Full transcript of a NATO Forum public event with H.E. Hans Hillen, the Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Welcome and Moderator:
President and CEO,
The Atlantic Council
Dutch Minister of Defense,
Location: The Atlantic Council,
Date: Thursday, January 12, 2012
Federal News Service
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Under the newly formed rule that any important person who visits Defense Secretary Panetta must also come to the Atlantic Council – (laughter) – we’re very delighted to have the minister of defense of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Hans Hillen, here.
Minister Hillen, welcome to Washington; welcome to the Atlantic Council. Ambassador, it’s great to have you here as well; thank you.
Today’s event is part of the Atlantic Council’s NATO Forum, which serves as the Atlantic – Euro-Atlantic community’s premier venue for discussion, debate and analysis on issues relating to NATO and its future. We did a first round of the NATO Forum ahead of the Lisbon summit. Among others, we had Secretary Clinton, Secretary-General Rasmussen, Senator Lugar – it was a great series with many also ministers of defense.
We were pleased to relaunch the NATO Forum in 2012 with a speech by the U.K. defense secretary, Philip Hammond, last week. In his remarks, Secretary Hammond made a compelling case for collective defense and strengthened Euro-Atlantic cooperation on global challenges. And he did that in the midst of the new U.S. – excuse me, of the Obama administration’s announced pivot to Asia, which President Omama (sic; Obama) announced just minutes after Secretary Hammond’s remarks.
In just the last week, we’ve also hosted the Lithuanian and Norwegian ministers of defense for private strategy sessions on Nordic-Baltic security priorities in advance of the NATO Chicago summit in May. And there’s more to come. We’ll welcome the Czech minister of defense, Saša Vondra. You in the audience know he’s no shrinking violet.
And we are pleased, Minister Hillen, to have you as the fourth minister to visit the council in this – thus far short year. You spoke in Brussels in June at a conference on Smart Defense, in which the council participated with our partner institute, the Security and Defense Agenda. And your remarks came just weeks following Secretary Gates’ tough farewell remarks warning of a dim and dismal future for NATO if it doesn’t change course. Since then, we’ve seen the failure of the deficit supercommittee, the announcement of the administration’s new defense strategy.
We look forward to your remarks, where you can give us an update on the Netherlands’ vision for NATO’s Smart Defense agenda in light of the many developments that we’re seeing that shape – that shape the landscape. You recently pointed out that Europe now needs to consider forms of defense cooperation that would be – would have been unthinkable in the past. I quote you: “This means breaking down deep-seated taboos.” So we look forward to hearing you on that.
Mr. Minister, with the Netherlands being a pioneer in Europe in the field of multinational cooperation, I can’t think of a nation better positioned to lead these efforts by sharing your successes of cooperation – initiatives already under way with Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Moreover, the Netherlands has long served as leader in NATO and punched above its weight in Washington – not only because of the quality of its ambassador, but also because of the thought leadership your country has long offered on trans-Atlantic security and defense. I’m pleased to have the privilege of introducing you today and to hear your thoughts, to see how we can manage these historic challenges.
I do have one important personal connection with you, which we discussed on the way in. And that is, we are both recovering journalists. And I just – I just want to say that all journalists who think that there’s no afterlife can look at the recovering journalists scattered around doing jobs as diverse as Atlantic Council president and minister of defense of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
You were appointed as minister of defense on October 2010. Prior to being appointed, you represented the Christian Democratic Alliance in the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives, where you played a leading role in Dutch foreign and defense policy. And prior to your career in politics, you served as director of information at the Ministry of Finance, no doubt gaining an understanding of – (chuckles) – many of the things you have to work with today. You served as a political journalist and foreign editor for Dutch public broadcasting, and before that you taught secondary school before entering government service.
So, Minister, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for being with us today. Following your remarks, Barry Pavel, the director of our international security program, will moderate the question-and-answer session with the audience. Barry’s a great expert on many of the issues we’ll talk about today. He joined the council after serving as special assistant to the president of the United States and senior director for defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council staff for both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
So, Minister Hillen, the floor is yours. (Applause.)
MINISTER HANS HILLEN: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to address you and to make some few remarks in beautiful United States of America. As a matter of fact, we arrived here last Sunday, and we made a tour around the States as quick as an American can travel through Europe. (Chuckles.) We were in Texas; we were in Nevada; we were in Florida; and today in the – here in Washington, D.C. And everywhere where we came, we were very warm welcomed and we had good talks and good cooperation with all the Americans we met.
And, well, there’s something doubt in Holland that people are some ways questioning whether the Netherlands is doing fine and whether all the things are going fine. I’ve learned here again that my friends are living – (inaudible) – feel at home here, feel at ease. And my talks to – this morning with the secretary on the – on the Pentagon was very fruitful and very, very warmhearted as well, even – yes, we had more laughs I think, every now and then, than I had ever with colleagues in the – (chuckles) – in the past – most of the past weeks.
