Adjusting the Multilateral System to Safeguard Dutch Interests

October 1st 2020 - 10:33

"If the multilateral system collapses, this would have catastrophic consequences for the economy and security of the Netherlands.” – Rob de Wijk 

The international multilateral system brings the Netherlands a lot of benefits. For example, against a contribution of €5.4 million to the WTO in 2019, the Netherlands recorded a 2.9% increase in exports worth almost €13 billion. Moreover, the internal European market increases the per capita income by a further €1,000 per year: the annual benefits for the Netherlands are between €3,000 and €5,000 per capita per year, while the net remittance is about €150.    

The vital interests of the Netherlands can only be protected through multilateral cooperation. The global balance of power, however, is changing rapidly, and the multilateral system is under pressure. Erosion or even collapse of the multilateral system could potentially have disastrous consequences for the Netherlands: it would expose the country to geopolitical forces over which we have no control and relegate it to a toy of the major powers. 

Download the full report here.

In this new study, "Adjusting the Multilateral System to Safeguard Dutch Interests", Rob de Wijk, Jack Thompson and Esther Chavannes illustrate:   

  1. the importance of a well-functioning multilateral system for a middle power like the Netherlands;  

  1. the advantages of multilateralism for the Netherlands;  

  1. the consequences of the impending demise of the system;  

  1. how the Netherlands can contribute to revitalizing the international system;  

  1. and which system reforms are needed in order to achieve this.  

In order to breathe new life into the international system, the Netherlands needs to start thinking in terms of power politics and forge alliances with like-minded and often larger countries, both in and outside of the European Union. This also means that Western countries will have to make concessions when shaping the new multilateral system.  

Therefore, the Netherlands must provide a new narrative which gives insight into the importance and benefits of multilateralism in times of major global power shifts and additionally give direction to the modernization of the multilateral system.  

“To promote reform of the multilateral system, the Netherlands will need to forge coalitions with like-minded countries, using both coalition-building and hard-nosed power politics.” – Jack Thompson  

In a series of Annexes, the study explores in detail the challenges facing multilateral organizations that are especially important to the Netherlands: the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN Security Council (UNSC), and the UN’s human rights bodies. 

You can download the complete report in English here, or find a Dutch summary here.  

Rob de Wijk is the founder of The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and Professor of International Relations and Security at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University. He studied Contemporary History and International Relations at Groningen University, and wrote his PhD dissertation on NATO’s ‘Flexibility in Response’ strategy at the Political Science Department of Leiden University.
Jack Thompson is a Senior Strategic Analyst at HCSS, where he leads a range of projects in the fields of security and defense. His main research interests are US foreign policy, European security, transatlantic relations, and great power competition. Before joining the HCSS, he was Head of the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich and Lecturer at the Clinton Institute, University College Dublin. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, an MA from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a BA from the University of St. Thomas. He is author of Great Power Rising: Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of US Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press, 2019).