Dutch Inquiry report on international politics

This is a translation of sections 7.2.1 to 7.3.5 of the report of the Davids Commission, which looked at the Dutch government’s political support for the Iraq war and reported in January 2010.

Section 7 covers the role of international politics in the Dutch government’s decision making.

7.2.1 International Solidarity

In the State of the Union speech of Jan 29, 2002, US President Bush gave the first intimation that the US was extending its Afghanistan focus to Iraq. He repeated reference to the Axis of Evil made up of Korea, Iran, and Iraq. This speech resulted in the first initiative in the Iraq crisis.

The French response was negative. Foreign Minister de Villepin condemned the simple-mindedness of the speech, subsuming all the world’s problems within the war on terror, and placing the same characterization onto very different countries like Iraq, Iran and Korea. The Germans also found the Bush formula unfortunate. Foreign Minister Fischer moreover warned the US against going it alone.

British Premier Blair supported the American President, saying his concerns about Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were “entirely right”. He believed that the war against terror did not stop with Afghanistan.

The Netherlands also agreed that Bush’s condemnatory attitude towards the three countries (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) was fully justified, and there was great concern about their weapons programmes. Foreign Minister Van Aartsen said that the Netherlands could identify with the vision Bush provided although not using his form of words.

7.2.2 The Vision of the Kok II cabinet

In March 2002, the Embassy in London reported that British representatives had returned from the US, and that America would take military action against Iraq and ask for British participation. The British would prepare a campaign for its population based on Iraq’s efforts towards WMDs. The problem was that they could not rely on secret information on what was actually happening in Iraq.

The London embassy also reported that on March 11, Blair had a private meeting with Vice President Cheney, without even Foreign Minister Straw present. Very few people were aware of this meeting and its discussion. The Embassy in Washington signalled that with the State of the Union speech, the American government had shifted from reactive to preventive action. Plans for regime change were being developed but had not reached the final decision stage.

On March 18, 2002, almost exactly one years before the war started, the first discussion took place between the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands and United States; Van Aartsen spoke to his counterpart Powell in Washington DC. The Netherlands sought the dismantling of WMDs in Iraq. The speedy and unconditional return of the weapons inspectors was therefore imperative; and it was preferable that the disarmament of Iraq was achieved peacefully. The US indicated that military action was not excluded, and was helping, according to the Netherlands, to pressure Iraq to accord with the Security Council resolution.

In contrast to Powell, Van Aartsen stressed the importance of diligent consultation with allies if the US were to decide to address Iraq. A meeting with the deputy foreign minister Grossman, advocated Van Aartsen’s call for better cooperation between the US, the EU, and NATO. National Security Adviser Hadley told van Aartsen that President Bush was determined to address Iraq. He had little confidence in the resumption of the inspections. During his visit to Washington, Van Aartsen told the press: “The presence of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction threatens not just the US but ourselves too. The situation in Iraq threatens our democracy and way of life.”

The issue of Iraq was also discussed at an official level within the EU. The Dutch position was identical to what was put forward in March in Washington. In May, an additional element was added: “Regime change is not on the Dutch Agenda”.

Following the Cabinet’s response to the renewed US goal to address Iraq, Kok called for confirmation and emphasis that the UN route was the means to achieve the disarmament of Iraq. Military pressure was helping, but regime change was not the goal of the Dutch government.

7.2.3 Towards regime change

Prime Minister Blair endorsed Bush’s assessment of the threat that Iraq posed, and the need to rid the country of WMDs. However, the Political Director of the UK Department of Foreign Affairs told employees of the Dutch Embassy in London that regime change was not an official British policy. Blair and his Foreign Minister, Straw, believed that the world would be a lot safer without Saddam Hussein. If obtaining cooperation over WMDs did not succeed, military operations, perhaps including regime change, would be possible

During the spring and summer of 2002, the signals became clearer of the US shift towards regime change. This was outlined by the Dutch Embassy in Washington in the form of a clear and sometimes prophetic scenario. Thus, as mentioned, a message to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hague on May 7, 2002: “Regime change in Iraq is the goal of this administration as stated by Secretary Powell on television. The embassy calculated that an attack on Iraq would not take a complete year. The military build-up that was necessary for a invasion of Iraq, would have a major impact on society, which the American public should be prepared for. Military action before the congressional elections in November 2002 was not being considered. It was continually stressed that the White House had no concrete attack plans in place

At the end of May 2002, a high-ranking member of the US State Department briefed staff of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the briefing dedicated to Iraq. It stressed the first diplomatic path the US followed and the unfolding scope for bringing about regime change. In a speech at West Point in June 2002, Bush introduced the military doctrine of pre-emptive attack. It soon became clear that the White House was applying this new doctrine to Iraq, and had reserved the right to act before Iraq would be able to use WMDs.

Continuing the initiatives started in March, UN and Iraq efforts took place in July 2002, to secure the return of the arms inspectors. The Dutch Embassy reported that the US had converted this into a trigger. Several sources confirmed that there was consensus (in the US) at the highest level that disarming Iraq could be achieved only though regime change. It did not appear that even if Iraq were to accept inspections, it would have any significant impact on American policy. It was assumed that Iraqi cooperation was so poor over the last year that intervention remained necessary. And should Iraq at the last minute, under great military pressure, agree to inspections, the US would have already reached a point of no return. “I fear that by then it would be too late, “said a State Department employee.

