Draft Suspended until Further Notice
At the start of World War II, my grandfather took part in the defense of the Netherlands against the German invasion. My other grandfather was sent off to Indonesia shortly after World War II ended. A generation later, my uncle joined the Dutch armed forces and was stationed in Germany guarding the outer regions of Western Europe against the Red Army. At the age of 24, my father was drafted and he spent two years in military service. For me, it was different.
When I was seventeen years old—in 2004—I received an official letter from the Dutch government that my draft was suspended until further notice. In three generations, the threat of all-encompassing war in Western Europe diminished to such an extent that it was no longer necessary for boys like me to prepare for a clash of arms that might never come. My generation is now able to focus our attention on other issues such as school, work, and starting a family— all without the shadow of war. This does not mean that bloodshed on European soil has not occurred. The massacre in Srebrenica is a very dark page in Dutch history books. The mission in Afghanistan, the anti-piracy mission in Somalia, and the recent conflict in Ukraine all show that the military capabilities of Western European countries are as important today as they were three generations ago.
The difference is that these missions have been conducted by a highly professional standing army. These missions have been based on the cooperation of trusted allies. NATO has made this change possible. By joining forces among nations with the same values of freedom and democracy, we are safer on both sides of the Atlantic than we were in 1914. NATO was the umbrella of safety under which Western Europe rebuilt its economy. NATO was the decisive factor in the outcome of the Cold War. In this respect, the importance of NATO has not changed to this day. Transatlantic security cannot, however, be taken for granted. My side of the Atlantic has shamefully neglected to meet the spending guidelines of 2% of GDP on its military capabilities. European nations need to prioritize NATO membership and meet their target financial investment. The tragedy of flight MH17—in which 298 people, including 194 Dutch citizens, were killed—shows that we are not surrounded by nations that all share the same values of freedom and democracy.
From what we currently understand about these events, military intervention by Dutch or allied forces would not be wise. This, however, has been a rough wake-up call. It is ever important to maintain the transatlantic relationship we have, and to strengthen cooperation and share the burden. And, we need to have the capabilities to defend ourselves. As the ultimate safeguard, NATO has enabled us to direct the vast majority of our efforts to living in peace and prosperity in a way that we decide for ourselves. Let’s keep it that way.
Geert Gladdines is a member of GMF’s Young Transatlantic Network. He works in The Hague for a foundation that promotes entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.