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Peace Education

European Leadership Conference Considers Security Issues

The last UPF European Leadership Conference of 2008 was held in UPF-Netherland's Glory House Conference Center in Bergen aan Zee, North Holland, December 12-14.

Five of the ten sessions were devoted to a presentation of UPF’s Founding Principles by Timothy J. Miller, Vice-Chairman of UPF-Europe. Wim Koetsier, UPF-Netherlansd Secretary General, was Coordinator and he was ably assisted by Hans Campman and local families.

There were about 30 participants, from Albania, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, and the host country.

There were three guest speakers: on Friday evening, Dr. Dick Leurdijk spoke on the “The Situation after the Lebanon War in 2006.” He is a senior research associate of the Netherlands Institute for International Relations Clingendael in the Hague and a specialist in political and military UN issues. He is in much demand as a lecturer, policy adviser, and political commentator in the Netherlands and beyond, including the NATO headquarters in Brussels. His detailed analyses of UN resolutions show that substantial help is often hindered by lack of clarity or a limited mandate to act. In this case, the UN Security Council seemed to think that Lebanon had to resolve the situation inside the country. Mr. Leurdijk felt that another war in the Middle East was almost inevitable unless incoming US President Obama could come up with some alternative.

On Saturday afternoon, after an (optional) walk in nature and visits to the beach, Major General (ret.) Kees Homan, advisor to Clingendael and former director of the Netherlands Defence College, spoke on “Developments and Trends Concerning International Security.”

General Homan started with a fictional story of a UN peacekeeping general, driver, and junior officer who were captured by hostile forces. They were told they could have a final request before they were killed. The general wanted to make a speech, the driver to write a letter to his mother, and the junior officer to be killed before the general made his speech! This general's speech was a roller coaster ride through more aspects of the topic than most of the listeners probably realized existed, starting with the numerous “drivers of change” in security. He examined the effects of climate change, the emergence of Asia and especially China, cyber-warfare, intra-state conflicts (now more numerous than those between states), peace support operations, and terrorism.

He contrasted the often-quoted book by Francis Fukuyama End of History with Robert Kagan's The Return of History and the End of Dreams (Knopf, 2008). During the discussion, it was mentioned that the UN Security Council members were led by their own national interests, not global concern. Corruption was also a concern; for example, the Netherlands invested 1.2 billion euros in Afghanistan, and people wonder to what effect. The Taliban's control seems to be growing, and even Kabul is now threatened. He opined that, ironically, the Afghanis' support for the Taliban was mainly for economic reasons.

Dr. Willem F. van Eekelen, a former Dutch Ambassador, Deputy Foreign Minister, and Defense Minister, presently working with the Netherlands Advisory Committee on European Integration, spoke on “The Future of the EU-Russia Relations after the Recent Conflict in Georgia.”

In opening, he reported that he had recently been at the 25th anniversary of Clingendael, where Kofi Annan told of how The New York Times had said his first task as Secretary General of the UN was to reform it. When he spoke to the Security Council, he apologized that he had not yet achieved this goal. The Russian Ambassador replied that he had had time enough, since God had created the world in seven days; to which Annan had replied that God had done it all Himself, but that he, Annan, had to work with the Security Council! As Leurdijk had said on Friday, Dr. van Eekelen observed that it is very difficult to secure UN agreements and a clear mandate.

His vision for Europe was inspired by Jean Monnet, not only for his work in creating the Coal and Steel Community, but also for his suggestion that, if you have a problem, don't tackle it head on, but try to put it in a different context; which he felt was also a good lesson for one's personal life.

He showed that Russia faced many challenges. It was confronted with China's 1.3 billion people (though Russia is huge, its population is a relatively small 170 million) in the east and the Muslim south: Europe was the least of its worries. Putin had restored national self-respect, but its parliament was just a rubber stamp. Its resurgent nationalism needed to be taken into account; he did not think it would be in anybody's interests for the Ukraine or Georgia to join NATO. Everyone had come off badly after the conflict in Georgia.

All three speakers are closely involved in Clingendael, and all are highly influential and command respect because of their attitude as well as knowledge. Leurdijk remains calm and polite and thoughtful even if rudely challenged in the middle of a speech (which did not happen at the ELC); Homan quietly defused the protests of certain Muslims ruffled by some of the photos supporting the text in his PowerPoint presentation by saying he would change them when he arrived home; and Dr. Van Eekelen is a diplomat from his heart as well from experience, always calmly optimistic. He was talking encouragingly at dinner, in French, about the Middle East Peace Initiative to one of the guests, while his wife delighted our Indian Surinami film maker with stories about meeting Pandit Nehru when her husband was Dutch Ambassador to India. Dick Leurdijk also described the MEPI peace trip as one of his best experiences and advised everyone to go.

The Van Eekelens also featured prominently in the cultural evening program, singing a song together – and our Latin American troubadour Carlos Figueroa encouraged Dr. Van Eekelen to accompany him on the maracas. Dutch legendary singing diva Milly Scott also sang.

On Sunday, the participants shared their reflections in the final session. Hans Campman later commented that there seemed to be two distinct groups of attendees: religious Muslims and "somewhat less religious Westerners," whose appreciation of the weekend seemed more to do with intellect and will rather than emotion and heart. They were considering how to apply their weekend experience in their existing activity and how to help UPF be more effective. Wim Koetsier remarked that the Muslims appreciated the spiritual content of the lectures. All were impressed by Huize Glory and the atmosphere.

Pål Arne Davidsen, foreign affairs adviser to the Progress Party in the Norwegian Parliament, who has been involved in a number of UPF activities, later wrote, “I think one of the most important contributions and benefits of UPF is that it engages people across religious, ethnic, political, and language divides. By discussing relevant issues in such a context, it becomes possible to understand, but not always agree on, the perspectives of others. For me as a politician the weekend was a different experience from everyday life as I also got spiritual input on the topics under consideration.”

Photos courtesy of Bert Janssen, UPF Netherlands

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