Events

U.S.-Dutch Relations in the Post-1945 Era

September 18, 2009 // 12:00pm2:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Cold War International History Project
History and Public Policy Program
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For the past four-hundred years, Dutch-American relations have been built primarily upon the twin pillars of cultural affinity and shared values, as well as cooperation in the realm of security.

Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States Renee Jones-Bos has dealt extensively in both of these spheres in the year since she presented her credentials to President Bush. She discussed in particular Dutch contributions to the NATO force in Afghanistan, cooperation between Dutch officials and the city of New Orleans on flood control issues, and the large and ongoing celebrations in New York City that commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson's landing on the Island of Manhattan.

While U.S.-Dutch relations are now politically and culturally strong, this has not always been the case, explained Cornelis A. van Minnen. Bilateral diplomatic relations date back to 1782 when the Netherlands became one of the first countries to recognize the United States, and, at the urging of Ambassador John Adams, provided the U.S. with a sizeable loan. Despite this crucial early assistance, Dutch-American relations remained cool for much of the pre-World War II period. This began to change in the U.S. in the 1920s when a small group of Dutch-Americans—most prominently Netherlands-America Foundation co-founder and future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt—worked to re-introduce the Netherlands into the American cultural landscape.

It was not until the end of World War II, posited Hans Krabbendam, that the growing American interest in Dutch culture was widely reciprocated, fueled largely by the U.S.-led Allied victory and Marshall Plan-driven economic growth in Europe. Mutual cultural affinity, combined with the shared threat of communism, led to increasingly close relations between the two countries through the 1960s.

Great societal changes in both the U.S. and the Netherlands beginning in the 1960s led cultural relations to grow increasingly complicated, according to Giles Scott-Smith, a senior researcher at the Roosevelt Study Center. While the Netherlands recoiled somewhat from its earlier enthusiasm for all things American, the United States witnessed a decade of widespread social change. Today, Dutch policies with respect to recreational drug use and prostitution have become politically polarizing issues within the United States.

In contrast to the changing cultural dynamics between the U.S. and the Netherlands, bilateral foreign and security relations—centered on the NATO alliance—have enjoyed substantial continuity, stated Scott-Smith. Dutch support for the alliance is exemplified today by the Netherlands' troop contributions to the NATO effort in Afghanistan, as well as by the Dutch military's determination to become increasingly interoperable with U.S. forces.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands L. Paul Bremer III drew upon his experience as Ambassador from 1983-1986 to underscore the strength of the U.S.-Dutch security relationship described by Scott-Smith. In 1983, Bremer stated, the Netherlands was the site of what remains the largest demonstration in European history—750,000 people gathered to protest the planned deployment of U.S. nuclear capable Ground Launch Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) to the Netherlands.

In response to this widespread public opposition, Bremer began a robust public diplomacy campaign to revitalize cultural ties between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Simultaneously, Bremer led a full court press behind closed doors to convince Dutch policy-makers to allow the deployment of the GLCMs to proceed. Emphasizing the failure of the Netherlands' neutrality policy during WWII, the importance of NATO unity, the diminished role that the Dutch would play in NATO should they fail to accept the GLCMs, as well as the importance of U.S. and Dutch shared values, Bremer succeeded in convincing the Dutch government and parliament to accept the new weapons.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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