By the end of the summer of 2002, it was also clear that this plan for regime change would result in international discord. To the astonishment of many, Germany was the most critical within Europe. The federal election was imminent, and Chancellor Shroder’s party was not favourite in the polls. In a TV interview on August 3, Shroder said that Germany was not available for any “adventures”. Germany would not support an attack on Iraq even if a UN resolution could be secured. He said that this would certainly become a theme in his election campaign. In this period, the first outline of a Franco-German alliance on this issue would emerge. A July 30 meeting between the leaders of both countries, agreed that participation in a military operation against Iraq could occur only as the core purpose of a Security Council resolution

7.2.4 A new minister determines his position

This was the situation in the when Hoop Scheffer took over in the Netherlands the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. Because the Iraq issue was constantly prominent on the international agenda, the new minister was quick to act. On August 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a brain-storming session which produced a position Scheffer reflected in (the Netherlands) international position.

The Minister reflected this on August 14 in discussions with US Ambassador Sobel. Hoop Scheffer said that the Netherlands agreed that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were a problem for the international community, and that a solution should be based on Security Council resolutions. If this road reached a dead-end, and a possible military intervention was addressed, the Netherlands had a strong preference for a new Security Council resolution. “Legally that is probably not an absolute necessity, but politically very desirable”

On August 22, Hoop Scheffer introduced his position to a visit to his UK counterpart, Jack Straw. It appeared that the Dutch and British positions matched closely. Britain’s prime hope was that the weapons inspectors would return. The UK also attached importance to the (threat of a) military option as an additional leverage on the regime in Baghdad. This reiterated the policy of Van Aartsen. Another agreement was that both countries should stress to the United States that the issue of Iraq should not distract attention from the need to make efforts for a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Blair’s position, an important difference with the Dutch, was that the option of British military involvement had clearly been left open at an early stage.

An introductory meeting between De Hoop Scheffer and his French counterpart De Villepin on August 30, 2002, revealed the different approaches of each country towards Iraq. De Villepin stressed that Iraq must comply with the requirements of the international community, but avoided Hoop Scheffer’s question of how much time Baghdad should be given to comply with the UN resolutions. The two agreed that the EU had a role to play, but seemed to disagree about the content of that role. According to De Villepin, Europe was moving to a different policy to the United States. Hoop Scheffer however supported the U.S. strategy of building up military pressure.

7.2.5 Gymnich discussion

At 30 and August 31, 2002, the informal half yearly Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU position, called Gymnich consultation, took place in the Danish Helsingør. Here, Member States first discussed the issue of Iraq at ministerial level. Hoop Scheffer called for the establishment of a common position to gain influence in the debate in the United States, which stated that it was up to Saddam Hussein to prove that he had no existing WMDs or had developed them; that options using the UN route should be ended; that any new UN resolutions would indicate who is and who is not willing to act on Iraq; thumb screws would continue to be applied; the military option had not been excluded in advance because it was too easy for Saddam Hussein to continue to resist.

The Foreign Affairs Ministers agreed that Iraq had to comply with international obligations and provide the UN weapons inspectors immediate access to the country. In the opinion of the EU, the possibility of American action was established. The German Chancellor Schröder had already spoken against a war against Iraq, and French President Chirac took a critical position. However, British Prime Minister
Blair supported the U.S. policy.

A letter to the House of September 4, 2002, referred to the Gymnich consultation. The government reported that the EU partners agreed with the Dutch view that Iraq should comply immediately with the Security Council Resolutions, and the importance it attached to cooperation with the United States. But, during a Parliamentary debate on September 5, De Hoop Scheffer was outspoken about the lack of consensus within the EU:

“I’ve tried to build a coalition and consulted with colleagues within the EU to achieve this; to see whether the EU countries could be brought into line. This has not succeeded. Some will say it completely failed. But that does not mean that I will give up the effort. . In Helsingør, we talked about the risks posed by Iraq. There was agreement on the first step, namely the return of weapons inspectors. That is not enough, but it is a first step.”

Hoop Scheffer emphasised that what he had in mind was not a coalition to go to war, but that a united European position could make a difference in the discussions with the United States. This was Hoop Scheffer’s view from August 14 in his diplomatic contacts, and during the brainstorming session on taking a position on the Iraq question. He supported disarmament of Iraq through compliance with Security Council Resolutions and return of weapons inspectors. If the “UN route” turned out to be the walking dead, then he kept open the option of military action. A new Security Council resolution Security was desirable but not necessary.

After the United States and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands was one of the foremost countries to take this strong position.

It would be three weeks before the House would be informed of this position. Hoop Scheffer responded to Van Bommel’s questions about a possible US attack: “I consider it premature to addressing the possible modalities of a still hypothetical scenario.” On 4 September the Minister of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the House expressing the views of the Government.

