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Withdrawing from Uruzgan is not an option

The Netherlands has been active in the Afghan province of Uruzgan for over a year. The government has to make a decision soon about the future of this mission.Are we going to stay or are we going to withdraw our troops?The discussion is heated, just as it was before the mission started.This is not right, thinks Joost Herman, senior lecturer in International Relations/International Organizations at the University of Groningen:‘The mission has to continue.Otherwise we are not taking our own principles in the field of international solidarity seriously.’

Herman: ‘The Netherlands has set itself a standard in terms of human rights that we want to propagate worldwide. It’s international solidarity. In the words of Kofi Annan: “Human security is no security if not shared by all.” We in the Netherlands cannot really enjoy life if we know that the human rights of our fellow human beings in Afghanistan are being violated.'

Cooperating for international legal order

‘The Afghans are used to conflicts so let them sort it out themselves’, ‘we’re pouring money into a bottomless pit’, ‘it’s always been a mess there…’ These are all arguments by people who want to see the Netherlands pull out of Uruzgan. According to Herman, the statements have no relevance whatsoever: ‘unless we rewrite all our documents referring to our foreign policy and remove from the constitution things we have just put in, i.e. that the Netherlands will cooperate in international legal order and to this end will make its army available.'

Herman: ‘There are far too many principled people with doubts in the discussion about whether we should continue with the mission. Of course we have to continue! How could we NOT continue? More than the average citizen, politicians should be aware of this responsibility that the Netherlands has taken upon itself – willingly, I might add. This makes my irritation with the behaviour of certain politicians all the greater. Why does the same discussion have to keep rearing its head every time there’s a Dutch casualty?’

Long-term interests

Public opinion is playing much too great a role. That’s even more true now we’ve passed the ‘ten-death limit’. This is a weakness inherent to democracy, according to Herman: ‘Politicians really want to be re-elected and as a result are apparently not brave enough to make clear to the public that with missions like these we’re dealing with long-term interests.’

There’s no doubt that the Dutch presence in Uruzgan is making a difference, thinks Herman.‘Despite setbacks, despite mistakes and despite enormous dilemmas, the provincial reconstruction teams are at work. They are a perfect example of what international solidarity and humanitarian action can really mean. The only problem is the lack of resources.’

Political game

Ex-Minister of Defence Henk Kamp said at the start of the mission that not the Netherlands but NATO is responsible for finding a successor once the two-year term was over. Quite right, in Herman’s opinion, ‘but if other NATO countries, for whatever reason, do not take that responsibility, then the Netherlands does not have the option to say “We’re leaving”. The Netherlands should play the political game a bit better, put itself in advance into a position where it does have that room for manoeuvre.’

Curriculum Vitae

Dr Joost Herman (1963) studied history and international law in Leiden and gained his PhD in 1994 in Utrecht with a thesis about the protection of minorities in Central and Eastern Europe by the League of Nations. He has been at the University of Groningen since 1995 as senior lecturer in IB/IO and Director of Studies of the European Master’s degree programme in Humanitarian Action.


Dr J. Herman

Last modified:18 February 2020 3.15 p.m.
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