In the first Premier Perspectives lecture, former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt offered a sweeping analysis of current global challenges, ranging from over-population to the trade in arms. His proposed solutions lay in enhanced multilateralism, but faulting the waning vitality of the UN and the crisis facing the EU, he did not consider himself an optimist in this regard.
Van Agt was speaking at The Hague Institute as the inaugural guest in a unique lecture series, which will see the Institute hosting four former Prime Ministers of the Netherlands in the coming months. Each former premier has been asked to offer his reflections on global justice in a series the Institute is calling ‘Premier Perspectives”.
More striking was the strident criticism van Agt reserved for his own government. He critiqued the Dutch government for a failure to “live up to the proud image of a strong supporter and protector global justice,” going so far as to endorse Sweden’s candidacy for the UN Security Council in 2017 over the Netherlands, primarily because of the latter’s skeptical attitude towards Palestinian statehood.
Sketching briefly the crucial developments in the codification of international law, van Agt warned that treaty-making is an insufficient tool to deal with threats such as proliferation, given that new weapons and threats to global security emerge by the hour.
Vaunting the importance of international law, van Agt criticized the supposed hypocrisy of its adherents, and the weaknesses inherent in international bodies. “The creation of the ICC was a huge step forward in the quest for a just world,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of the world’s most powerful countries have not ratified the Rome statute as yet. This includes the USA despite its claim to be a beacon of democracy and its professed dedication to rule of law.”
Calling for a fundamental reform of the UN system, Mr. van Agt expressed his wish, “a daydream to call it so, that ideally the global community has treaties declared binding once they have been signed by the majority of the states or the majority of the global population.” Reminding his audience that accountability for treaty violations remains problematic, the former Prime Minister proposed removing the permanent-non-permanent member states division in the UN Security Council. “Why should there be permanent powers? Why are the present five permanent powers there and why do they have the right to veto? Is it a coincidence that the 5 official nuclear powers take precedence in the Security Council?” asked Mr. van Agt.
Comparing the UN system to a dinosaur which has outlived its times, the former Prime Minister insisted on removing the right to veto altogether if any significant change is to be achieved. “There should be no obstacles put in the way of parties seeking justice. For instance, whenever states are in dispute of territorial boundaries, no decision of the Security Council to submit the matter to the International Court of Justice should be thwarted by any veto.”
Reserving his most expansive remarks for the question of Palestine, Mr. van Agt expressed his deep regret at the refusal of the Dutch government to recognize a Palestinian State. Evaluating a recent statement of the Foreign Minister, Mr. van Agt accused the government of acting non-sensically and concluded that according to the Foreign Ministry, “it seems the Palestinian State has acceded ‘illegally’ to the Rome Statute.” Asked about the competition between the Netherlands and Sweden for the seat on the UN Security Council which will become vacant in 2017, van Agt expressed a clear preference for Sweden. ”When I see how miserable the conduct of the Dutch government is towards Palestine, then let Sweden become a member of the Security Council,” he said.
Global justice cannot but touch on emerging threats such as climate change, rapid population growth and nuclear weapons. “We, the rich ones of this world, contribute massively to the problem – our affluent and wasteful societies inflict immense amount of harm to the only planet we have” warned Mr. van Agt. “It is of great concern that that the only organization in the world that has the potential to do this is so outdated it has lost its fidelity.”
In a dialogue with The Hague Institute’s President, Dr. Abiodun Williams, Mr. van Agt explained his position on holding non-state actors such as the Islamic State accountable. Arguing in favor of a UN Army, he saw the only option as “sweeping them off the earth”. Similarly unflinching was his position on establishing the supremacy of international law by “making ICC rulings binding to everyone, member state or not.”