Edition 26 January, by Marla Thomson
January 1 of this year saw The Netherlands take its seat at the 2018 session of the United Nations Security Council, marking only the second time in the Council’s history to have two member countries split the twoyear term for non-permanent member. Two year prior, The Netherlands and Italy agreed to split the 2017- 2018 term as a demonstration of solidarity between fellow member countries and a commitment to the ideals of the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations. March of this year will also see the Kingdom take on the presidency of the Council, adding to the scope of opportunity the country has in influencing the member and efforts of the UN.
With the precarious situations that loom over the world today, the Netherlands has the opportunity: being a neutral country and having a fair and pragmatic set of laws, standards and norms, the Netherlands can demonstrate how a country – regardless the size – can have a collective high standard of living while still experiencing abundance (Dutch CEOs are some of the highest paid in the world) and growth (economy continues to grow, unemployment continues to drop). 2018 will be a solid test for the Netherlands with the Rutte III government tackling domestic and European issues, and the Kingdom’s leadership roles in the UN Security Council. This will be a test even more so for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halbe Zijlstra, with his limited international diplomatic experience. His first trial was December of last year at a UN event at the Peace Palace in The Hague alongside Secretary-General António Guterres and other esteemed UN members and delegates. There will surely be more this year for him to sharpen his diplomatic skills as critical and dangerous events unfold around the world at alarming rates.
Zijlstra takes over from Bert Koenders who served as Foreign Minister for three years and has seen his share of critical events at the foreign affairs helm for the Kingdom. Not only did Koenders have solid experience at the diplomatic helm of the country, he also served as President to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and served in the Balkenende government before the current run of Mark Rutte. His will be very large diplomatic and political shoes to fill. Will Zijlstra be up to the challenge, especially given today’s tense and unpredictably dangerous world? Only time will tell. With the year already underway with several tense international situations popping up he will have ample challenges to prove his diplomatic mastery.
Though there may be reason to concern with the inexperience of Zijlstra on the international stage, Mark Rutte certainly knows what he is doing in the international political and diplomatic arena. The third term Prime Minister has safely and successfully navigated the waters of international, European and domestic issues for eight eventful years. Putting his faith in the safety of the Kingdom and its near and are neighbors is something Rutte surely takes very seriously, and would not turn over to someone he did not see fit for the job. Perhaps time will tell us that this newcomer learns quickly on the job and champions the issues that are important to the world to the highest levels.
Fortunately, The Netherlands is no stranger to Security Council, having sat five times before and being one of the initial six non-permanent members in 1946 when it held its first session. Being a part of an worldwide peacekeeping effort is woven into the fabric of the nation. Perhaps being a part of an international peacekeeping organizations born out of the devastation, destruction and horrors of a second world war will have the post-war mantra of “Never again.” resound through the Council’s efforts and actions. “We will put our hearts and souls into this task,” said Bert Koenders as he handed over the reigns to Halbe Zijlstra.