But we have to do some business. First of all, I would like to (tell ?) you that my story will be quite optimistic. I am quite optimistic. And I’m – and I think one of the key words for optimism is relaxation; you have to be relaxed – although problems in the world are, of course, enormous, and I learn that the time – the clock for our civilization has gone one minute further to midnight, and it’s five o’clock – five minutes to 12 again; last couple of years it was six. Maybe all is very seriously.
But I think we should try – when you are among friends, you should try to be relaxed as can be, to trust each other as much as can – you can do, and you can do business. And maybe you can do – you can’t do business with a whole lot, but you can do business with some of them, and it can build up from bottom up, and not only designing it up from the top. And therefore, that’s, I think, the main theme of my speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, 50 years ago, the Atlantic Council was established to promote trans-Atlantic cooperation. And hence the success of NATO as an alliance is also the success of this esteemed council. As the minister of defense of a NATO ally with strong trans-Atlantic credentials, I am honored – and I told you already – I am honored to be here today.
As you know, the cooperation between the United States and Netherlands predates the Atlantic Council a little bit, or significantly. Our friendship, which is well over 200 years old, goes back to the birth of the American republic, and even further –as you may know, we founded New York when we were here. But 200 years later – that was 400 years ago, but 200 years later, from the outset, our security and our financial health have been part and parcel of the relationship between the United States and Netherlands.
In 1781, John Adams – that’s one of your Founding Fathers – was at that time the first American envoy to the Dutch Republic. And Adams argued that there was much that the Americans shared with the Dutch. And it was religion, trade interests and of course being a republic. Then we were a republic, and I think we were longer a republic than America is up till now. But, again, we were turned into a monarchy, and maybe you have some challenge ahead. (Laughter, chuckles.)
John Adams concluded that, and I quote: “Given these peculiarities, an alliance is so obvious and natural, that two distant nations have seldom received a more clint (ph) – hint by Providence to unite themselves,” unquote. Adams was seeking that alliance with the Dutch to finance the struggle for independence. Amsterdam banks indeed agreed to a loan of 5 million guilders, which was quite a sum these – those days, roughly $2 (billion ?).
The Dutch Republic became the first nation to salute the flag of the United States and the second one to establish an official relationship with the United States. And Adams himself opened the first American embassy in The Hague – the first American embassy outside the United States in The Hague. A treaty of friendship and commerce was signed.
By 1787, half of the American foreign debt was owned by the Dutch. By 1794 – that’s seven years later – the total amount lent by Holland has risen to the enormous amount of 30 million – (chuckles) – 30 million guilders – what a – what a – what an amount. (Chuckles.) Thirty million guilders, or $11 million – and this formed – and you may be surprised – this formed 80 percent of the foreign debt of the United States; 80 percent was owned by the Dutch. Hello, China. (Laughter.)
Much has changed since the times of John Adams. But over the centuries our bilateral relationship has even grown – only grown stronger, deeper and broader. Today, the Netherlands is the third-largest foreign investor in the United States, with $217 billion, and we are the ninth-largest trading partner. These investments account for about 625,000 American jobs today. The Netherlands, vice versa, is the number-one destination for U.S. investment worldwide.
Regarding security and defense, the Netherlands is a trusted partner to the United States and a founding member of NATO. We greatly value the essential contribution of the U.S. to international stability. And I welcome in particular the United States’ continued commitment to European security as reaffirmed in the strategic guidance last week. The guidance is an – let’s say – commonsensical response to a rapidly changing world.
The challenge for Adams was how to secure loans for the young American republic in a belligerent Europe. Our challenge today is how to secure peace in Europe, and throughout the world at large, in an age of financial austerity in the West. As minister of defense, helping the alliance to make the necessary adaptions, one – that is one of my highest priorities these days. Specifically, how do we ensure that NATO maintains its – let we call it – AAA rating as an alliance? We have also AAA in the – in the military.
And the stage is, as you know, being set for an important NATO summit in Chicago in May this year, which follows to the successful Lisbon summit in 2010. And in Chicago, we will, as NATO, decide on the defense and deterrence posture review. We will make further steps in NATO’s reform and Smart Defense. We will make further progress in the areas of missile defense. And we will make progress on partnerships. And of course we will also discuss NATO real life missions and in particular our strategy in Afghanistan.
I came here today to share with you three of my ideas how to maintain a AAA alliance in the age of austerity. First, we need to adapt the alliance to a volatile and rapidly changing world. This includes drawing the right lesson from recent operations and responding effectively to power shifts in the world.
Second, we need to substantially deepen defense cooperation, particularly in Europe. And this involves exploring radically new avenues for cooperation and a more practical approach to the issue of national sovereignty. This requires that we fully support the efforts of NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen.
And third, we should do our utmost to uphold the level of public support for the alliance. Adapting the alliance and deepening defense cooperation will certainly help in this way. But it will also require political will and leadership to prove our citizens the continuing importance of the alliance and the necessary defense expenditures in an era of dwindling resources. There is a risk that efforts – there is a risk that efforts to maintain our wealth today may come at the expense of our security tomorrow.
