The Military and the Pursuit of Global Justice

Distinguished Speaker Series: General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defense of the Netherlands

“It’s not a soldier’s job, but only a soldier can do it.” Chief of Defense of the Netherlands, General Tom Middendorp, opened his lecture on the military and the pursuit of global justice with these words from former Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld. The lecture was delivered on 23 November 2016 as part of the ongoing Distinguished Speaker Series at The Hague Institute.

General Middendorp elaborated on the role of the military in peacebuilding and peacekeeping contexts, emphasizing the need for greater involvement from other stakeholders in order to rebuild the rule of law in fragile settings. “We still need soldiers to prevent war from happening, to keep the peace …  by providing humanitarian aid, by stabilizing countries and regions, by building and training local security institutions, and by building and strengthening the rule of law.” He stressed that justice is indispensable for a secure and stable society, and that without justice, conflict cannot truly be resolved.

The Chief of Defense gave several examples of how the Dutch military has contributed to building the rule of law in post-conflict contexts such as Mali, Kosovo and South Sudan. Referencing The Hague Approach, General Middendorp stated that, even though the military can make a difference, creating a truly robust rule of law culture requires the support of other providers of security and justice. To this end, a reliable police force, an independent judiciary, and accountable governments are essential. Respect for diversity and human rights must remain the guiding principles of any development efforts.

Professionals and academics must also be aware of and respect local contexts when planning and implementing interventions. Their experience and expertise are valuable, for example in training international peacebuilders and peacekeepers on local culture and customs before they are deployed. After any foreign intervention, Middendorp stressed, it is paramount that eventually responsibility for governance and security is effectively handed over to local authorities. This provides the local population with true ownership over its  judicial system and ensures stability and continuity after peacebuilders leave. “After all, it’s their country, their way. And our time is short.”

To foster collaboration, General Middendorp and Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert are organizing the Future Force Conference on 9 and 10 February 2017. The conference will convene representatives from governments, militaries, the private sector and civil society to share knowledge and identify concrete actions in order to build a more secure world. The Hague Institute will organize a breakout session on Fostering a Rule of Law Culture as part of the Future Force Conference.

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