Engagement in Fragile States: A Balancing Act

Speech by minister Koenders (Development Cooperation) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington.

Mrs. De Jonge Oudraat, professors, ladies and gentlemen, students of SAIS,

It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here speaking to you today. SAIS and Johns Hopkins are like a second home to me. In 1979, I started my Hopkins career at the Bologna centre. At that time, the students were all from Europe and the US. There was only one African student, a Ghanaian woman who was a real novelty in the streets of Bologna. We witnessed the aftermath of the historical compromise between the Communist Party of Italy and the Christian Democrats. We lived through the neofascist attack on Bologna’s train station. Terrorism in 1980s, a precursor of many things to come later. The 'Straga di Bologna'. In that final decade of the Cold War, SAIS was a fascinating place to study. It was a year of hard work and great fun.

In 1980, I traveled to Washington DC to continue my studies, a landmark year in which Ronald Reagan became President, Reagonomics was born and America said farewell to the Carter years. It also said farewell, if I look at current developments, only temporarily, to the Vietnam syndrome and tried to put the Iran hostage crisis behind it. Washington DC was a volatile city at that time. Mayor Berry was in power, and 14th Street was a no-go area.

Those years between 1979 to 1980 brought revolution to Iran, the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, and the new ‘Arc of Crisis’ policy - a term coined, if I'm not mistaken, by Caspar Weinberger, to describe the strategic role of the Persian Gulf. It was a time of hard-line, cold war politics in Central America and Central Africa, often supporting authoritarian regimes such as those of Rios Montt and Mobutu. Yet twenty years on, these events had given way to a totally different, post-Cold War political climate. And I found myself going full circle, becoming visiting professor in Conflict Management at SAIS Bologna. The city was as beautiful as ever, but the Communists were long gone, but many of the present problems were sown at that period.

Many of the issues we are facing today - oil dependency, overconsumption, instability in the Middle East, the extreme complexity of relations with Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan - have their roots in this crucial Cold War period of 1979 to 1980. It is good to recognize this.

The United States now has become the world’s sole superpower in an increasingly complex, multilateral world, at a time where it needs to strike the right balance when it comes to fighting terrorism and promoting democracy in fragile states. A balance between naiveté and obsession when it comes to these issues, is now utterly needed. Afghanistan and Pakistan in the meantime remain as unstable as ever, making only slow progress. Strategically located in the for mentioned Arc of Crisis, the extremism that dates back to the Russian occupation in Afghanistan now threatens to spiral out of control. A good reminder of the need to think through nation building and development strategies for the long haul. The vacuum of the 1990s was quickly filled by more extremist forces, when we should have thought about the fragility of states and what to do about it.

While teaching the vibrant and now far more diverse student body in Bologna, in the period 2000-2003, I was asked to teach the importance of conflict management and conflict resolution in those fragile states.

Thanks to my experience in Mozambique and Bosnia and a limited stay in the Middle East, the Dean somehow got the impression that I could teach such a course.

Now, as Minister for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands, I find that teaching experience extremely useful. Conflict management, reconstruction and development cooperation with states in crisis, fragile or not, are among my highest political priorities. It is clear that both for a long term foreign policy perspective as from the perspective of reaching the MDGs and sensible nation building foreign policy development and diplomacy have to integrated not just in words but also in action in mentality. And as I just mentioned, unfortunately the last 25 years many lessons have unfortunately been unlearnt.

The decision my government will have to make on possible continuation of the Dutch troop contribution in Afghanistan took me back those twenty-eight years. What do such concepts as reconstruction and stabilization mean in one of the poorest countries in the world, a country that has never been administered centrally and still lies in Weinberger’s Arc of Crisis, where there is no quick, simple or sensible military solution? I will come back to that a little later, but let me start by sharing what I think is a very useful categorization of states as developed by Robert Cooper in his book, ‘Breaking of Nations’. Cooper identified three categories of state in the present world order, and I think it is worth considering each of them in turn. Because they underline the complexity of the task ahead.

To begin with, Cooper discusses states that voluntarily surrender some of their sovereignty, as is the case with the members of the EU. As we know, such a move can raise questions about national identity. As we speak, my own country is immersed a debate over whether there is such a thing as a ‘Dutch identity’. This issue makes some of my countrymen very anxious. They would prefer to take cover behind our famous dikes and hide away from the outside world, but key is that we pool sovereignty by further integration, by giving up some sovereignty to regain mass.