7.2.6 President Bush takes the UN route

In the summer of 2002, it did not seem to be the US intention to address the Iraq issue through the UN. However, to everyone’s relief Bush announced at the General Assembly on September 12, 2002, that the United States would still try to reach agreement in the Security Council on the approach to Iraq. But he gave no doubt that the US also retained the right to act if the Security Council did not produce a resolution: “the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced”.

It seemed that the US decision to take the UN route resulted international pressure and the decisive British influence. Minister Hoop Scheffer told the House that this conclusion was confirmed by Dutch ambassador to the US, Van Eenennaam and the second man on the Dutch embassy in Washington, Geerts. The Embassy in Washington had strongly advocated for the “UN route”. Before the US and British decided to take the UN route, they could count on Dutch support on Iraq. By September 12, comments by Prime Minister, were welcomed in the US. At a press conference on September 6, Balkenende had said there was a good chance that military action was possible. It was established that Iraq was in possession of WMDs.

On September 9, he added: “Saddam Hussein is calling the disaster upon Iraq. If weapons of mass destruction, are confirmed, we must tackle him hard, just because we do not trust him on this issue.” The prime minister argued that for the Dutch Government, military action against Iraq was the ultimate instrument if the country continued to refuse to admit UN inspectors. “If the other route does not work, it means military intervention. That is ultimately conceivable for the Dutch government. I do not rule it out.” On September 10, at a further meeting of European Christian Democratic leaders, Balkenende said that a U.S. attack on Iraq was possible when it appeared that Iraq had WMD, and if the weapons inspectors continued to be refused admission.

In this way, both Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs had expressed agreement with the American position. That was noticed in Washington DC. An employee of the National Security Council confirmed to the Dutch ambassador in Washington that not only was very good note taken of the Dutch position, but also that it had been noticed that the Netherlands was the first EU country, after the United Kingdom to clearly state the (US) argument. In his diplomatic contacts, Hoop Scheffer indicated that Netherlands considered that a new Security Council resolution was not necessary. This (the Dutch) position received much appreciation (in the US). Prime Minister Blair took the initiative on September 13, calling Balkenende to thank him for the “courageous attitude ‘of the Netherlands in Iraq debate. The American’s welcome was confirmed during a visit to De Hoop Scheffer to Washington in late September 2002. His consultations included Secretary Powell, National Security Advisor Rice, Libby, the chief of staff and adviser of Vice President Cheney, and Wolfowitz Deputy Secretary of Defense. Everyone expressed their gratitude for the attitude of the Dutch government regarding the Iraq issue Geerts reported that Hoop Scheffer gave in turn expressed satisfaction and happiness to Embassy staff about Bush’s speech. Scheffer said that the UN route was a strong defense for his powerful American partners. But this is not recorded in the interview reports. What is recorded is that Scheffer was asked about thoughts in the US a new Security Council resolution, and on the thinking within the US Government on a possible post-Saddam era.

7.2.7 A varied picture

It is argued that Hoop Scheffer’s talks late September in Washington provided a picture of the forces within the U.S. government. Several departments within the government were fully agreed on the policy on Iraq. Powell was seen as a “dove”, and the State Dept was relatively the most positive about the UN and the resumption of weapons inspections. Powell also stressed to the Hoop Scheffer that President Bush had brought the Iraq issue back to the UN. The two ministers talked openly on detailed modalities of any new Security Council resolution.

In contrast, Cheney was known as a “hawk”, a representative of the neoconservative ideas. Followers of this line saw the UN mainly an obstacle and had little confidence in the weapons inspections. Rice and Libby warned Hoop Scheffer against high expectations on the possibility of Iraq to form a modern, secular, and democratic state, and that without this, optimism had no foundation. There were therefore diverse and various signals from Washington about America’s goals on Iraq. At times it appeared that by going to the UN, Bush placed less emphasis on regime change. But Bush himself made the policy clear when on October 21, he confirmed: ‘The stated policy of our government (…) is regime change – because we don’t believe the regime is going to change.’

Netherlands felt uncomfortable with the emphasis the US gave to regime change. From international law perspective, it would be difficult to defend this goal achieved through violence. This was one of the focus of a call between Balkenende and Bush on September 20 2002. There were concerns that the US Congress would adopt a resolution on October 11, authorizing Bush to intervene militarily with the aim of achieving regime change, alongside ensuring the dismantling of the Iraqi WMD. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs feared that this would destroy any chances of a broad coalition.

The British government was less happy with the difference in approach between the United Kingdom and the United States on regime change. The United States saw regime change as an independent main objective of the Iraq policy, which should continue even if the weapons inspectors were allowed re-entry. The United Kingdom saw regime change as a byproduct of the removal of Iraqi WMDs. Hoop Scheffer defended this position: “Attention still remains focused on the Iraqi WMD. If as result of following the UN route, military action is carried out as a ‘last resort’, the result would be regime change.” wrote Hoop Scheffer to the House.

