ministers, such as Joseph Luns, had also emphasized the relevance of national interests as a guiding principle for policy-making. But Luns had a much more political view on national interests. Foreign policy was also a matter of maximizing Dutch influence, of contributing to balances of power that were favorable to the Netherlands, both between East and West, and within Western Europe, and a matter of of strategic alliances.
Dutch politicians and diplomats still point out the relevance of certain ideals, such as human rights. But a certain ambiguity has tempered our humanitarian and liberal commitments. We do not believe anymore in the mobilizing effects of European integration and European ideals, we have become more doubtful over Europe’s ability to defend and further humanitarian values (not in the least in view of the present-day refugee crisis), we have also lost faith in the workings of development aid, we see the contours of a more multipolar world, in which western values are becoming less dominant. Against this background, Dutch politicians have become more pragmatic and bussiness-like, assuming that defending Dutch economic interests is the main goal of Dutch foreign policy. I’ll come back to this observation later on.
Long history of Russian-Dutch relations. Russian-Dutch relations go back to the seventeenth century, when the Dutch Republic was a Great Power, and a modern capitalist state, that inspired other nations (as you know the legendary Czar Peter the Great paid a long visit to the Dutch Republic and the city of Amsterdam). Trading relations between Amsterdam and St. Petersburg were of substantial importance, until the late nineteenth century. In 2013 we celebrated the 400 years anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Dutch Republic and Russia.
Everything became completely different after 1917. The Dutch attitude to the new communist state was one of reluctance and mistrust. The Netherlands refused to recognize the Soviet Union, until 1942, when the alliance against Nazi-Germany made that decision inevitable. After the Second World War, the Netherlands continued to look at the Soviet Union with skepticism. Even during periods of East-West relaxation. During the years of ‘peaceful coexistence’ – in the mid 1950s – most Dutch politicians and policy advisors concluded that Moscow’s attempts to improve relations with the West were misleading and dangerous, an attempt to drive the western states apart. Even during the 1970s, the decade of ‘détente’, the Dutch governments remained suspicious, although economic and cultural contacts increased.
Everything changed again with the collapse of the communist regime and the rise of the present-day state structure within the territory of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. During the 1990s, the Dutch approach of Russia was characterized by the same liberal-internationalist optimism I just briefly described. The western states should make the world, including the former Soviet bloc, ‘safe for democracy’. Democracy and capitalism were the only games in town. Be it on a modest scale, the Netherlands tried to contribute to Russia’s transition to a modern, free-market oriented, liberal democracy, like it contributed to the process of democratic transition in other states of the former Soviet bloc.
At the same time, after some hesitations, the Netherlands supported the enlargement of NATO, first by the accession in 1999 of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and in 2004 with seven other East European countries, including the Baltic states. There were some reservations about possible negative side-effects, in particular concerning the position of Russia. The Dutch ambassador at Moscow had misgivings. And not in the least the political leader of the conservative VVD party, Frits Bolkestein. In an opinion article, written in 1997, Bolkestein questioned the wisdom of enlarging NATO, while Russia, as he wrote, was divided and in chaos. ‘Is this the time to humiliate the Russians […] by enlarging NATO right up the borders of the former Soviet Union?’, he wrote. This could only provoque new Russian nationalism and for instance lead to Russian pressure on the recently independent state Ukraine. Dutch parliament was divided, but in the end accepted NATO’s enlargement.
In the meantime, economic relations between the Netherlands and Russia began to develop. Trade and investments started to increase. The Dutch-British oil company Royal Dutch Shell, and other Dutch companies, made considerable investments in the Russian energy sector. Dutch agricultural exports to Russia increased significantly.