The second category of states in Cooper’s book are those with a strong need to emphasize their sovereignty; for example, Iran. These states tend to garner a great deal of international attention. When I was a student here during the Cold War, the situation was no different. Weapons of mass destruction and regional conflict are the key words here.

Cooper’s third group consists of those states where authority or sovereignty are largely absent. According to Cooper, the current period is the first time since the nineteenth century that we have states that could be described as terra nullius, places where chaos reigns supreme. After a phase of international wars, we are now seeing a trend towards intranational wars. The conventional international mechanisms are often incapable of preventing these types of conflicts. And frequently, the political will is simply lacking. The benefits of promoting peace in far-flung places are seen as too limited to justify the necessary commitments. Yet this view is tragically short-sighted: investing in peace not only saves lives, it is also cheaper and more effective than the use of military methods alone.

It is this third category of states that is most problematic at present. The international legal order is premised on resolving conflicts between states. Since the Cold War, it has mainly been states with weak or absent central authorities that have been the source of the most conflict. What is our responsibility to such states, and what form should it take? What means human security and the responsibility to protect?

According to most analyses, there are approximately 50 regions, territories or ‘pockets’ that are plagued by anarchy, privatized violence and underdevelopment. These areas can be found in the Middle East and Africa, but also in parts of Western countries where the state has little power.

These pockets of anarchy are evidence of what I regard as one of the great problems of our time: the unequal distribution of security in the world. I’d like to illustrate this point with an example, if I may. Because it might help to put the issue in a context of international political principles.


In the early hours of August 14 (fourteenth), 2004, I got a phone call from two colleagues. There had been a terrorist attack just ten kilometers from our hotel, and a car was being sent over to take us to the site of the atrocity. More than 130 (a hundred thirty) people had been burned alive, and another 150 (hundred fifty) had been seriously injured.

On the street outside the hotel, the heat was sweltering, but there was no evidence of the attack: no sirens, no television crews; there was hardly anyone around at all. When we arrived, the air was filled with the sickeningly sweet smell of death. Groups of people huddled together in a daze; relatives of the victims fainted. But what struck me most of all was the eerie silence: no po lice, no ambulances, no investigators, no helicopters, and apart from a few photographers, no media. The ground was littered with bullets; there was no police tape anywhere. The 130 charred corpses had been taken to a shed, half wrapped in plastic, some with names, some with just a question mark.

There was an army post 150 meters away, but the soldiers were nowhere to be seen.

A hundred meters in the other direction was a major border crossing. It had been closed right after the attack, and there was no movement anywhere.

There was nothing but the deathly odor of the corpses that would be buried the next day in a 5000 square meter mass grave. Had there really been a terrorist attack here?

Yes, according to the local authorities. They released a statement saying that the organization that had claimed responsibility for this terrible crime should be labeled a terrorist group, and that all negotiations with this group would be broken off. The UN Security Council condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms and called for an international investigation. That inv estigation has yet to produce any results. It is headed by two UN organizations that were stationed less than ten kilometers from the site of this cowardly attack. Yet they did nothing to prevent it or to help the victims.

So where did all this take place? Gatumba, Burundi. The victims were 135 Banyamulenge Tutsi refuges from Congo. Carefully selected and burned alive in their UN-supplied tents. The non-Banyamulenge were spared. The most vulnerable people imaginable – destitute refugees – were targeted in a carefully planned crime, designed to spread fear and terror. The terrorists sought to prevent the refugees from returning to their homeland, ten kilometers away. They wanted to intimidate not only this band of refugee families, but the entire ethnic group to which they belonged. The attack was also a direct provocation to the country that sheltered them – Rwanda.

No sooner were the victims in the ground when they became pawns in a political game. Would the Rwandan government respond to this provocation by invading Congo, against the express wishes of the UN, and crushing the fragile peace process in that failing state? Would security again be threatened, not only for Tutsis but for the whole Great Lakes region, where over three million had already been killed? And would the West again stand idly by? Or would it undertake a risky military mission, as is now the case in Afghanistan, to rebuild a failing state that endanger not only its own people but also the rest of the world, through its involvement in the arms trade, people trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources?