Not only were the signals from the US different about the purpose of a possible military intervention diverse; various arguments were advanced. The immediate threat posed to the world of the supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, was often mentioned in these arguments. Also frequently heard was the enforcement of Security Council resolutions and protecting the credibility of the UN. Also, humanitarian arguments were used: the human rights situation and the fate of the Iraqi people under the pressure of sanctions. Democratization of Iraq, or even the whole region, was also proposed; and that a change of regime in Iraq could have a positive impact on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

7.2.8 A New Resolution

After Saddam Hussein announced on September 16, 2002 that he had agreed to the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors, 54 different countries, including Russia, believed that a new resolution was unnecessary. They considered that the weapons inspectors could work based on resolution 1284, which established UNMOVIC in 1999. France also quickly saw no need for a new resolution. This position was partly motivated by the fear that this resolution would be designed to justify US plans for the United States to intervene in Iraq at its sole discretion.

However, the Americans and British pursued their own plans to obtain a new resolution. They believed that the weapons inspections based on the existing resolution 1284 would not be sufficiently robust. An enhanced inspection regime was needed to achieve disarmament of Iraq. A (new US/British) resolution would pull together the resolve of the international community and thus increase pressure on Saddam Hussein. The United Kingdom considered a new resolution was needed for the United States to demonstrate their good will by choosing the UN route. In the UK opinion, the US had made a major concession. It was in everybody’s interest to show that the route through the UN was paying off.

By the end of September the negotiation process began for a new resolution in the Security Council. On September 27, the United Kingdom presented an exceptional strongly-worded text, and according to France, provoked the suspicion that the UK had tied their wagon to the United States. The text contained a number of controversial elements, such as that each permanent member of the Security Council could stipulate specific locations for the weapon inspectors to inspect; and permanent members could be present at these inspections.

And Iraqi refusal to cooperate with such inspections would lead to the use “of all necessary means” understood to imply the use of force. Each incorrect or incomplete statement, or any refusal of Iraq to immediately and fully to cooperate in implementing the resolution to cooperate would constitute a material breach. The head of Unmovic, Blix, would privately indicate that a resolution adopted with such content would result in resignation. During an interview with the Dutch Permanent Representative in New York, Blix said that with this resolution, the inspectors’ independence would no longer be guaranteed.

Within the UN and in bilateral contacts with America, the Netherlands stressed the importance of following the “UN route” stressed, and the desirability of a new resolution. At that time the Netherlands was not represented in the Security and was therefore not in a position to much influence on the content of Resolution 1441. In 2002, the Dutch Permanent Representative in New York received only one instruction from Den Haag on Iraq. This was a statement on October 16, of the EU for an open debate on Iraq to occur in the Security Council. This instruction reflected the current well-known Dutch position. There was also a concern that to ensure the disarmament of Iraq, an effective inspection regime needed to be less vulnerable to opposition from the Iraq administration. This supported the Netherlands’ pursuit of a strengthened inspection regime. It was clear that the first draft by the British United States was not accepted by the other permanent Security Council members. After several busy weeks of diplomacy, the presented the United States a resolution on October 23, 2002. It had some controversial elements, such as the elimination of the special powers of permanent Security Council members. It stated that Iraq was already in material breach of Security Council Resolutions, and that continued non-compliance would lead to serious consequences.

Its main point was the wording of the trigger for action against Iraq. France, Russia and China opposed any reference to the automatic authorization for the use of force if Iraq did not comply with the resolution. France, in particular, called for a two step plan. First would be a resolution that would strengthen the inspection regime. If it appeared that Iraq was not following this resolution, the Security Council would meet again to consider the situation. If the members considered it necessary, the Security Council might authorize the use of force in a separate resolution. In the last weeks before the vote on the resolution, negotiations focused on any so-called ‘hidden triggers’ in the draft text of the resolution.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered what to do if the resolution wasn’t passed. The Embassy’s First Secretary at the Permanent Representation to the UN devised a possible argument that the then minister could use, supporting the line followed until then. The argument was that the discussion in the Security Council should not permit Saddam to go at his own pace. As they had been conducted, inspections seemed to have no chance of success, and Iraq was in material breach of UN resolutions for years. “Saddam had to be addressed and the US is willing to do that. In short, we will therefore have to continue with the international coalition against Saddam, headed by the US.”

The Minister did not use this argument because on November 8, Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted. Iraq had one last chance to disarm. The country had thirty days within which to hand over a correct and complete declaration of its weapons program. Errors or omissions in this statement would be a material breach of the resolution. The resolution ordered the weapons inspectors UN (UNMOVIC and IAEA) be given immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to Iraq. If Iraq failed to meet this and obey previous resolutions, serious consequences would follow.

Immediately after the passing of the resolution, it became clear that Security Council members interpreted the resolution differently, especially concerning the question as to whether a second resolution was necessary for the use of violence. Also dispute arose over who would observe a material breach of this resolution. Where almost all members suggested that VR-Blix would be the one who would report the existence of material breach, the Dutch Permanent Representation reported to the Hague that the United States declared that a Member finding a material breach could bring this matter forward.

