Speech by Minister Wopke Hoekstra at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Speech by Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on 14 April 2022. Watch the livestream of Hoekstra's speech on CSIS.org.

Enlarge image Wopke Hoekstra speech CSIS
Image: ©CSIS

Ladies and gentlemen,

The friendship between our two nations began with gunshots in the Caribbean. On the 16th of November 1776, the American ship Andrew Doria entered the port of the Dutch island of St Eustatius, and fired a salute. The Dutch guns of Fort Orange answered its greeting. This small exchange in the port of a tiny island made history. It was the first time a foreign country officially recognised the young American republic. It was a first salute to the idea of America.

And in the two-and-a-half centuries since then, our ties have only grown closer. Although we differ in size we are very much united by our shared values, and our shared convictions. We are both democracies. We both strive for international stability. And we both believe in justice. Today, those ties are crucially important. Because today, guns are firing once again. Not in salute, this time, but in anger.

Occupation of sovereign territory, killing of civilians, bombing of cities. For a long time, in Europe, we wanted to believe that such horrors were remnants of the past. But those hopes were dashed when Russia invaded Ukraine and war returned to our continent. As diplomats, we tend to look at conflict through a wide-angle lens: zooming out so that we can analyze it carefully. But zooming in offers an equally valuable perspective, as I recently saw for myself. 

Two weeks ago I witnessed the human face of war, in a former bus station in the middle of Bratislava, Slovakia. An old hall, filled with Ukrainians who had fled their country.

In the microcosm of that bus station, I was struck by a truly painful truth. Freedom and security are anomalies. Not just in the broad sweep of history. But in our world today. Yet I also saw something else. Ukrainians, determined to seek a better future. Slovakians, trying their best to help. I saw their shared resilience.

And if you then zoom out again, and look at the war from a distance, you’ll see a situation which resembles that bus station. On the one hand, a picture of immense injustice. But on the other hand, a picture of extraordinary unity. Both within – and between – NATO and the EU. Unity in response to unwarranted violence, and the ideology on which it is based. Because this war is more than just an act of brutality. It also illustrates a broader clash between two different worlds. There’s a fault line running through Europe, just as it runs through the Indo-Pacific. Between democracy and autocracy. Between the rule of law, and the idea that might is right. Between the conviction that alliances matter, and the mistaken belief that they don’t.

In times of crisis, we see more clearly than ever the difference between these two visions of the world. One is held together by shared values. The other relies on force and fear. In this crisis, the people of Ukraine have made a choice. They reject force and fear, and embrace freedom and democracy. The world Ukrainians choose to belong to, is in fact our world.

But their struggle is far from over. Ukraine is bravely and successfully defending itself against overwhelming odds. But it’s about to face a renewed Russian offensive that could be even more brutal than the atrocities we’ve seen so far. In their fight for continued independence, they are asking for our help. And in my view, we must continue to help them. With supplies. With sanctions. With weapons.

Throughout this crisis, the US has played a leading role. As a communicator, consulting closely with European partners and allies, like the Netherlands. As an analyst, declassifying and sharing intelligence, and providing much-needed funding. And as a trusted military leader, strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. But above all, and that is essential to the whole endeavor, US leadership was crucial in fortifying the West’s resolve.

In Europe, we’re fully aware of our own responsibility. Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken steps that were once thought impossible only a couple of months ago. We have excluded the main Russian banks from SWIFT. We have imposed sanctions on the Russian elite like never before.

We have transformed the European Peace Facility into an instrument to finance weapon supplies to Ukraine. Through this channel, we’ve already sent one billion euros’ worth of arms to Ukraine. And an additional 500 million euros are on the way. And it is to a large extent in addition to what individual member states of the European Union are doing.

Last week, the EU imposed a fifth package of sanctions, following the atrocities in Bucha. Ships with a Russian flag and trucks with Russian license plates are no longer welcome in the European Union. With measures like these, we aim to increase pressure on the Russian government and economy.

At the same time, EU countries are investing in their own defense. In our joint defense. Already before this crisis the Dutch government had already allocated  an extra 10.7 billion euros for the Dutch armed forces. That was the largest increase in our Defense budget in decades: a 26-per-cent rise. And we’re now working on an even greater increase, to a full two per cent of our GDP, as the NATO Allies agreed. And the conversations and negotiations on this are currently going on within the government, pushed for this by parliament.