For a brief moment in those August days of 2004, these kinds of questions were big news, at least in the regional media. But no military mission materialized. And MONUC is still too weak to prevent a new Gatumba. There are even some who question whether the MONUC mission should be extended. The investigation of the attack has died a quiet death.

And you don’t hear the word terrorism anymore in connection with the Gatumba attack. Local and regional leaders had used the word to attract international attention. Since 9/11, ‘terrorism’ has become a shortcut for conveying the enormity and importance of an incident. At the time, the authorities promptly banned the FNL, the extremely violent Burundian guerilla group. And rightfully so.

Was August 14 (fourteenth) a new September 11 (eleventh)? The Gatumba massacre was not a catastrophic attack carried out by a globalised network of Islamic extremists, seeking to intimate a nation and destroy their way of life. It was not the manifestation of a battle of ideas, in which social upheaval is instigated by men and women who feel culturally alienated and seek meaning and identity in violence. And yet there are similarities between the two attacks that make the lack of international political interest in Gatumba even more incomprehensible.

The Gatumba attack was an example of the kind of ‘privatized violence’ that is rife in societies where the state is weak or even completely absent, where there is no evidence of what political scientists term ‘performance legitimacy’ , and where the population cannot rely on the government to fulfill its most basic security needs, from mere physical safety to health care and education.

Gatumba is also an example of privatized violence that is state-sponsored, like so much modern terrorism, and funded through illegal channels (theft of natural resources, weapons trafficking).

Gatumba tells us something about failing states, parallel financing and the issue of identity as a response to rapid change, globalization and the lack of security. Gatumba is less like the attacks in New York, Casablanca and Madrid, and more like new-style internal conflicts in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya.

Yet the links between August 14 and September 11 are greater than the lack of attention from politicians and the media might cause us to believe. It is a sad reality that the location of the violence and the power position of the victims go a long way to determining the world’s response.

It is clear that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, two symbols of Western power (some would say Western arrogance), elicited a completely different reaction from the attacks in Casablanca or Gatumba, or the situation in Darfur.

[Back in time]

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I was studying at this university in 1979 and 1980, the world was a very different place. At this point in the Cold War, the United States and Europe often worked together as we can do now on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have the responsibility to act. And we have to think, analyze better together, think long term. Yet you have to wonder if the engagement of the late seventies and eighties was one of the causes of the fragility we see now.

Lasting international peace is impossible without a stable world order. Encouraging well-functioning states that respect the rule of law is an important part of foreign policy and one of my priorities as Minister for Development Cooperation. I am prepared to commit the necessary resources and manpower to build peace in fragile states.

The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world to enshrine faith in the international legal order in its constitution. Under Article 90 of the constitution of 1815, the Netherlands is obliged to promote the development of the international legal order. Unfortunately, helping other states and societies rebuild their legal systems is no simple task.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The question is where we should direct our efforts. Earlier I mentioned the 50 pockets of anarchy, privatized violence and underdevelopment in the world. Unfortunately, helping other states and societies rebuild their legal systems is no simple task

Security is unfairly distributed, but that does not mean that one group is safe so long as others are not. To put it differently: there is no security for one without security for all. Twenty-five percent of the ‘unlawful combatants’ detained at Guantánamo Bay are from the pockets of lawlessness in East Africa.

The responsibility to act is thus not only a question of solidarity. It is also a question of self-interest.

The issue now, is how to translate these beliefs into policy. It’s not easy. Though essentially a matter of security, fragility can have many causes. Our response to fragility will have to take account of all these causes.

[Causes of fragility]

Before discussing some possible solutions, I would like to say a few words about what I feel to be the three leading causes of fragility.

Firstly, inadequately resolved conflict can be a cause of fragility. If you win a war but fail to win the peace, you pave the way for a resurgence of conflict. Transitional justice and careful state-building are good ways of avoiding this.

Natural resources are a second cause of fragility. Shortages resulting from poor soil and an unstable climate often lead to competition over access to those resources. Between croppers and herdsmen, for instance, in areas where agriculture is the most important source of income. Without sufficient alternative sources, this situation can exacerbate political or ethnic differences and can escalate into conflict, exactly as has happened in Darfur.

