Netherlands Iraq inquiry

The Iraq war has been a matter of political debate and consternation in the UK, but it is not alone. In the Netherlands, a commission that investigated the decision-making process up to the Iraq war has published its report, and it makes for a sobering read.

The contexts were different. The Dutch political debates during that period were concerned mainly with domestic and social issues, and as such the potential war in Iraq was not accorded a high priority. There was not much consultation with or debate in the parliament, but then the Netherlands did not send troops.

The Netherlands were generally supportive of the US-British axis on this matter, or as the commission wrote in the conclusions: the ‘Atlantic reflex’ prevailed over a Eurocentric response (paragraph 16). The Netherlands lost the ability to act as an intermediary between the Atlanticist and Europeanist positions. The Dutch offered political, but not military, support to the US-British effort. This distinction was not really observed by the US, and the American administration listed the Netherlands as a member of the coalition of the willing.

The Netherlands took the view that a regime change had no foundation in international law. There was disingenuousness in the Dutch position, since a war it politically supported would have inevitably led to a regime change in Iraq.

The most important point, in the overall discussion of the Iraq war is the question over its legality. Paragraphs 18 and 20 of the conclusions are illuminating.

18: The Security Council resolutions on Iraq passed during the 1990s did not constitute a mandate for the us-British military intervention in 2003. Despite the existence of certain ambiguities, the wording of Resolution 1441 cannot reasonably be interpreted (as the government did) as authorizing individual Member States to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council.

20: The Dutch government’s often-repeated view that a second resolution was ‘politically desirable, but not legally indispensable’ is not easy to uphold. The wording and scope of Resolution 1441 cannot be interpreted as such a second resolution. Hence, the military action had no sound mandate under international law.

So, illegal, basically?