Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Title: Rotterdam port in the Netherlands
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A small and densely populated country of 16,033 square miles, or roughly twice the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey, with a 1945 population of just over 9 million people. The Netherlands is bordered to the north by the North Sea, to the southwest by Belgium, and to the east by Germany. During the Cold War, the Netherlands was a solid and dependable member of the Western community of nations. It was also an economically prosperous and politically stable state that made a significant contribution to the economic unification of Europe, while it played a substantial part in Allied defense efforts with its relatively sizable armed forces.

Few nations suffered the extent of physical damage during World War II that the Netherlands experienced. Its cities, especially Rotterdam, had been subjected to extensive air attack, and at the end of the war defensive flooding inundated large areas. Half of the large Dutch merchant marine was lost in the war. However, economic recovery was surprisingly rapid, and both Amsterdam and Rotterdam soon flourished. Rotterdam became the major entrepôt for oil into Europe from the Middle East and the highest-volume seaport in the world.

Not even the loss of the Netherlands East Indies, formerly a major source of income for the country, prevented the Dutch resurgence. During the war the Japanese had occupied the colony, and they encouraged Ahmed Sukarno to set up an independent state. Weakened by the war, the Dutch had no choice but to acquiesce when Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia a republic in August 1945. The Dutch subsequently tried to reverse events, but heavy pressure from the United States and Britain led the Netherlands to agree in December 1949 to the establishment of the United States of Indonesia within a larger Netherlands-Indonesia Union. Sukarno was unhappy with this solution and continuing ties with the Netherlands, and in 1950 he set up the unitary Republic of Indonesia.

Again under U.S. pressure, the Dutch gave up Dutch New Guinea (Irian) in 1962 to Indonesia. Of its former vast overseas empire, the Netherlands retained only Suriname and Curaçao with a few nearby islands, including Aruba. Surinam, part of the northeastern Latin American mainland, is now independent. In 1954 the Netherlands Antilles, including Curaçao and Aruba, received internal autonomy and equal status, sharing foreign affairs and defense arrangements with the motherland. Although they lost an empire, the Dutch have added to their continuous territory thanks to an ongoing program of draining the Zuider Zee.

Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948 after fifty years on the throne and was replaced by her daughter, Queen Juliana. She, in turn, abdicated in 1980, to be followed on the throne by her daughter Beatrix. Beatrix's marriage to Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat who had been in the Hitler Youth and in the Reichswehr, was at the time quite controversial.

The Netherlands has enjoyed one of the longest periods of representative government in all of Europe, although the large number of political parties made parliamentary government at times difficult. In the 1963 elections, for example, twenty-four parties contested, and ten of them won seats in the States General, which is allocated on proportional representation. Two parties dominated: the Catholic People's Party, later part of the Christian Democrats; and the Labor Party. A coalition made up of these two parties ruled the country until 1958, when Labor lost support by its unorthodox policy of wage fixing. After 1958 the Catholic People's Party formed a ruling coalition. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a transition from a center-rightist to a center-leftist government and then, after 1977, a shift back to a center-rightist government. Traditionally, the Christian Democrats or Labor formed cabinets with Labor and/or lesser parties (such as the Liberals).

The Netherlands remains among the world's most liberal states. Dutch theologians clashed with Rome, and Dutch welfare benefits were among the most advanced in Europe. Among controversial issues during the Cold War were the 1976 revelations of payoffs by the Lockheed Corporation to Queen Beatrix's husband, Prince Bernhard, and the decision to approve the stationing of cruise missiles on Dutch territory.