A lack of natural resources is one thing, but even their presence can be a cause of instability. In her book Oil Wars, Mary Kaldor analyses the link between natural resources, armed domestic conflict, the absence of legitimate political authority, and globalization. Weak or dictatorial regimes whose income derives from oil or other resources are not dependent on domestic tax collection. Internal power struggles and the ‘privatization of violence’ are often made worse by outside geopolitical intervention.

A third cause of fragility is the introduction and enforcement of imported institutions where support for them is lacking. Or when insufficient time is taken for institutions to take root in societies where checks and balances are lacking and where institutions are not tailored to local culture. The struggle for democracy is not only about establishing a political system. It is part of a larger project to secure the rule of law and widen participation. Achieving substantive democracy is crucial.

We should be honest about our own mistakes in this context: in some cases, democratization has been used as a quick fix and an exit strategy in interventions. It is no accident that ninety five per cent of the worst economic results over the past forty years came from countries with non-democratic governments. The road to a substantive democracy is hard and complex. Merely holding elections will not produce a stable democracy. On the contrary: as Paul Collier shows in his book The Bottom Billion, elections are often a source of instability.

One of the most striking examples, obviously, is Iraq. Military intervention and elections proved to be no easy solution to the challenges of fragility.

We have seen similar cases in Liberia and Congo, with the Banyamulenge people fleeing to neighboring countries after the elections. Friction between indigenous and imported institutions often weakens the state, making it vulnerable to domestic and foreign manipulation. Domestic misuse of the state is characterized by unbridled self-enrichment by politicians and officials. Outsiders can take illicit advantage of the situation as well, by exporting raw materials at bargain prices or getting rich from arms sales. State failure is thus often largely the product of human shortcomings.

The consequences of fragility are obvious, and they are serious. As a recent World Bank report pointed out, of all developing countries, fragile states are the least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. These states are home to a tenth of the developing world’s population, yet for years now, they continue to account for almost a third of its extreme poverty, its infant mortality and primary school drop-outs. Most severely affected are the women. One-third of women in the Congolese province of Kivu have been raped. In Sudan, tens of thousands of women have been molested, mutilated and sexually abused over the years, and not one single person has been held accountable.

Fragility has the greatest impact on ordinary people in the fragile states themselves. This is the new ‘social question’ we face. And in this age of globalization, state failure also affects other countries and their peoples. Local instability can endanger regional peace and security. Large groups of refugees often seek asylum in neighboring countries. Conflicts frequently have enormous ecological consequences for an entire region. Take logging in virgin forests by Congolese refugees, for example. We can see these spill-over effects of fragility in West Africa and the Horn of Africa. And fragile states as pockets of terror can pose a threat to global security.

[War on Terror]

Ladies and gentlemen,

We cannot wage war against fragility. Frankly, I think the concept of the War on Terror has done more harm than good. ‘War on Terror’ is a fundamentally misleading term. War implies the need to mobilize. It means rejecting compromis e in any form. Yet it also leads to an inaccurate, one-sided definition of the threat posed by terrorism. And it leads to the wrong strategies. Terrorism has nothing to do with classical warfare. A better term is containment, the concept used after World War II to describe the strategy against communism. According to George Kennan, the strategy required reconciling a clash of ideas, a great deal of money, new global policy institutions and only included military counterforce as a last resort. If we follow this line of reasoning, the situation today translates into an urgent need to balance the fight against terrorism with addressing the causes of terrorism. Not to mention the need to consider the issue in the right proportion. Modern terrorism is a scourge; it can disrupt our societies directly, dramatically and fundamentally. Yet however dreadful and far-reaching these attacks may be, it has not yet come to Jihadist armies marching on Amsterdam or London. We should not allow ourselves to be wrong-footed by war rhetoric.

Choosing the word ‘war’ has unintentionally given Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups a certain status and legitimacy. Terrorists are criminals who do not deserve any such status. Perhaps more to the point, classical warfare in asymmetric conflicts have generally been disastrous in the past. And the war metaphor creates enormous challenges for the international community in how they deal with the legitimate use of military capability.

We need to develop a wiser, more balanced approach that does justice to the complexity of fragility. Countering these pockets of terror is an important part of countering fragility.