7.2.9 The Majors List

On December 11, 2002, a stunning message arrived from Washington. It appeared that the Unites States intended to place the Netherlands on the “Major’s List”, a list of countries responsible for a large share of drug production or a significant transit hub for drugs. Ambassador Van Eenennaam raised the alarm: “Only political pressure would still be able to turn the tide.” He proposed that Hoop Scheffer quickly contact Powell, and, if necessary, the Prime Minister should approach the President. The ambassador said that negative effects of such a classification could not be underestimated. “The fact that the Netherlands, in one breath would soon be mentioned along with countries like Afghanistan, Burma and Colombia, is detrimental to our image, not only in the US, but also beyond.” Van Eenennaam reviewed the strategy for preventing inclusion on the list. He said Iraq explicitly: “Relations between the US and the Netherlands are not a one-way street. We support the US on many fronts (the fight against terrorism, etc., Afghanistan, Iraq), and this issue is so important to us that US should never seriously hold onto it. There is also likelihood that inclusion on the “Majors List” would coincide with key political decision moments in the Netherlands (elections, and debate over Iraq)”.

Netherlands was ultimately not included on the “Majors List”. In an interview with the Commission, Van Eenennaam remembered that contacts were made with Powell to ensure this. The press later suggested a connection between this event and Dutch aid to Iraq. Van Eenennaam denied to the Commission the existence of a direct connection, because the initiative to place the Netherlands on the list, came from a very different part of the US government. He typified the incident or as an example of situations in which there were many American pressures. That by maintaining warm ties with the US, the Netherlands could rely on good will from Washington and its response to a faithful ally.

7.3 WAR BECOMES UNAVOIDABLE

 

7.3.1. Force in view

Soon after the adoption of Resolution 1441 the United States began to pursue the construction of an international military coalition. In mid-November it sent requests for military assistance to around fifty countries including the Netherlands. The Dutch Government argued that the build-up of military pressure could be helpful in persuading Iraq to comply with resolution 1441, and therefore responded positively to the request, in principle.

This Dutch approach was in sharp contrast with the French. US requests did not fare well in Paris and were described as naive and premature, especially since they were made on the first day that the UNMOVIC inspection was relaunched. The French view was that success of inspections should be the priority. Overt military preparations at such a time was hypocritical and counterproductive. It would make Saddam Hussein believe that whatever he did – he would still certainly be bombed.

At the start of January 2003, the Embassy signalled several times that the US government would almost inevitably launch a military intervention in the near future. On January 27, the UN weapons inspectors delivered a first progress report to the Security Council. Sources within the NSC let the Dutch ambassador know that the United States had no intention at that moment of concluding its decision. The government was planning, in the following week at a particular date and place to present the case against Iraq publicly, an event later known as the Powell speech to the Security Council. The United States would then seek to obtain a new UN resolution

The UK did not use the first progress report from the UN weapons inspectors as an opportunity to advocate military action. In the absence of evidence, the political climate was not ripe for military action against Iraq, and the verdict of the British was to allow the inspectors more time. Britain was gratified by the likely votes for a resolution mandating war against Iraq, but the votes were probably insufficient.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was thus well aware of US and British intentions and could react accordingly. During a telephone conversation with Bush on January 27, the day of the reports of the inspectors, Balkenende also stated that, if necessary, the inspections should be given more time. The Dutch government responded to the presentation of Powell a week later in the Security Council, by asking the question whether the inspections still made sense, identifying with Powell’s case.

On January 29, 2003 Bush used his State of the Union to describe the American people as preparing for the possibility of war against Iraq. He also gave the signal that each member of the international community would very soon have to decide whether to support America.

7.3.2 Europe Divided

The efforts of the Netherlands to create in advance a single position in Europe was doomed to failure. Bot, then the Permanent Representative in Brussels felt that hopes for a common EU approach to the Iraq issue had already been abandoned in 2002. Netherlands had chosen to stand alongside the United States and UK on Iraq, while France and Germany opposed a military intervention in Iraq. Then on January 31, 2003 a number of leading newspapers published a letter by eight European leaders which expressed support for the United States, which was surprising, given the already ventilated different positions, and that Balkenende was not a signatory.

The Government argued that the letter, which was soon known as the “Letter of Eight” had not been signed by the European group, and did not further indicate disunity. Hoop Scheffer found the timing particularly unfortunate, so soon after the EU gathering. During that meeting, nothing was said about the letter.

The disunion in Europe, and also to frustration over the Greek presidency, was already a fact. This came out sharply during a conversation which Hoop Scheffer conducted with his French counterparts on 29 January. Hoop Scheffer wanted explore the possibilities of bridging the differences between Paris and London. Villepin denied this possibility, as long as the British conformed to the US approach. France ruled that the inspections would yield fruit, and was therefore not yet ready for a new resolution to legitimize an attack against Iraq. Even Germany, a member of the Security Council since January, opposed any new resolution.

The British premier Blair, who the `had initiated “the Letter of Eight’, established himself four-square behind Bush’s policy. On 31 January they met at the White House, where they concluded that Saddam Hussein had done nothing to implement resolution 1441. To be able to join the invasion of Iraq, however, Blair needed, because of the political position of his supporters, a second resolution of the Security Council. Bush promised that the United States would work for such a resolution

The absence of Balkenende’s signature on the “Letter of Eight” did nothing to change divisions within Europe. The relationships were already so poor that the Netherlands could act as a bridge builder. It is also highly questionable whether the Netherlands, which from the start had taken a strong pro-American position within the EU, was a suitable candidate for that role. But not signing the letter enabled the Netherlands to highlight a positive signal in the direction of France, Germany and the European spirit.