My first point: The inpredictable (ph) changes in the first world – in the – sorry, in the world, first of all underscore the importance of NATO as an indispensable pillar of stability. In view of the volatility, we would be well-advised to keep this pillar in place. Such an approach does not imply that NATO’s arsenals should be packed to the rafters with all conceivable weapon systems. We simply do not have the money for that. But it does mean, however, that NATO will continue to have a mix of assets, conventional and nuclear, which enables us to deal with a variety of scenarios.
It also means that NATO is capable of responding swiftly to every conceivable or even unforeseeable event. Libya showcased NATO’s potential in supporting flexible coalitions that included both partner nations and nations for other – from other regions as well. And however, important issues also, yes, need to be solved when some allies decide to engaged – decide to engage while others choose to abstain.
There’s a new problem we have to face: Is such an abstention free, or isn’t it? Should those who engage make use of NATO infrastructure to execute the mission? And what about the involvement and influence of non-NATO partners who are ready to contribute? Are costs being shared, and if so, how? Is consensus among the 28 always mandatory or can subgroups decide?
Of course, raising all these questions is easier then answering them. But it is clear, however, that NATO needs a set of rules – and that is new – needs a set of rules governing scenarios when some allies decide to engage while others choose to abstain. And then again, I will repeat what I told in the beginning: We should act relaxed. We need a framework for NATO’s role in support of flexible non-Article 5 – non-Article 5 operations.
Another case in point is how we respond to power shifts in the world. I regard the strategic guidance that President Obama and Secretary Panetta just released as a well-balanced response to these shifts. I am happy with them. The United States’ growing strategic attention towards Asia is a logical development. Moreover, stability in the Pacific is clearly also in the European interest; and over time European nations should seek to contribute more than to – to that stability as well.
Europe, for its part, also needs to take more responsibility when security problems are within its own periphery. Again, Libya provided an example. But in such cases, European nations will increasingly have to be prepared to take the lead. And this too is part and parcel of responding sensibly to geopolitical changes.
My second point concern(s) the need to deepen our defense cooperation if we want to keep our security AAA. Of course, we should not downplay the level of cooperation we have already achieved within the alliance and in Europe. And maybe it’s sometimes a little bit hidden, but there are lots of successes already.
For example, the Netherlands air forces receives most of its training here in the U.S., enhancing inter-operability and efficiency amongst allies. I underline my gratitude for this long-standing but also sometimes overlooked cooperation. Two days ago I visited Fort Hood in Texas, where air assault units from our army and air force train in an area as big as the Netherlands and Belgium – half of Belgium – together. And that’s a lot of land for Netherlands. And we are training there in Texas. And as the U.S. commander emphasized, U.S. and Dutch personnel are really learning from each other.
An example of another recent cooperation initiative is the European Air Transport Command, EATC, which is based in Holland and which ensures a more efficient use of the air transport capacity of four European countries – that is, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. In addition, the northern group of the nations, which includes the Baltics, the Nordic countries, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, as well as the U.K., has been meeting recently with the aim of seeking more collaboration. And as a matter of fact, it is one of the – let’s say, one of the invitations I always look forward to, to meet outside NATO meetings but also within NATO meetings, when we have luncheon together, it’s always good talking with – to each other, listening to each other. It’s a very positive and cooperative way of dealing with each other. And of course, we do not end the same always. But we do trust each other, and the ties between the countries are deepened by this northern group. And I’m very pleased, too, that we have it.
And over the past couple of years, the Netherlands has been making better use of NATO’s agency, NAMSA. International contracts through NAMSA for the Dutch deployment to Kandahar, for instance, have significantly reduced our costs. It pays off.
But NATO and Europe have not realized their full potential as yet, when it comes to defense cooperation. In 2010, the Netherlands was ranked by McKinsey as having the third most efficient armed forces – third most efficient armed forces, teeth-to-tail, in the world. And yet, during the last budget review last year, we were able to find substantial savings in the area of staff and support. There’s still – it was possible. Europe spends about 200 billion euros on defense – and that’s a lot – which corresponds to about $250 billion each year. But European cooperation on procurement is the exception. We do not cooperate all too much. It is not the rule. Three quarters of the procurement budgets are still spent nationally. And this is the cause for concern. Joint investment and procurement, when done right, is the starting point for cooperation throughout the equipment’s life cycle. Standardization reduces cost, and using common equipment, in turn, offer – in turn, offers opportunities for cooperation on maintenance and training.
I will give you an example. Our F-16 fighter planes are coming to the end of our – of their life cycle and their costly replacement is an issue of hot debate in Holland. As a first step, I have asked Denmark and Norway to think about cooperation regarding the fighter plane that will replace our F-16. And by doing so, we, the three countries, can build on the existing cooperation between F-16 nations that are also considering the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35, as a successor. Denmark does so, Norway does so, and we do so – we do so. So we can hopefully continue to achieve higher levels of cooperation in the fields of acquisition, maintenance, and perhaps even in the field of operations. And this is one example of how far the Netherlands is prepared to go in cooperation with other countries in order to keep us – keep up the NATO military capabilities. It means – it might mean that we share one of the icons of the armed forces with other countries – one of the icons. And that’s, of course, the fighter plane, that we share it with other countries.