[responding to fragility: engagement in fragile states]

Ladies and gentlemen,

A stable world with responsible, effective, sovereign states is the best possible environment for advancing our economic interests, upholding the international legal order and combating crime, disease, environmental damage and terrorism.

So we need to find the right response to fragility. This means:

-1- responding militarily only if and when we have no other option. Primary responses should be political and economic;

-2- responding multilaterally and legitimately, to ensure the maximum effectiveness of intervention; and

-3- responding in a way that takes account of the local situation in all its complexity.

In tackling the many causes of fragility, we the Netherlands follow what we call the 3-D approach. My colleagues and I aim to integrate three key elements: development, diplomacy and defense. This multi-track strategy involves a joint analysis of the issue; intensive international cooperation and investment of sufficient resources and people. It requires long-term political commitment, support from parliaments (SGACA or Strategic Governance and Corruption Assessment) and other countervailing powers, not to mention detailed, on-going assessment of state performance. We also need to consider Western business interests and governments in mind, as they have been known to play a role in the abuse of power by elites in fragile states.

Development aid is also an important instrument in combating fragility. This means that we have to drop good governance as an absolute precondition for development aid. Being too dogmatic about good governance has led to a great reluctance to help fragile states. Let’s be clear about this: countries struggling with development problems never have good governance. The issue is not good governance but good enough governance. We must ask ourselves whether countries are headed towards democracy and the rule of law. When it comes to good governance we should be looking for positive signals and signs of change. We need to stimulate and support those countries, like Burundi, that are making progress. Notice that I say support. I don’t think we can impose this kind of process. We need to know our limitations. And we should remember that the more fragile the state, the greater the risk we take. It's the same principle as the stock-market.

One of the key challenges in using development aid instruments is bridging the gap between emergency humanitarian aid and reconstruction. The transition from one to the other is often a difficult one. Emergency aid involves rapid intervention, substantial outside control and a corresponding lack of local ownership. Reconstruction, on the other hand, is a long-term undertaking that weakened governments tend to view through rose-colored glasses. All too often there is a breakdown between these two phases. After the media leave a distressed area, many donors disappear too. We have to find ways to smooth the transitional phase. There must be full support for good governance and security sector reform. The UN can contribute by making more effective use of multi-donor trust funds.

As we tackle these difficult issues, we should not underestimate the power of modern communication. As Richard Holbrooke asked shortly after 9/11: ‘How can a man in a cave outcommunicate the world’s leading communications society’?

The Netherlands is active in fifteen countries that we view as fragile states. For example, we, and others, have helped Burundi with the demobilization and social integration of its army. We are a part of ISAF in Afghanistan. We are working on demobilization and building a new army in Congo, and on the security sector in Southern Sudan. And we have we have the Dutch Stability Fund, where official development aid and unofficial development funds are pooled. Similar funds, like the Multi-Donor Trust Funds, are being developed. They are far from perfect, but we have to learn the necessary lessons, as in Darfur, and work to improve them.

The concept of a ‘responsibility to protect’ has bolstered the position of the international community in countries where there are serious human rights and security problems. The options for direct intervention, however, are limited by the conditions set out in the UN Charter under the general non-intervention principle (article 2, paragraph 7). The problem is that when prevention fails, no one wants to accept responsibility. And there are precious few benefits for intervention when prevention succeeds - the cry wolf syndrome. Yet we should look much closer at prevention as a strategy: it is cheaper than conflict and it can be successful - Macedonia is a notable example. Another limiting factor to direct intervention is the potential for eroding sovereignty in states whose legitimacy is at issue. But we cannot afford to ignore the situation in places where the standards of civilized behavior are trampled with criminal abandon. Places like Sudan, North Korea, Iran or, more recently, Zimbabwe.

There is growing international recognition of the importance of engaging with fragile states. We must take action together. The UN is trying to act in a more effective and integrated way. Last year, its report, ‘Delivering as One’ advocated giving UNDP a lead role in dealing with post-conflict countries and regions. The same political awareness of the negative impact that violence has on development was expressed in the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development. World Bank and OECD/DAC reports have made a start on policy and implementation guidelines, such as the ‘Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations’ and have introduced the concept of Low Income Countries Under Stress (LICUS).