After the turn of the century, Dutch views on Russia’s internal developments became less optimistic. Russia did not seem to develop into a kind of western democracy. Apart from that, it turned out that economic relations were not always easy. In spite of such difficulties, and in spite growing concerns about the internal political developments in Russia, in the course of the first 21th century decade, Russia became an important partner in the field of energy and energy policy. In November 2007 a delegation led by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende visited Moscow. The Russian and Dutch energy companies Gazprom and Gasunie signed an important agreement, much appreciated by the Dutch government. The deal was part of the Dutch wishes to remain an essential pivot point in the Northwest European energy sector, also after the running out of the Dutch natural gas supply. But it was also clear that the political relations between the two countries were changing. President Putin did not appreciate Prime Minister Balkenende’s comments on the issue of human rights. Apart from that, the Russian president also criticized the still on-going Dutch activities in support of Russia’s ‘democratic transition’. They would be ended in the following years.
Towards the end of the decade, however, Russian-Dutch relations still seemed to develop in a positive direction. Bilateral trade continued to grow. In 2009 the new Russian President Dmitri Medvedev visited the Netherlands. At the occasion of Medvedev’s visit, it was decided to celebrate in 2013 the 400th anniversary of Russian-Dutch diplomatic relations. 2013 would become the ‘Russia Year’.
But by the time, we were going to celebrate this Russia Year, relations between Russia and the West were becoming more strained, culminating in a serious conflict over the developments in Ukraine and Crimea. The EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia, because of the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s role in East Ukraine. The Netherlands also became involved in the deteriorating atmosphere between Russia and the EU. A series of remarkable incidents was putting pressure on Russian-Dutch relations. In September 2013, a Russian coast guard ship boarded the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and directed it to the harbour of Murmanks, where the crew was arrested. Two crew members were Dutch, and the Arctic Sunrise was sailing under a Dutch flag. So, the Dutch government had to act. It demanded the release of the crew and the ship, that according to its captain had been sailing in international waters the moment it was boarded. The Russian government rejected the Dutch demands, whereupon the Dutch government announced it would turn to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
That was not the end of the story. In October 2013, the police of the city of The Hague arrested a Russian diplomat, on allegation of misbehavior. That was, of course, a violation of the principle of diplomatic immunity. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans offered his apologies. A few days later a Dutch diplomat was molested in his apartment in Moscow. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said to be shocked and promised that the culprits would be punished.
So, the year 2013, the ‘Russia Year’, was certainly not as festive as it was supposed to be. It had been the idea to celebrate 400 years of Russian-Dutch relations and in that context pay much attention to the increasing economic cooperation. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima would in November travel to Moscow to close the festivities. In October, some members of Parliament concluded that the royal trip had to be canceled in view of all the difficulties between the two countries, but the Dutch government and Foreign Minister Timmermans decided not to make matters worse. In November, the Russia Year was concluded by Willem-Alexander’s and Maxima’s trip to Russia. However, when Timmermans in December 2013 visited the Maidan Square in Kiev (with some of his colleagues), in order to support the anti-government demonstrators there, Foreign Minister Lavrov criticized this as ‘interference’ in internal affairs. It was remarkable that, in spite of all the diplomatic problems, a prestigious Dutch delegation attended the opening of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sotsji. Both the King and Queen, and Prime Minister Rutte were there.
The worst was still to come. On the 17th of July 2014, a Malaysian airliner, MH17, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in the eastern part of Ukraine. It soon appeared that the airplane had been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, probably fired from a territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels. On-board were 298 passengers, 196 of them Dutch. This was a much more serious event than the previous bilateral incidents, an event that could have wide-ranging political implications. Unexpectedly, the Dutch government and Foreign Minister Timmermans stood in the spotlight of international public opinion. First priority of the Dutch government was the recovery of the victims bodies and their possessions. On the 21 of July Timmermans addressed the Security Council. In a resolution, that was also accepted by Russia, the Security Council called for the cooperation of all states and others involved to return the bodies and to bring to perpetrators to justice.