Following World War II, the Dutch abandoned their policy of neutrality, which dated back more than a century, by becoming a signatory to the Treaty of Brussels in 1948 and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. This decision was motivated not only by fear of the Soviet Union. Equally important in the short term was the need to ensure American economic aid. For the longer term, the Netherlands regarded U.S. involvement as the best way of opening up international trade, extremely important for a country dependent on foreign trade, and curbing potential power plays by larger European powers.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 prompted the Netherlands to increase its defense efforts, within the framework of NATO. The Dutch sent a battalion to Korea and nearly doubled their defense budget. The latter was the outcome of intense and prolonged political debate, concluded in early 1951, concerning the direction of the Dutch armed forces. A strong maritime-naval lobby managed to prevail on the initially reluctant government to build a relatively large naval force that included an aircraft carrier, cruisers, frigates, submarines, minesweepers, and aircraft. The Dutch undertook this program against the wishes of the United States and Britain, both of which envisaged modest tasks for the Dutch Navy involving the North Sea and Dutch territorial waters.

The need for the buildup of the army and air force, on the other hand, was not in dispute. In close consultation with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the Royal Netherlands Army (RNLA) constructed an army corps with one combat-ready division and just under four mobilizable divisions. The fact that the Netherlands, against the wishes of SHAPE, maintained a large number of mobilizable territorial units showed the limits of NATO influence. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) developed into a sizable power with squadrons of fighter jets and squadrons of tactical fighter bombers.

Under Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs J. M. A. H. Luns (1952–1971), the Netherlands showed itself to be a loyal ally. Following the relinquishing of Dutch New Guinea in 1962, the Dutch armed forces concentrated almost exclusively on conventional and nuclear NATO tasks. Thus, the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN), together with Great Britain, focused on the forward combat of the fast-growing Soviet submarine fleet near the Norway-Iceland gap. A second combat-ready division gave added mobility to the army corps. On top of that, a reinforced brigade was garrisoned in close proximity to the deployment area on the North German plain. The RNLAF, with surface-to-air guided weapons, among others, contributed to the Allied air defensive perimeter that extended over Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) territory from the North Sea to the Swiss and Austrian borders.

From the second half of the 1960s, the image of the staid Netherlands was restyled by a number of developments. Young people no longer imbibed traditional concepts and beliefs, instead adopting a more critical stance. Many Dutch began contemplating probing questions. Could the United States, which intervened with large-scale air strikes and napalm in the war in Vietnam, remain the leader of the West? How could continued membership in NATO, which allegedly defended freedom and democracy, be rationalized when these same values were being trampled by dictatorial regimes in various South European states? Was it not time, in a period of détente between East and West, to move the North-South issue to the forefront of the international agenda? For the first time, the Dutch NATO policy and the military contribution to NATO became the subjects of frenzied public debate in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands also manifested itself strongly in new domains, such as human rights within the context of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Until the end of the Cold War, however, the Netherlands embraced the policies of maintaining Atlantic unity, the movement toward the economic integration in Western Europe, and a supranational European Economic Community (EEC). The Netherlands made a contribution to the peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) during 1979–1985.

The UNIFIL episode coincided with the dramatic national and international debate on the stationing of new intermediate-range nuclear weapons on the territories of Belgium, West Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands. After three times deferring a decision, the Dutch government finally agreed at the end of 1985 to the United States flying in forty-eight cruise missiles. The Dutch behavior was a source of constant irritation to its allies, who characterized it as "Hollanditis" or the "Dutch disease." The ratification by Moscow and Washington of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Convention in 1987, which provided for the removal from Europe of all American and Soviet nuclear arms of intermediate range, precluded the actual stationing of the cruise missiles. This agreement formed part of a period of relaxation that ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Jan Hoffenaar and Spencer C. Tucker

Further Reading
Hellema, Duco. Neutraliteit & vrijhandel: De geschiedenis van de Nederlandse buitenlandse betrekkingen [Neutrality and Free Trade: The History of the Foreign Relations of the Netherlands]. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 2001.; Hoffenaar, Jan. "'Hannibal ante portas': The Russian Military Threat and the Build-up of the Dutch Armed Forces, 1948–1958." Journal of Military History 66(1) (2002): 163–191.; Honig, Jan Willem. Defense Policy in the North Atlantic Alliance: The Case of the Netherlands. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.; Voorhoeve, J. J. C. Peace, Profits and Principles: A Study of Dutch Foreign Policy. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979.

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