“It was a politically correct display of colours without much beneficial impact, “said Kröner, then Dutch ambassador in Paris. The US showed an understanding of the Dutch position. The Americans were more interested in looking for countries that were committed to do something, or else choose to remain passive, said Deputy Secretary Grossman told the Dutch ambassador in Washington. Powell also indicated some time later that the Netherlands not signing the `letter of eight’ was immaterial for the United States.

In response to the crisis over Iraq an extraordinary European Council meeting was held on February 17, 2003. The Netherlands was not happy about the plan for a further meeting of the European Council, because of the risk that the lack of consensus in Europe would be too obvious. Hoop Scheffer expressed this view during a debate in the House on February 12. “We were not enthusiastic about the idea of an additional summit…but we do not want to block the summit”. Hoop Scheffer spoke in similar vein with his Greek counterpart George Papandreou. The Netherlands strongly urged the Presidency, where possible, to help ensure a common European position.

Prior to the European Council, Jan Peter Balkenende sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister on February 14. The letter from the Dutch government expressed the position that a [peaceful] resolution was very desirable, but that force could be a last resort in the case of continuing material breach. Balkenende called for unity within the EU. It is striking that Blair had sent a nearly identically worded letter, which has been sent on 12 February for the Prime Minister’s perusal.

During the European Council meeting, Balkenende called to bring the focus back to the common goal of the EU: disarmament of Iraq. He added that military action was not ruled out. Nevertheless Netherlands was willing “to walk the extra mile until the last inch for a peaceful solution”. More time for weapons inspections would be useful only if the Iraqi president cooperated fully. Balkenende said the three largest countries had a special responsibility to achieve unity within the EU.

In spite of the large disagreements within the EU the Heads of Government were nevertheless able conclude the meeting of the European Council with common conclusions. That was at the expense of content. The divergent views of the different countries were clearly visible. For example, the following passage from the Franco-German camp: “The purpose of the Union regarding Iraq remains full and effective disarmament in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, in particular Resolution 1441. We want it achieved peacefully.” After that, however, the group led by the United Kingdom added: “Force is possible in last resort.”

In a letter to parliament dated 18 February, the Minister of Foreign Affairs gave a positive appraisal of the outcomes of the extraordinary European Council: “Despite differences around the table, the meeting provided a strong united position.” During a debate in parliament on February 19, Hoop Scheffer, however, did not try to disguise the divisions in Europe: “The open discussion among the Ministers of Foreign Affairs showed clearly a fundamental disagreement among the major States.” But he insisted that the conclusions of the European Council were in line with those of the Dutch Government.

Paris, London and Berlin expressed their relief at the common statement. Rycroft, the Private Secretary of Blair informed the Dutch embassy in London that Blair had very much appreciated the contributions of Balkenende. The conclusions reached by the European Council on February 17 were the last statement on Iraq on which European agreement could be achieved before the outbreak of hostilities.

7.3.3 Role of NATO

The role of NATO in the preparations for war against Iraq was fairly minor. From the beginning it was clear that no role for the alliance was planned in any military intervention in Iraq. At most it was thought there may be a role after the war in the stabilization of Iraq to protect the NATO ally Turkey, in case Iraq would attack after an American invasion.

(The rest of this section has not been translated as it is of only oblique interest to NATO and Turkey watchers)

7.3.4 No Second Resolution

In January 2003, speculation began about a new Security Council resolution. Iraq had meanwhile delivered its declaration concerning its weapons programme, and weapon inspections were launched. The United States and United Kingdom concluded however that Iraq had not cooperated and therefore was in further material breach of resolution 1441. Prime Minister Blair and President Bush tried to obtain a second resolution in which this (material breach) would be established.

On February 5, after the Powell presentation, Schroder stated in a conversation with Balkenende that he would not support a new resolution. In response the Prime Minster underlined the Dutch concern about the divisions in Europe. He also appealed to the responsibility of Germany as a member of the Security Council. Germany should be aware of the Security Council could not alter the position of the US. Balkenende advocated that because of a serious international interests, Germany should accept discussion of a second resolution. Schroeder asserted that the weapons inspectors must have more time.

Schroder also said that the United States knew what to expect from Germany when a new resolution was tabled. The conversation between the two leaders did not get any closer together. A few days later, Hoop Scheffer was told by his German counterpart Fischer, that Germany would not support a resolution. He said it was very regrettable that Balkenende and Schröder had not come closer together. Fischer, who had a more nuanced view than the Chancellor, realized that a split EU would create a crisis.

Netherland was a strong supporter of a further resolution, as was made clear on February 7, during a lightning visit by Hoop Scheffer to Washington. He spoke with Powell and Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley. De Hoop Scheffer stated in both interviews the importance of resolution to the Iraq issue. Although in the Dutch view there was no legal need for it, it politically important to have a clear resolution. He sought broad parliamentary support for the Dutch Iraq policy and called for a workable, and not unduly harsh text.

