The Dutch Commission's Report on the Iraq War

By Hylarides, Peter | Contemporary Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The Dutch Commission's Report on the Iraq War


Hylarides, Peter, Contemporary Review


THE long-awaited presentation of the Davids Commission Report [1] on the legality of Dutch support for the Iraqi War and the first reaction of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende caused uproar in the Netherlands. The main conclusions of the report were very damaging for the Prime Minister. He was accused of a lack of leadership in the debate on the Iraq question. Until the beginning of 2003, he was alleged to have left most of the decision-making to his friend Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. As a result, a policy was set in place in August 2002 in which possible military action by the United States would preferably be preceded by a Security Council Resolution, although not deemed legally necessary. By the time Mr Balkenende started to show a real interest in the matter, this policy was already firmly established. The question of legitimacy under international law was, according to the Davids Commission, made subservient to a policy stance taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. As a consequence, there was hardly any debate in Parliament or within the government because the coalition partners had become entrenched in this position.

At an early stage, the government had aligned itself with the American and British position that maximum pressure should be exerted on Saddam Hussein to comply with the demands for disarmament. Information about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programme appeared to be chiefly based on foreign sources, as the Dutch security services had hardly any intelligence of their own. Parliament was mainly provided with pro war information. The strategy of 'regime change', as advocated by President Bush and later Prime Minister Blair, had no basis in international law, according to the Dutch government. The Davids Commission, however, took the view that it was inevitable that military action would result in regime change. 'The Dutch government lent its political support to a war whose purpose was not consistent with Dutch government policy. It may therefore be said that the Dutch stance was to some extent disingenuous'. [2] The Davids Commission also concluded that the Dutch government had based its decision to support the war on misleading and flawed information provided by the American and British governments. In an article in The Guardian on 13 January this year, Philippe Sands QC, a British professor of international law who gave evidence to the Davids Commission, said: 'There has been no other independent assessment on the legality of the war in Iraq and the findings of this inquiry are unambiguous'. [3]

Initially, the Prime Minister appeared not to be impressed by the assessment of the Davids Commission that 'military action had no sound mandate under international law'. [4] In a press conference on 12 January 2010, Mr Balkenende complimented the Davids Commission on its thoroughness but emphasised that politicians and lawyers think differently on the legality of support for the war. 'There are different thoughts on the matter, opinions are divided'. [5] According to Mr Balkenende, his government had made 'an unadulterated and incorruptible consideration' [6] to support the American invasion of Iraq. The accusation of misinforming Parliament twice, firstly about the full content of an American request in November 2002 'concerning cooperation with planning for the mobilization of a military force to compel Iraq to comply with Security Council Resolution 1441' and secondly, about the provision of 'Host Nation Support in fulfilment of national treaty obligations' [7] was, according to Mr Balkenende, untrue. He was, however, happy that persistent rumours about military participation and a possible connection between support for the war and the appointment of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary General were proven to be untrue.

Party leaders in Parliament were scathing about the Prime Minister. 'Astonishing', 'arrogant' and 'a bizarre situation' were the terms used by the opposition parties' spokesmen.

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