In addition, one of the key-elements of an effective response to fragility is building effective institutions. Democratic institutions. Economic growth and a functioning democratic system are essential to ultimately achieving sustainable, equitable development, independent of foreign aid. In a democracy that functions well, the government looks for ways to supply the services that citizens demand. Today, after the failures in Iraq, we are seeing the reassertion of stability as a chief goal. But stability can only be meaningful when it is based on development, peace and security. Substantive democratic reforms from within societies will ultimately increase true stability And structural poverty reduction cannot be attained without substantive democratisation.

By that I do not mean imposing democracy by force, or promoting democratisation as a quick fix for complex development problems. We should encourage and support home-grown processes of political change and emancipation in developing countries, which will ultimately contribute to a sustainable world with less poverty and more equality. To do so, it needs to focus on increasing access to and participation in these processes by the poor themselves.

You can’t plan a market; you can’t plan democracy.

Today most countries have governments resulting from elections in which all adult citizens could vote. Hierarchies are breaking down; closed systems are opening up. We have yet to see the big socioeconomic benefits of the wave of democratisation in the 1990s. At the same time, we have seen that young democracies can relapse into conflict. But I firmly believe that this is not the fault of democratisation. More often it’s the fault of stalled democratisation. As Jack Snyder emphasizes, elections give political elites a chance to exploit ethnic tensions and nationalist and religious sentiments. Therefore in any process of democratisation, power-sharing mechanisms and strong civil society organisations and state institutions need as much attention as elections. Thomas Carothers maintains that it is not substantive democratisation but a one-sided emphasis on state-building that fuels most wars. I too think that the failure of worldwide democratisation to pay dividends in terms of peace or development is due not to the failure of democracy as a concept, but to the failure to deepen democracy. It was in fact ‘democratic deficits’, not democratisation, that plunged Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 into the hopeless crisis that it’s been in ever since.

In cases like in Cote d’Ivoire the danger exists that democratisation will be reduced to formal election of warlords, separatists or racists. Democracy is making headway, but it is still often illiberal democracy, not yet accompanied by the rule of law, separation of powers and basic liberties. In Pakistan, for example, the struggle for democracy has been enhanced by the enormous growth of the free press and the courage of an independent judiciary in a still largely feudal society. Only completely free and fair elections can create the broader legitimacy that is needed to fight extremism and poverty. Both the state and the society have to ensure that formal institutions operate democratically in practice.

Paul Collier has said that democracy is misunderstood. Revolutions in one part of the world are too often seen as models for other parts of the world, and democracy is wrongly portrayed as a panacea. And democratisation is equated with holding elections, while hardly any attention is paid to ensuring checks and balances. When this superficial kind of democratisation fails to produce positive effects, the value of democracy as a political system can easily be dismissed. The unique case of China, with all its shortcomings, is then taken as a model for Africa. But the Chinese model does not work in Africa, or in the Middle East or Latin America. In fact, I’m convinced that the Chinese model isn ’t even working well enough in China. China’s economic growth has come at the cost of an alarming increase in social inequality and unacceptable harm to the environment. Substantive democratisation is not easy, and neither is supporting it. Copies of Western models can be extremely counterproductive for democratic change.

Should democratisation then be postponed until certain preconditions have been met? The ‘sequencing’ debate is all the rage at the moment. Carothers rightly says that sequencing is not a solution to the challenges facing societies engaged in democratisation. There are very few autocratic leaders who are sincerely development-minded. As Carothers says, ‘Prescribing the deferral of democracy – and consequently the prolongation of authoritarian rule – as a cure for the ills of prolonged authoritarianism makes little sense.’ But is it really a good idea to support democratisation in suboptimal conditions? Here I would like to cite Sheri Berman: ‘achieving a full transition to consolidated democracy is difficult. But it cannot be completed if it never starts.’

It’s time for democracy and development practitioners to combine their efforts. This requires political intuition, modest ambitions and a strategy that corresponds to the political realities on the ground. In fact, it requires an eye for the necessary democratic reforms and for the quality of democracy.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In short, to me the most important factors of an effective approach to counter fragility are

• substantive democratisation;

• political and financial interventions, and sometimes military ones if necessary;

• a multilateral and legitimate approach; and

• taking into account local realities

A country where, I think, we are starting to get the complex approach on track is Afghanistan. Before I conclude, let me share with you my thoughts on the situation there.