The Netherlands will also take an active and leading role within NATO’s multinational approaches. In Chicago, we need to deliver projects as well as policies to guide on – do to this – to this for the future. And this is one big policy issue that surfaces when taking defense cooperation forward. This is the issue of national sovereignty. In the area of defense, sovereignty is the last obstacle, maybe. I took the initiative to start an in-depth discussion with Dutch parliament on the issue of sovereignty in relation to the need for cooperation. I am prepared to look at sovereignty in a more practical way. In order to achieve more security, cooperation and sovereignty are not opposites. When cooperation delivers more security, we should be willing to see how we can resolve issues of sovereignty and then do practical solutions. And we already have examples to build on.
In the EATC, the European Air Transport Command, which are – which I named a couple of minutes ago, for example, nations can withdraw assets for a limited period of time, as needed. So they can withdraw them for a period of time for a specific national task. Of course, they are committed to EATC, but they can withdraw for some time. And another example is the integrated Dutch-Belgium Navy – Netherlands-Belgium Navy, BENESAM. Our countries share staff facilities, training schools and maintenance of common equipment. You can say the Dutch and the Belgium navy are nearly one. But our governments can still decide independently on deployments.
In other words, the formal aspects of sovereignty, in particular the national political responsibility for the armed forces, can be secured even in the case of defense integration with other nations. The integrated German-Netherlands rapid response corps headquarters in Muenster also illustrates how concerns of sovereignty do not have to stand in the way of cooperation. And of course, we should realize that military cooperation and integration give rise, of course, to certain expectations. When you equip and when you train together, you should also be ready and willing to deploy together.
And my third and last point is that we should do our utmost to uphold the level of public support for the alliance. Public support is very, very important. Ensuring public support is even crucial in democratic societies like ours. Adapting the alliance and deepening defense cooperation will certainly contribute to maintaining public support. And we also have to set clear and achievable goals for our missions. Americans need to be persuaded that Europe will continue to be America’s most intimate, most professional, and most intimate and capable security partner, despite budgetary cuts on defense.
I welcome the message of the Strategic Guidance in this regard as well. Even with the cuts in defense budgets, as I said, Europe will still spend some 200 billion euros on defense. And by comparison, China spends less half and Russia less than a quarter of this amount. Europe still has impressive numbers of material and soldiers. And those facts are often overlooked in discussions.
Europeans, on the other hand, need to be persuaded that their security and membership of NATO does not come free of charge. Too many Europeans are taking their security for granted. They also need to understand that their wealth does not only depend on the stability of the euro, but also on international stability. It is my mission, as minister of defense, to strengthen public support for the Dutch armed forces by achieving concrete results, by improving efficiency and, last but not least, by providing a credible narrative explaining the ongoing needs for a AAA alliance and a strong Dutch contribution to it. All those must (help ?).
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, some thing are obvious. It is obvious, for example, that the European and American continents are drifting apart – and a little bit sad. This has been going on for quite some time. It is impossible to stop, and will result in closer proximity of the U.S. to the Far East than to Europe. The good news is that is only a geological fact, and that our tectonic plates only drift apart with a speed of two centimeters each year – two centimeters. Let’s say, in my lifetime, it’s about one and a half yard. That’s two of – (inaudible) – I think. Also, Americans – and that’s the other way – Americans and Europeans are able to travel the growing distance faster every year.
The point is, the distance between America and Europe may be a geographic fact, but it is not political one or even an economic one. And this, of course, is good news for the Atlantic Council. And it confirms that John Adams was right about the “hint by Providence.” In fact, Secretary Panetta has underscored this well in the Strategic Defense Review. The economic challenges we face today require difficult choices and cutbacks in public spending. We need to restore the foundations of our economic well-being. And we have to do it here, and we have to do it in Europe. But you also have to avoid the measures to maintain our well-being today come at the expense of our security tomorrow. We need to prevent the economic crisis from being a real security crisis. And we therefore need to apply a similar sense of urgency to strengthening NATO and to maintain it as a AAA alliance. And as a Dutch minister of defense, I am prepared to lead by example.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. PAVEL: Thank you very much for very insightful and timely and relevant remarks on issues that are critical to our community, and about which we’re having major discussions on the substantive issues every day. I wanted to sort of summarize the – your three messages, which I thought were very important for us to hear – that the alliance itself has to adapt to a changing world, that we need to deepen our cooperation in imaginative ways. And indeed, the Defense Strategic Guidance calls for innovative approaches to our partnerships, to be able to leverage them in new ways. And then, I thought your third point was particularly important, and I think it’s underappreciated and underdiscussed, and that is how do we marshal public support through leadership, the type of political leadership that you’re exerting, to remind our populations of the critical importance of the trans-Atlantic link, and without which, I think, we would see many, many more dangers and threats on a – on a more frequent basis.