In part as a result of the MH17 crash, the EU imposed new sanctions against Russia. Nonetheless, the Dutch government remained apprehensive about the consequences of rising tensions with Russia. There were after all considerable economic interests at stake. Tough EU measures would have serious consequences, Foreign Minister Timmermans had already warned in March 2014, and considerable economic damage could be done. In the course of 2014 trade with Russia decreased by some 10 percent. In particular, the Dutch agriculture sector suffered from import restrictions that were imposed as countermeasures against the EU sanctions.
A letter, or policy paper, that Foreign Minister Bert Koenders sent to parliament in May 2015 stated that the Russian actions concerning Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea had altered the relationship between Russia and the Netherlands. The paper also criticized Russia’s unwillingness to contribute to the persecution of the perpetrators of the shooting of MH17. So, the years 2013-2014 had been a watershed. The relationship between the Netherlands and Russia had fundamentally changed and had top be ‘re-evaluated’, the letter concluded.
Nonetheless, a certain ambiguity characterized Koenders’ letter to parliament. On the one hand, it said that the relationship between Russia and the Netherlands had changed. Indeed, the letter rightly observed that the days of the internationalist optimism of the 1990s were over: Russia was not transforming into a western-type democracy, as was hoped in the 1990s. There would be no ‘convergence’. On the other hand, Dutch economic interests in maintaining good relations with Russia were considerable, as the letter stated. Apart from that, the western states needed Russia’s cooperation, for instance to end the civil war in Syria. Therefore, good relations with Russia remained of great importance.
Let me finish by making a few remarks about the difficulties between Russia and the Netherlands of the past years. How can we, historians and IR specialists, explain them. Following Realist theory, these problems and conflicts have to be analyzed and interpreted in terms of geography, power, and interests. After all, conflicts are the inevitable and logical consequences of different, diverging and conflicting positions and interests, perhaps even the result of a confrontation of two spheres of influence, and the lack of a stable balance of power.
Following, idealist theories foreign policy and diplomacy are in many ways the product of ideological differences, of differences between different types of states, for instances between liberal-democratic and authoritarian states. So, from that theoretical perspective the conflicts between Russia and Europe, and more in particular Russia and The Netherlands, are the consequence of diverging and conflicting world views and ideologies, reflecting the different internal political culture and system of both sides. In this respect, some commentators even speak of a ‘New Cold War’.
Both approaches shed interesting light on the tensions between Russia and the EU, of Russia and the Netherlands. I would like to end by pointing out that both theoretical approaches (idealism and realism) perhaps overestimate the logic and rationality of international relations and of foreign policy making. Both approaches tend to see international relations as a logical pattern of actions and reactions. And they see politicians, advisors and diplomats as actors that are defending the national interest or a consistent ideology or set of ideals.
I think that thus interpretation of policy-making and diplomacy is not correct, at least not entirely correct. Of course, interests or ideologies are important, if we want to understand what is going on, in the past of the present. But ideologies and ideals are never consistent; apart from that, it is often unclear how we have to implement ideals. The same can be said about interests, or national interest. Again, it is not always clear what the national interest exactly is, and what it tells us to do. So, I think that decision-making in the field of foreign policy is not always just a matter of rational calculation and compulsory logic. There is always room for manoeuvre. A former Dutch foreign minister once told me that decision-making, even for a foreign minister, as he had experienced it, was in many cases operating in the dark, a matter of trial and error, of guessing, of compromises between contradictory advises, compromises between different institutional interests. Certainly not simply a logical and rational defence of the national interest.
Therefore I think that we, academic researchers, historians, IR-specialists should look at the history of international relations and at present-day foreign policy making with historical understanding, perspective, empathy and open-mindedness. And not in the least with flexibility, from different theoretical angles. Assuming I would say, that foreign policy is in many situations a matter of trial and error, with uncertain and unpredictable outcomes. That is, I think, in many ways also a reassuring idea: the future is always – at least to a certain extent, open, and not, or not only, predetermined by the compulsory logic of geography, interests or ideologies.