On February 24, the British joined support of the United States and Spanish draft resolution. That night, Chirac, De Villepin, Schröder and Fischer, declared they were not in support of a new resolution. The French would discuss a new resolution only if the inspectors declared that, because of opposition from Iraq, their disarmament mission could no longer succeed. Even Germany would not support a new resolution. It would be bad if this led to split the Security Council, but the Security Council would anyway lose much of its value if it could be reduced to a body that merely legitimized unilateral decisions.

There were 18 days of intense negotiations and diplomacy, during which the Netherlands remained firm in advocating a new resolution. On February 28, Prime Minister Balkenende reported a telephone conversation with President Bush. He told the interviewer that the conversation was friendly, even jovial on the part of the Americans. Bush’s position made it clear that the US would soon launch military action.

When he presented the Dutch position, Balkenende seemed to join that of Bush. The prime minister said that .Saddam Hussein must disarm, and inspections could not continue indefinitely. The Security Council requirements were Saddam’s responsibility and therefore the Netherlands supported a second resolution. Resolution 1441 was clear, said the premier. Further material breach by Iraq should trigger serious consequences. Balkenende also noted that the UN had a key to play in the reconstruction phase after a military intervention.

A conversation between Balkenende and Blair was planned for the same day. According to the discussion points for this Balkenende supported the UK’s involvement in the submission of the Spanish and US resolution. Balkenende supported this step. Blix had not yet demonstrated that Saddam Hussein understood at last what the international community required of him. But would Blix report on March 7 that Saddam Hussein now understood what was expected? That would complicate the international political situation and make it difficult to gain the necessary votes and to avoid vetoes. A veto would a disaster. The Netherlands indicated it was basically in favour of Dutch military contributions. The final decision would be taken based on the new resolution.

These points imply that should Blix note that Iraq would cooperate with the weapons inspections, this would therefore not remove the need to war for the Netherlands, and for a second resolution. This is remarkable because it was frequently stated that Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions was the purpose of the Dutch Government. Iraq cooperation with weapons inspectors would achieve this goal and the argument by the Netherlands on the need for war and therefore a second resolution would drop away. But this was not the reasoning used in these discussion points. On March 3, Balkenende spoke again with Blair. The Prime Minister said that every effort should be made to bring the Security Council together on one line. He asked for an assessment of the role the Netherlands could play, but Blair received no clear answer.

On March 5, the prospects of a second resolution were dwindling even faster. That day, France, Germany and Russia issued a joint statement which implied a rejection of the idea of another resolution that would authorise the use of force. That same day, the French and German Ambassadors in the Hague visited Hoop Scheffer, and presented the joint statement. France and Germany would vote against such a resolution if it came to a vote, which in the case of the French, meant a veto.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs reacted very strongly to this approach. He unequivocally expressed disappointment that the position chosen by the two major European. He suggested that France and Germany were placing other EU Member States in an impossible choice: between the United States or as a part of the EU. For a country such as the Netherlands, a founding member, that combined its EU role with a strong transatlantic tradition this was this a very difficult choice. This would not only cause great damage to the EU, but also to the Atlantic relationships, Hoop Scheffer said. In his interview with the Commission Hoop Scheffer described the explanations of both ambassadors as “a disgraceful act”. For him, as foreign minister, a choice other than for the US-British line was extremely difficult.

On the next day, March 6, Hoop Scheffer spoke with the US Ambassador, Sobel. This intensified the Dutch preference for a new resolution. The minister underlined the “great importance (of the US alliance)” to the Netherlands to continue, and warned that if the unexpected happened, the situation in the European, international, domestic political context would become extremely difficult and complicated. Sobel gave an urgent request to the Netherlands to visit Paris.

A French veto was feared. Hoop Scheffer also told his counterpart Straw that the Netherlands “desperately” required a new resolution. Straw replied that the United Kingdom was in a similar position. A few days later, in a telephone consultation with Hoop Scheffer, his counterpart Fischer did not believe that the nine votes for the new resolution would be found.

The Ministry of General Affairs consulted with the British over the new resolution. Swartbol spoke at the March 6 meeting to his British counterpart, Manning. Swartbol said the impasse was having a major impact on international relations. Therefore, any attempt by the United Kingdom to build bridges would be welcomed. Netherlands was always willing to actively work towards achieving consensus, Swartbol added.

On March 10, Swartbol talked extensively with British Ambassador Budd. Swartbol asked among other things, about the legal justification for a military operation without a second resolution. Budd said that the United Kingdom was thinking about that. “1441 does not provide the definitive (sufficient) legal basis”, was the conclusion of the discussion. Swartbol foresaw that the Dutch government would be in a political difficult situation if the resolution were rejected. In which case political and military aid would certainly not be automatic.

In the last two weeks of the negotiations, the UK, like Canada, was still working feverishly for a new resolution. Discussions focused on resolutions with “deadlines”, according to which Iraq would have satisfy certain conditions within a fixed time. During a press conference with Kofi Annan on March 11 Balkenende expressed his support for such a resolution. The Dutch Permanent Representative to the UN at that time was however already convinced that the various compromise proposals had no remaining chance of success.