So let me ask you sort of one set of questions, if I might, first before turning to the audience about the Defense Strategic Guidance, which you called a very commonsense approach, I think. And I think there are a lot of aspects of it that do give one great confidence that the United States military is headed in a more productive direction. But there were sort of three elements of it, I think, that have caused some concern about trans-Atlantic security. And I think first, at the strategic level, all this talk about a pivot to Asia sort of implies that you’re turning away from Europe towards Asia. And the implications of that for the U.S. commitment to European security have been questioned. Secondly, this issue of the ability of the U.S. military to handle two large ground wars at one time has raised questions about will this give a possible aggressor an opportunity, if the U.S. were involved in a ground war somewhere, to attack common interests. And then third, there – almost certainly what we’re hearing is there will be another change in U.S. military posture in Europe announced within a few weeks, that we’ll probably withdraw one brigade combat team. That brigade combat team will probably be disbanded. And so this, too, sort of is a third piece that has raised some questions.
So I wanted to ask you your view on these, sort of, this issue set, that the new strategy, albeit in its broad outline, is a very good one, has raised some questions about.
MIN. HILLEN: Well, as a matter of fact, I told you already I’m very (relaxed with it ?). I think the shift to the Pacific, to Asia is a quite logical one. In fact, it’s lasted until now, until it happened. And I think for Europe, also, we have to deal with shifting and other interests worldwide, and we have to deal with that as the United States is doing today. And on the other hand, you still have the Middle East together – a spot of huge interest. And I think when – the Far East is, of course, of interest in terms of, let’s say, influence and so on. The Middle East is still rumbling and cooking and so on. It’s (to us ?) our first intention, and I think therefore the – let’s say, the soup isn’t consumed as hot as it’s served. So I’m not very concerned on that.
The second one is if the – and you named it third, but I will take it as a second one – if America has less troops in Europe, is this a problem? I don’t know. I think it depends a little bit where you live. And I think when you live in the Baltics, you think about this different than you live in – let’s say, in Holland. We don’t think this is a major problem. As a matter of fact, troops can be transported quite quickly all over the world and used to – we don’t need any troops in Europe to have peace maintained in Europe. The Americans can be, let’s say, reassured. We do not quarrel together; we don’t have any war together. We – Germany is and the whole of Europe is quite quiet at the moment.
So – (chuckles) – the American troops can – I do not say go to sleep, but I think they are needed here, but it’s good, too, that we have them. But – as a matter of fact, the secretary this morning told me maybe in the end you have more troops in Europe than we have actually now, because lots of American soldiers are, let’s say, officially in Europe, but in practice are in Afghanistan or whatever. And maybe, in the end, you have more every day than you have now every year. And maybe that’s possible.
So that’s – (inaudible) – the second one. And the third was –
MR. PAVEL: Question about the two-war capability –
MIN. HILLEN: Oh, yeah.
MR. PAVEL: — and will that encourage certain countries to take advantage.
MIN. HILLEN: Well, I think – I think if you look to, let’s say, a country like Iran at the moment, and if you look at, not in terms of military or of in terms of power or so, but in terms of psychology. I think that one of the things that threatens us, that the worldwide shift which is going on will give some countries and some governments ideas about the strength of, let’s say, United States or the strength of Europe or so. And I think that’s where we have to show strength – not only strength in having enough capabilities, but also strength in the way we dispute these things and discuss it with each other.
And what we have until now, the last – and upcoming – the last couple of years, is that we have some – that we are arguing to each other, and that we’re saying: Hey, you should deliver more. Or you – let’s say, we have – in the – in the window of our shop, one sees, I think, differences in that and the problems rather than, let’s say, while going on, and unity. And I think we should – we must emphasize on unity. We must – we have enough positive points to look upon, and our cooperation is well. And the austerity helps us very much, very much indeed, because under pressure, everything is possible. And also in Europe, I can – whether when I’m at NATO meetings or European meetings – I can smell the will to cooperate, even better than it was, let’s say, two or three years ago.
MR. PAVEL: Excellent. Do we have any questions from the audience?
Yes, in the far corner.
Q: Yes, sir. Terry Murphy. I’m a member of the council. And long ago and far away, I was a junior officer in the United States Navy, and I have had a continued interest in naval, strategic, et cetera. And a year ago, the naval journals had quite a lot of discussion about what they called “the thousand-ship Navy.” When I was in, we had actually 800 ships. Well, there’s not 800 ships today. So the question was the U.S. Navy strategic question was how can they have, in effect, a thousand ships? And there were articles by the heads of – the uniformed heads of every navy I could imagine, and I’m sure your navy was in that. And I don’t – I don’t remember what the answers were, but clearly there seemed to be quite a lot of goodwill at the professional level, at the senior, head of services – uniformed services – professional level. And that’s a long way around getting to your final point, sir, which was how can the nations work together specifically. And if you just take that as one example, is there prospects for the various navies – U.S., Netherlands, others – to add up more than they have individually? Thank you, sir.
