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Dr Margriet Drent: ‘International power shifts make active foreign policy imperative’

26 August 2013

International political relations seem to be developing into a multipolar system dominated by a small group of large countries and facing increasingly tough international cooperation. Government power is crumbling and new players are entering the field. Margriet Drent, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Groningen, thinks that is cause for concern from the Dutch and European perspective. She and two fellow-researchers from the University of Groningen worked on the Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2013, which was presented to the Minister of Defence, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, at the end of May.

‘The Netherlands must not turn its back on the rest of the world. Our country needs active foreign policy geared towards international cooperation in order to safeguard our interests in a world where emerging dominant powers are gradually gaining control,’ claims Drent. ‘Reducing the scale of embassies rather than closing them altogether, as recently decided by Minister Timmermans, is a good plan. Having said this, the Netherlands must make sure that it intensifies its cooperation with European partners and supports the EU in setting up a more effective European network of diplomatic missions.’

Risk: crisis and cutbacks

‘In these days of economic crisis and cutbacks, there is a serious risk that the Netherlands and Europe will put too much emphasis on home policy, while the current global situation calls for more active foreign involvement’, says Drent. ‘This is in our best interest as it will give us more say in decisions that affect our own welfare and security. Good examples include international agreements on regional or global free trade, our approach to climate change or controlling the negative effects of conflict and extremism in Syria.’

Global threat assessment increasingly complex

‘Over the past few years, the global threat assessment has become increasingly complex and uncertain, a trend that is expected to continue. Tensions between states are rising; take the nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea, for example. Military tensions between the US and China is causing tension around the Pacific Ocean. The internal situation in states around the ‘Instability Belt’ constitutes a source of potential violent conflict. The aftermath of the Arab Spring with growing violence and polarization in Egypt and Syria, the future of the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan after the withdrawal of international troops and the persistent threat from Al-Qaeda (as recently witnessed in Yemen) are also important focal points for our foreign policy. They all entail risks for Dutch citizens and Dutch companies operating abroad.’

Power shift

‘The power in international politics is steadily shifting from Western to non-Western countries. Aided by relatively sound economic growth, countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China are becoming more assertive and autonomous in multilateral relations. At the same time, the influence of non-state players such as multinational companies, guerrilla movements, criminals (including cyber criminals), aid organizations and social movements is growing and further undermining the power of the state, including that of the Netherlands.

Divided Europe can only look on

‘The shift of international power and the emergence of a multipolar system are putting pressure on the traditional European orientation on multilateral cooperation and diplomatic and economic influence. If international cooperation continues to crumble, international power blocks will be given an even bigger say in all kinds of global and regional issues. An internally divided Europe that is unable to act as a coherent international player will be forced to look on while other major powers make decisions about the welfare and security of Europe.’

Cooperation is good for the Netherlands

‘This is also a problem for the Netherlands, a minor player on the military-political field, but a force to be reckoned with in the trade-economics arena. In terms of economic and security policy, our country would benefit from an open and stable international system based on cooperation and consultation. Although the Netherlands is capable of safeguarding its interests in a multilateral system (via the EU), this becomes much more tricky in a multipolar world. Turning one’s back on international cooperation in the current era of global transition and uncertainty would not be a wise move. In fact the Netherlands should now be pushing for an active foreign role for the European Union in order to prevent collaboration based on an international system from being further undermined, as would already seem to be happening in the area of trade politics.’

Curriculum Vitae

Margriet Drent is Assistant Professor in the International Relations Department (IRIO) of the Faculty of Arts, and senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations ‘Clingendael’. Drent is a member of the peace and security committee of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), a body that advises the government about the consequences of international developments for Dutch foreign policy. Lennart Landman and Susanne Kamerling are both PhD students at IRIO and work for the Clingendael Institute as associate fellows.

More information

Download the report ‘Een Wereld in Onzekerheid’ (A World in Suspense), Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2013.

Last modified:28 November 2017 4.45 p.m.
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