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Note: Readers are referred to notes 7 to 10 (in English) accompanying an article in Dutch entitled ‘Nederland is anders’ (posted on this website on July 7, 2013) about the Dutch government’s decision in March 2003 to express the Netherlands’ political support for the US/UK invasion of Iraq. (As the article is mainly concerned with the domestic political fallout of that particular decision, it has not been translated into English.) Together, these notes question the view that for a military intervention to be in conformity with international law, it must be conducted either in the exercise of individual or collective self-defence or on the basis of a Security Council mandate. This is surely too narrow an interpretation of international law, for due to the right of veto, permanent members can first comfortably vote for the most imperative and binding resolutions and then block any further steps when such resolutions are flouted by the country to which they are addressed.

The following entry has featured in my Profile on LinkedIn since the beginning  of 2013. It referred to an article I had posted on this website on 7 November 2012, in which I presumed that Mitt Romney had lost the presidential election for the simple reason that he had done just one flip-flop too many.

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This article is about Mitt Romney’s vain attempt to make Barack Obama a one-term president. It is not a thorough analysis of what went wrong with the Republican presidential campaign. The title refers to my unremarkable assessment that one reason why people voted for Obama, or didn’t vote at all, may have been that Romney had done just one flip-flop too many. Claiming to be ‘severely conservative’ to win the nomination and then acting like a moderate to win the election, is not the sort of behaviour that the average voter, Democrat or Republican, particularly likes. So much for Romney. The parting shot is reserved for Paul Ryan. What will happen to him in 2016? Will he experience a backlash for having led his party up the garden path in the summer of 2012? Or will his fellow conservatives by then have forgotten how he helped them overcome their doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials by the single act of accepting to be his running mate?

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Many Europeans who during the Cold War never lost any sleep over the fact that the maintenance of peace and security in their continent was contingent on a system of deterrence in the domains of air, land, sea and outer space, seem to lose heart when that system needs to be extended to the fifth domain of cyberspace. Cyberspace is a daunting domain. What makes cyber attacks particularly uncanny is that in so many cases the attacker remains unknown. Writing in the Financial Times of May 10, Edward Luce summarized the problem as follows: ‘The doctrine of mutually assured destruction has scant relevance to cyber warfare. Deterrence works when the culprit can be identified.’ He called the post-Cold War world we live in: ‘a far cry from what we once so cheerfully anticipated.’

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On March 15, while the world was still wondering where he was, president Putin appeared on Russian state TV in a documentary in which he revealed that at the time of the annexation of Crimea he had considered placing Russia’s nuclear weapons on standby. Earlier, on August 29 2014, he had reminded the annual Seliger National Youth Forum that Russia was one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers, and its ‘partners’ needed to be aware of this and had better not mess with it.

It is difficult to guess what he may have hoped to achieve with these two statements. All he has done is prove to the world that of all its leaders he is the one who most uninhibitedly discusses the deployment and use of nuclear weapons. The only head of state who may compete with him is Kim Jong-un of North Korea, the country with which Russia has just concluded a ‘Year of Friendship.’ A year is a short time but long enough for Kim Jong-un to participate in Russia’s celebration of the end of World War II on May 9.

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I saw the photo of François Hollande and Angela Merkel in Moscow this morning. Am I really the only one who can’t help being reminded of Chamberlain and Daladier in Munich in 1938?

I would like to share, if only for the record, the second thoughts I have developed with regard to some of the positions I argued for in the two above-mentioned articles posted on this website on 16 September and 5 October 2014, respectively.

In the first article I defended the sanctions the West had imposed on Russia in response to its intervention in Ukraine but added that they would be more in our interest if they could somehow go hand in hand with efforts to convince Russia that we were conscious of its fear of encirclement by the West. This would involve an admission on our part that Russia had a point, which might help foster the right conditions for a frank discussion about past and future NATO enlargement and such highly sensitive subjects as the recognition of ‘spheres of influence’ (or of ‘interest’) in our time. These were controversial issues, but they could all be addressed in an atmosphere of trust.

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My article on the effect of the Ukraine crisis on our relations with Russia has prompted several interesting reactions. Most readers agreed that the growing sense of mutual distrust between Russia and the West constituted a danger, but few endorsed my view that Russia had a point in being angered by the West’s curt dismissal of its fear of being hemmed in by NATO and by the crafty way particularly the United States had dealt with the question of NATO expansion in 1990. They pointed out that there was nothing unethical about the post-Cold War discussions on NATO enlargement: every step had been based on mutual agreement, and there had been no ‘promises’ that could subsequently be ‘broken’ by the West.

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On 9 September 2014 the Dutch Safety Board issued its preliminary report on the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. The report was so preliminary, tentative and explicitly not meant ‘to apportion blame or liability in respect of any party’ that it only stated that ‘the initial results of the investigation pointed towards an external cause of the MH17 crash’ and that ‘more research will be necessary to determine more precisely what caused the crash.’

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On 18 February 2014 I gave a talk in The Hague on the Dutch presidency of the UN Security Council in September 1999. It was based on the following text.

It was my own suggestion that I devote most of my talk to the East Timor crisis because that is the only major occurrence in my two-year tenure to which I have made an identifiable contribution. On the other hand, the East Timor crisis cannot be properly understood without some knowledge of the other big event of 1999, the Kosovo crisis.

When I ask people in the Netherlands to name a successful United Nations intervention that took place in 1999, they often come up with the Kosovo intervention: the air strikes launched by NATO on 24th March of that year, aimed to drive the Serbian forces from Kosovo and put an end to the killing and mass expulsion of the province’s civilian population of Albanian descent. The bombing campaign may owe its favourable reputation in this country to the prominent role the Netherlands’ air force played in it, or to the fact that it heralded the demise of Milosevic, of all places here in The Hague, but it is not the correct answer.

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This text formed the introduction speech to a discussion on this topic at a conference of The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 24 October 2013.

I would like to begin by explaining why I disagree with advocates of early Security Council reform.  The word ‘early’ must not be overlooked, for no institution can be exempt from reform forever. When I served on the Council in 1999 and 2000, I participated in a few informal brainstorming sessions on ways and means of making the Security Council less anachronistic, more representative and thus more effective. I soon became aware that reform of the Security Council was not possible without a change of its composition, that changing its composition would necessitate the Council’s enlargement, and that an enlarged Security Council might be less anachronistic and more representative but would definitely not be more effective than the current Council. I thought the founding fathers in 1945 had been right to believe that a body with the functions and powers of the Security Council should not have more than a dozen members, and the current Council was already 25% over that limit. The more I heard people lightheartedly advocate a 24-member Security Council, the more sceptical I became about Security Council reform.

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This text formed the introduction speech to a discussion on this topic at a conference of The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 10 September 2013

There is no doubt that for the use of force to be in conformity with international law it must be either authorised by the Security Council or warranted by the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence. This is the only feasible interpretation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But on 19 February 2010 professor Peter Kooijmans, for many years this country’s leading authority on international law, wrote in NRC Handelsblad: ‘Naturally, no one in his right mind will claim that when decisions of foreign policy are at hand, international law is the only frame of reference.’

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