MIN. HILLEN: That’s a – I do agree with you, that’s a challenge. And therefore, I mentioned the BENESAM – the way the Belgium – the Belgian government and the Dutch are working together on navy – just on navy. And we have – and we share all the possibilities and all the capabilities of navy together. The only thing, the only difference is that if one of the two countries should decide not to deploy in any conflict, the country is free to do so. But we do everything together – maintenance, you name it.
And I will meet my colleague, De Crem, and I had to – had to wait a couple of months because they had some trouble at making the government. But I will meet my colleague again – and he’s staying in his job – but I will talk with him how to deal furthermore with the Belgian and Dutch navy. He has to buy new ships. We are – we are going to buy some new ships. And we are going – I hope we can buy them together. And therefore, we are not only a bigger – maybe from the point of view of America, a tiny one – but we are a bigger customer. And also, we can spend less money, and we can be more effective on the – on our navy.
I also have (opened/open ?) talks with the Germans, especially on the – on submarine – when it’s going to be on submarine cooperation. And they are – and we have good cooperation with the U.K., especially on the marines, so we try, also, on this field to link together. And what my message will be to the other ones, is look how we do, look how we perform. Isn’t it just an example for you to do the same?
And then we do – we don’t – do not get it from the top down, but we let it grow from bottom up. And it’s going fairly well. It’s going relaxed and people notice it and see it and it’s talked over and maybe that will work out. And I’m fairly optimistic about it.
MR. PAVEL: Any other questions? Yes.
Q: Bill Timme from IBM. A question for you for balancing sovereignty versus the commitment in – to the larger whole of NATO: How do you balance making unilateral decisions on – you know, where you got to look internally at your own budgets and budget cuts or whatever you need to do versus a NATO commitment of resources? You know, you had to make some tough decisions about tanks and that kind of thing.
Well, if you make those decisions unilaterally and other countries do the same thing, you know, you may end up with a real gap. And so how do – how do – what do you envision being the coordinating agency or means so nobody cuts all the same thing and then you’re left with a big gap?
MIN. HILLER: I think we can perform much better than we did at – (inaudible). If we make such a decision, it is not made by blind people in a dark room. My military have constantly contact with each other. We have constantly contact with SACEUR and within Europe and with Brussels. And everybody knows what we are going to do and everybody knows what the other countries are talking about and thinking about. So it doesn’t – didn’t come as – let’s say, as a surprise that we – that we made a decision.
And I also think that when other countries – when Germany presented their budget cuts, I think about three-quarters of a year later than we did, and surprisingly it was quite the same. (Chuckles.) And it was – and it fitted well together. So we are doing it openly. We look to each other. It think Europe does not have always in the – in the explicit way of doing things together but implicit we’re doing it already.
Q: Just to follow up very quickly though, do you think NATO – is there is a – is an – can NATO provide a place to do this? Does the defense planning process accommodate this kind of discussion or is there a new mechanism that is required?
MIN. HILLER: A new mechanism maybe should be required, but if we make cuts internationally of course it’s not only the military we’ll look at a table, but the finance people, I’m afraid, a little bit more and a little bit more direct, and they have ideas about – for security issues, no. (Chuckles.) They think if you cut enough, they’re well off and everybody’s well off. So we are – I think it’s not always possible, but as I said, to the professionals talking each day to each other have enough contacts, warn you for cutting the (euro ?) there too hard.
And so I think that what we have in the end is, let’s say, quite balanced, until now. I didn’t hear in Europe always – (inaudible) – there were budget cuts and there were severe budget cuts in most of the countries for – there (had happened something ?) we never expected, and that will cause a hole in our defense strategy.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Yes, Damon Wilson.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister, for your remarks. I think one of the most important ideas you’ve been pushing and put on the table again today is this more flexible approach to national sovereignty. And in many of the sessions we’ve had over the past year or so with ministers of defense from Europe – we’ve had members that oftentime(s) have been talking to a minister who’s dealing with real budget cuts and said: You know, isn’t now the time to consider either getting rid of your air force or a joint air force with several of your neighbors, for some of the smaller countries.
And you could see the (CHOD ?) sitting next to him – it was in the air force – just sort of blanch at the idea of what that – the implications of what that means. It’s pretty significant. And I think you and Belgium with your navy have gone quite far. But has the pain gotten significant enough, has austerity gotten significant enough that many of your colleagues are willing to entertain to have the same flexibility to ideas of national sovereignty that you’ve put on the table?
That’s always been sort of the key constraint. It’s one thing to do joint procurement, have a joint logistic train to support, but if your operational deployment decision, if your decision – a nation’s decision to put military forces into combat is directly linked to the decision of another country, that is a fundamental rethink of some sovereignty issues. How are your colleagues reacting to your bold idea on that?
MIN. HILLER: Therefore – (chuckles) – I said relax on these kind of discussions, for if everybody is looking at it very seriously, nothing is possible. As a matter of fact, I announced to my parliament in The Hague that we will have this in spring, and very, very deep discussion on this, because I have also, let’s say, some guidance from minorities and majorities in Holland, how far my stake will be.