This war has accelerated the EU’s progress to geopolitical maturity. We’ve shown our regulatory and economic power, as we should. Our diplomatic and humanitarian capability. And also – late, but better late than ever – our growing military awareness. When I talk to my European counterparts, they all say the same thing: the EU is also a security project.

A project that can only be successful if the EU and NATO work together. Indeed, the only response to Russian aggression is a joint response. One that utilizes every aspect of our joint strength: not just military, but also economic, and political.

There is a saying I am sure that all the experts in this room are very familiar with. Carl von Clausewitz famously called war ‘the continuation of politics by other means’. But in our modern world, those other means have largely been replaced by the things that tie the world’s nations together: trade, financial flows, migration and internet cables. They give us countless options for action that falls short of war.

This is where the EU can make a difference. By translating its economic power into effective action that is coordinated with NATO. Because in this age of connectivity, we do need both. We need the deterrence of NATO’s military power. And we need the EU’s economic strength and willingness to use it. So that we can meet common challenges: hybrid threats, cyberattacks, disruptive technologies and climate change.

The Alliance and the Union are two of the pillars supporting the Western world and Europe in particular. If they stand stronger, we all stand stronger. That’s why it’s my firm conviction that strong and ambitious cooperation between the EU and NATO is more essential than ever.

‘You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks,’ as Dorothy Parker allegedly said. An instructive statement when we look at our own dogmas. Like the idea that the EU and NATO are incompatible. Or the belief that the EU’s military structures come at the expense of NATO. And of course the claim that European countries are sheltering comfortably under America’s security umbrella, without contributing our fair share. To me, our unified response to the war in Ukraine proves these old dogmas are outdated.

Europe is dead serious about becoming a true security partner. The EU made that clear several weeks ago, when it presented its Strategic Compass: an ambitious plan to further strengthen EU security and defense policy. At the heart of this document is the realization that Europe must be able to defend its security interests. To this end, the EU is developing tools like the new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity, which can be used for stabilization missions, rapid interventions and evacuations. I believe these kinds of innovations are vital. Because strengthening Europe’s defense capabilities will also benefit NATO.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One thing is crystal clear. The future is uncertain. And that’s precisely why we need to look ahead. Because we are presented with a clear, long-term challenge. Authoritarianism is trying to redraw borders and attack our values. Today, in Europe. Tomorrow, who knows where?

A permanent member of the UN Security Council has taken an axe to the most fundamental principles of the UN Charter. We must all reckon, as nations of the world, with this sobering fact. To restore the international rules-based order, democracies must invest heavily in their diplomatic soft power. It’s up to us to build broad and effective coalitions against tyranny. And in the months and years ahead, we must continue doing all we can to support the people of Ukraine. Because this war has deep repercussions for the European – and indeed global – security architecture. And one thing is very clear to me.

This war, more than anything else, has united the West. We must now take further steps to strengthen our armed forces, our long-term deterrence, and our defense posture. And we must make clear that strength cannot exist without justice. Countless atrocities have been committed in Ukraine. We’ve all seen the truly horrible images. We’ve all felt pain in our hearts for the victims. That’s why we must do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice.

Fortunately, The Hague has plenty of experience in dealing with war criminals. The Dutch government is doing all it can to support institutions like the International Criminal Court in their prosecutions. And in our view, the international community must now coordinate the various accountability initiatives, and make sure they meet the needs of Ukraine and the ICC. We also need strong standards for evidence, so that no perpetrator will escape justice.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude,

When I visited Slovakia and the Czech Republic last month, many of the people I spoke to mentioned the same name. That of Madeleine Albright, who had passed away just a few days before my visit. She was a beloved member of this Center. She was a source of inspiration for Eastern Europe. And for all those individuals who wanted to change their nation’s course towards Europe and democracy. So let me finish on a note that illustrates how bright the light was that Madeleine Albright shone on Europe.

Twenty years ago, she said: ‘All work that is worth anything is done in faith. Faith that the future can − and must − be better than the past.’

Faith in democracy.

Faith in our alliance.

Faith in our unity.

And faith that together, whether it will take weeks, months, or years, we will see this through. We will see it through, for the benefit of our generation and of all the generations to come.