On March 10, President Chirac announced that France would veto the draft resolution if it were put to a vote in the Security Council. Following this the diplomacy got bogged down on 14 March. De Hoop Scheffer called that day on his colleague, Mr De Villepin. The conversation made it clear that the French Government was fully opposed to any compromise that legitimized military intervention. On March 16, President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Aznar held a consultation on the Azores, hosted by Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal. They decided not to continue to follow the UN route, and that the US Representative to the UN would not bring the resolution to the vote. At that moment, it was decided that military action without a further resolution would occur.

7.3.5 Netherlands in the US Coalition?

After his conversation with De Villepin, Hoop Scheffer seemed to give up hopes for a new resolution. Since then he and especially Balkenende contacted counterparts in countries that supported the US line. So he called his Danish colleague Moller. Both concluded that the points of view of the Netherlands and Denmark ran mainly parallel. A second Security Council resolution was highly desirable, both for reasons of international politics as for reasons of national politics. But both concluded that Resolution 1441 formed sufficient legal basis for military action.

There are striking similarities between the Dutch and Danish policies on Iraq. Like the Danes, the Dutch government long preferred the “UN route”, but they eventually judged that a new Security Council resolution was “politically desirable, but not legally necessary”. The Danish government decided that military action was possible on the basis of already existing resolutions. An important difference between the Dutch and the Danish position was that Denmark would actually provide military support to the invasion of Iraq, while the Netherlands would limit itself to expressing political support. Danish government was certainly not reserved, as were the Dutch.

Netherlands was well informed about the latest developments by the countries committed to fight with America (“go to the mat”). On March 16, Hoop Scheffer spoke to his Spanish counterpart, Anna Palacio. She briefed the Minister on the likely outcome of the summit in the Azores, which would place the same day. On March 17, Balkenende had contact with Blair when the latter headed for the Azores. The same day the United States issued an ultimatum for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave the country in 48 hours. Also Ambassador Sobel passed a thank you letter from President Bush to Premier Balkenede: “We will not forget those who, like The Netherlands, stand with us,” wrote Bush. “As I said in our recent telephone conversation, The Netherlands’ contributions to the war on terrorism and your strong public stand are making a significant difference. I, and the people of the US, appreciate your resolve.” Interestingly, the letter was delivered before the Dutch government had taken a decision on support. The Commission could not establish that the United States consulted Netherlands before their final decision to launch war against Iraq.

On March 18, the Government decided to give political but not military support to the forthcoming war. During a suspension of the parliamentary debate, on the same day this decision was taken, Hoop Scheffer was called by his American counterpart Powell. He expressed appreciation for the constructive role of the Dutch government over Iraq. This gave the minister the opportunity to inform his American counterpart that the Netherlands did not want to limit its role to political support. The Netherlands envisaged a role in the post war phase, preferably under a UN mandate, to make positive contributions to humanitarian aid and reconstruction in the post- conflict phase. It is noteworthy that this conversation took place between the ministers before the vote on resolution was due to occur.

Also on March 18 Powell announced that up to 45 countries supported the United States in their war against Iraq. Netherlands was named in the list of thirty countries belonging to the “coalition of the willing”. During the debate in the House, member Dittrich, tried to pry something loose from the Prime Minister. How did it figure that the Netherlands was giving political but not military support? Balkenende responded that he was not concerned what interpretations others linked to the Dutch position. It was in no way intended that the Netherlands would join the US list of coalition partners. In the Cabinet of March 17 Hoop Scheffer pointed out that it was not desirable.

How did the Netherlands end up on this list? On Thursday March 13 Ambassador Van Eenennaam received a call. That Sunday (March 16), the US President produced a list of coalition partners, and the question was whether the Netherlands wanted to be included. Van Eenennaam passed the question on to the Hague, to an irritable reaction. There were negotiations in progress between the CDA and the PvdA. Iraq was a sensitive issue between the proposed coalition partners.

Because of this formation, one would probably not be able to draw a response. The Labour opposed any active Netherlands military involvement in the war against Iraq without a Security Council resolution.

In the Hague there was the concern that if the Dutch didn’t react, they would be saddled by the conclusions that the Americans would infer. Van Eenennaam felt that the absence of the Dutch from the list would do no good. He also urged his Minister to approve the inclusion of the Netherlands in the list. On March 17, Hoop Scheffer advised the Ministers differently: he did not consider it desirable that the Netherlands be on the list of a “coalition of the willing”. This reluctance was presumably based on the sharp distinction made in the Netherlands between the provision of defensive and offensive military aid. The Netherlands inclusion on the list would create the impression that it was involved in offensive military action. Balkenende concluded that the desirability of avoiding having the Netherlands on the list should be examined for “any consequences”.

The ambassador in Washington received no instruction from The Hague to respond to on request, and therefore did not do so. After Balkenende, on March 17, had stated that Netherlands would offer political support to the upcoming war in Iraq, Americans drew their own conclusions and the Netherlands placed on the list. For the Americans, providing offensive military aid was not necessary for inclusion in the “coalition of the willing”. The United States had not received much direct support from others who stood by them for the invasion of Iraq, but mostly political backing and support in the form of the opening of airspace and territory for transit of military equipment (Host Nation Support). Netherlands was therefore regarded by America as simply part of the “coalition of the willing”.