But I – in – let’s say – when you look to the euro, how independent is Europe – is every European country which is a member of euro? Can we decide on our own what to do with our money? And I don’t think so. We already – and we didn’t express it – but we already transferred sovereignty to the European Bank and to the European institutions.
And also on security, what’s talking about security? Holland isn’t able to defend itself against who – against the Belgians, yes. (Laughter.) But we are not – we are – we are not in the position to do so. So what this – what is our sovereignty? Our sovereignty is our crown, our sovereignty is our government. But the – but the real thing is that Europe is more interdependent than everybody maybe realizes. But it – I think when it’s – when you don’t realize it’s good and then you are relaxed. And if you’re going to realize it, you see problems and you try – and you start to think and (seeking ?) difficulties.
And therefore, I say: Talk about it, relax, see how the reality is. Try to give good examples. And we – and the Dutch are prepared to take the lead on this. And I think that our country – we are not just a small country, just another one. Holland is quite important in Europe. Of the – we’re not big, but we are, let’s say, the – of the smallest we are the biggest and of the big we are the smallest. We are somewhere in between. And our national scale also in economy is very important. We have – people do see and notice what we are doing. And if you give the right example maybe it will work out.
And I also told the secretary this morning, we are prepared to take the lead in Europe to do so. And, well, let’s say (it would ? ) come out, but I’m optimistic on the possibilities, and maybe more than others. And if you go home and complain and looking for difficulties it –
(inaudible) – and then again, you see what I told a couple of minutes ago. If these countries like Iran or other countries, looking to us and thinking, yes, they are losing grip, they are really getting less mighty every day, then we are feeding them in their aspirations and we shouldn’t do that. Good defense strategy is not only with weaponry, it’s also psychological.
MR. PAVEL: Mr. Minister, I wonder if I might follow up on an issue you raised, and I was really happy to hear you raise it, and that was Asia and the European interests in Asian stability. If you think back a ways there was controversy over the possibility of NATO operating in Southwest Asia or – and now it’s in Afghanistan and has been and is certainly doing an impressive job.
The U.S. has now pivoted to Asia, at least in terms of strategy, and I wonder, what’s your sense of whether Europe, at some point, will follow the U.S. as Asia continues to develop economically, as security issues potentially become more prominent? Will it be European members? Will it be NATO? What do you think is the likely track?
MIN. HILLEN: I cannot predict, but the past learns us that – teaches us that, as well as United Kingdom, as The Netherlands and other countries have visited Asia in the past centuries lots of times, and I think we have all history there. And maybe we concentrated on ourselves because wealth and economy was in the West. But these days it’s anymore, and I think Europe is always very (practical ?). Why is – why was Europe so often in the lead in the – in the – in all the centuries (here fore ?)? Because they’re (practical ?), they’re outgoing, they’re looking around to see what’s in for them.
And I’m convinced that Europe also is very interested in developments in Asia. And I do not say that we will send therefore warships in their direction, but we are also very interested in the way their interests are divided, their powers are divided, and if it’s – let’s say one of the things is the free sea and the free ocean we should put for international traffic and – international commercial traffic. It’s essential; therefore it’s in the interest of Europe as well as for the United States.
MR. PAVEL: Mmm hmm. Yes, over here in the front row.
Q: Roger Kirk at the Atlantic Council. You mentioned Iran. There’s a lot of thought and concern about Iran at this point, including action in the straits and mines and that kind of thing, which we’re not – that’s not our strongest point in our Navy as I understand it. What kind of mechanism is there with you and in NATO for sort of thinking about that ahead of time and what kind of assistance or things might have to be done in the event that something happened?
MIN. HILLEN: I think one of the most important things to countries like Iran is intelligence, you have to know what’s going on there. And if you don’t, you’re going – you’re going and telling sort of riddles or suggestions, I think you will give the wrong answer. Of course, there are lots of problems. I don’t know how strong the government is in Iran. I know that the European answer with the embargo is working out – is working out properly. And I know that it’s for Iran quite difficult to carry on, and therefore they are provoking. And we shouldn’t give them the reward of their provocations. And that’s one of the things we have to bear in mind.
And then again, this year, we have to deal with the government which is maybe a little bit unpredictable and maybe a little bit, let’s say, without any responsibility but maybe not. Also, Iran – we’re out of friends with Iran these days. Have they any friends left? I don’t know. So I think the Iran case, although it’s looked quite grim, on the other hand also for the nation itself – for Iran itself if quite difficult.
And if we only see some threat I think we put ourself in some position of fear or something like that, we shouldn’t do so. We can deal with it. And if the Strait of Hormuz or something is – something like that is there, we can answer it with our means. And let’s see what Iran is doing and what they try. But until now, I think, don’t panic. Look very close and look with as much intel as you can – as you can have.
MR. PAVEL: Yes, you have a question here in the second row.