Afghanistan is the textbook example of the ‘fragile state’. From 1979 tot 2001 the country had been laid to waste by various regimes. When the international community got involved, after the fall of the Taliban, we needed more than our ‘post conflict’ paradigms. We were in fact doing ‘post destruction’ work. Afghanistan barely had any functioning government structures, no security –not even in the urban area’s- and all the social indicators were alarmingly in the red.

In six years much has been accomplished. Infant mortality has dropped by 25 percent. Four and a half million children are going to school who were left at home in 2001, and thanks to the international community there is basic security in the cities and social-economic development has started in the remoter provinces.

Still, much remains to be done. Many of the people in Afghanistan have not been given the peace dividend they deserve. Good and fair governance is not the principal rule yet. Especially in the troubled Southern provinces a well organised insurgency, supported by international terrorist networks, is hampering socio-economic development.

That is why we are assisting Afghanistan with all the means which are at our disposal: diplomatic, development and defense. 3D. My country posted 1700 soldiers in Afghanistan, in the southern province of Uruzgan. They are part of the ISAF mission. Nearly 37.000 NATO troops are doing hard work in Afghanistan, at the request of the Afghan government and with a full mandate of the UN. I wish more countries got involved in this dangerous work. The burden -also within the NATO-alliance- could be shared more fairly.

But let me be very clear. Military means only will not suffice to solve the problems of Afghanistan. A sustainable solution for the problems the country is facing has to be found in the following 3 area’s.

Firstly: the international community should invest in the regional dimension. Afghanistan is situated in a instable neighbourhood. Turbulent developments in Pakistan (but also Iran) have a direct impact on Afghanistan. Border management, democratisation in the region, and cross-border socio-economic cooperation are essential.

Secondly: improving governance to promote stability. The majority of Afghans form the ‘middle swing group’ . They have no allegiance with the Taliban, nor with the legitimate central (and provincial) government. They have to be persuaded to choose for the government structure of President Karzai and his administration. Better governance will sap away the discontent upon which the Taliban feeds. It is up to President Karzai to set the stage for the start of a political process in which reconciled Taliban can be reintegrated in the legitimate and democratic afghan structures.

Thirdly: we have to find a sustainable solution for the poppy cultivation. The growth of poppy fuels the insurgency and is a source of corruption and instability. Solving this problems requires a balanced approach. There are no quick wins. The Afghan government as designed a well balanced counter-narcotics strategy: with focus on eight pillars: amongst other interdiction, demand reduction, eradication and offering alternative livelihoods to farmers. This strategy should now be implemented. Eradication may be part of the solution, but I do not believe in eradication without offering alternatives to farmers. Eradication should never be done in isolation. We should hit the greedy, not the needy. Furthermore I would strongly warn against aerial spraying or other forms of chemical eradication. The health hazard is tremendous.

The international commitment in this area will have to last for years, be it military or in another form.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The vulnerability of large numbers of people around the world, the threat of terrorism and the privatization of violence have lead to widespread fear and insecurity. The sovereignty of states, or the lack thereof, is making its way up the international agenda. And rightly so. We are still searching for the right answers: the ones which can ensure that everyone gets their fair share of security and freedom. We should never forget that the very nature of terrorism and privatized violence compels us to look for shared security solutions. To se ek cooperation rather than competition for these scarce resources.

Gatumba, New York, London, Kabul and Amsterdam. All have a place in our security, political and development agendas, but they are linked by highly complex factors. The realities of power dictate that these agendas will be set in the West: in the US and Europe. In doing so, we must accept the consequences of our actions. And we must also take local realities into account. Only a multi-layered approach will contribute to a lasting solution. It will be a difficult balancing act. But not an impossible one. And as a Johns Hopkins alumnus, I think I can say we have the brainpower to create intelligent solutions.

Ladies and gentlemen. Colleagues and friends,

It was a great pleasure for me to spend this afternoon with you, as we made a tour from Bologna to Iran, from Africa to Afghanistan. I’ve underlined the need for the US and the EU to work together and invest in a shared vision on how we should deal with fragile states. At the same time, of course, we should avoid creating the perception of ‘the West against the rest’. The US and Europe have many values and interests in common. Now it is time to put them into practice in the world’s most fragile states.

Thank you.