Q: Sunjin Choi (ph), Illangin (ph) Partners. Minister, could I follow in your comments on AAA security cooperation? When I look at the EU – eurozone there are six members – eurozone members at AAA. And – however, we didn’t – AAA played (out ?) countries, there are two tiers: one, whole AAA, which is Netherland and Germany and Finland, and perhaps a – (inaudible) – AAA in France and Luxembourg and others.
And my question is, should – I mean, we all notice Christian Louise (ph) outburst to – with regard to the potential downgrade in French – downgrade. And in a way, he has a point, and U.K. suffers from public finance. My question is, as some of AAA countries would suffer from a downgrade, while impacting on defense cooperation with The Netherlands.
Minister, you – and second, you mentioned about you closely cooperate with Norway and Denmark. Norway and Denmark are not eurozone; however, they are AAA countries. And do you foresee increasing cooperation in those countries? Thank you.
MIN. HILLEN: As in my first remark, also here is relaxation. If you look to all the former positions, we don’t have any – let’s say we cannot talk to each other if we’re – there’s always a reason not to find each other. If we have a meeting we share, when we have meetings with another group, the Swedish are always there, the Norwegians are always there. And sometimes it’s EU and sometimes it’s NATO. And Sweden is not NATO and Norway is not EU. And if we have – let’s say, to control the member (cards ?) if they entered the room, we have another problem.
So we accept very – let’s say, very relaxed to each other presence. I think that’s a good example. Of course the Dutch have an AAA economy, but we are very – let’s say we are very keen on that. But on the other hand, we regard ourself as European country, not as a northern European country or (more of ?) a special European country, but as a European country. And we feel responsible, as well, for France, as we hope France will feel responsible for us.
So I think the European unity is already there. Although all kind of problems and all kind of different discussions are going on, it’s already there. I think we will emerge out of this crisis in the end. And I think it will make Europe even stronger. The way we are dealing with unity is maybe a little bit peculiar, but the history of Europe is peculiar. And then we have – we have had wars until, let’s say, only a half a century ago. And today we do all things in meeting rooms and so on.
And so there will be some problems ahead, but Europe is a unity. Europe is doing quite well. And I’m very proud to be European. And I think that it’s possible for us to (who let it see through ?) the world and to take (easy ?) decisions every year ahead of us. But now we are – let’s – you know, indeed we are in a crisis. And as I told the American ambassador in The Hague when I first met her, she already left the country, but when I first met her I said to her: Well, you know, we have more inconvenience from Wall Street than from Tora Bora (till now ?).
And have you already have your warships downtown Manhattan? And she said, no. And I said, well, if you look to the financial problems we have that have problems with our (force ?) coming out of a crisis we have here in the West, which is – and we always talk about shared failures and so on – this is also one of our shared failures, which maybe is called “greed” or I don’t know, but it has something to do with, let’s say, the banking system, which – or the financial system, which acted quite – well, let’s say not too – not as good as it might have been.
And that was more hazardous to defense than any enemy, I think, in the last years. So therefore, it – I call finance surprises a foe within. And then, again, we have to deal with it. We have to make solutions for it. And I think we will manage. We’ll come out of that. That’s a foe within.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you. Mr. Minister, we have time for one last question, a brief one, from Peter Flory.
Q: Thank you. Minister, Peter Flory with the Atlantic Council and the Center for Trans-Atlantic Security Studies. You spoke at some length on the importance of multinational cooperation. You also showed that you’ve broken the code on that topic by emphasizing that it’s important to go beyond statements and actually deliver actual projects, which is harder to do whether in NATO or in the EU or anywhere else.
Looking forward and given The Netherland’s generally positive experience in this area, what do you see as some of the most promising areas for cooperation? And in addition to the sovereignty that you’ve already mentioned, what do you see as some of the biggest obstacles and way to – ways to get beyond them and hopeful deliver some real programs for the upcoming Chicago summit?
MIN. HILLEN: I think one of the most promising is the F-35, not only for the countries I mentioned but also for the U.K. and Italy – we are in already. I think we should work together, and as a matter of fact – to be a little bit cynical – but I think Lockheed Martin, for the price problem and so on, for it makes us more – it gives more idea about our consumer’s position, and therefore we work together, we phone each other, and do we have the same problem as well. And then you get also a platform of doing things together. And there was the idea born of my invitation to Norway and Denmark to even go one further and exploit the F-35 as well in the future.
Now, we can do the same kind of – maybe not so far going, but with Italy and with these other European countries. Belgium is going to – I think, going to join also. So I think the F-35, because it is such a – such a spectacular item, I think that maybe that can be of help – yes. And I think one of the biggest threats for cooperation is the formality. The – if you have a visit – a NATO or an international meeting, it is so dreadful. It is so bureaucratic and it’s so red tape. And I think that is the – that’s the thing that threatens us most.
MR. PAVEL: Well, Mr. Minister, I wanted to thank you behalf of the Atlantic Council. You’ve reminded us of some long-standing principles that we need to continue to adhere to and you’ve also raised some very important new issues for us to continue to discuss on the way to the Chicago summit. So thank you very much for putting the Atlantic Council on your agenda here in the United States.
MIN. HILLEN: Thank you.