Toespraak minister Koenders van Buitenlandse Zaken tijdens het Harvard Marshall Forum “The Legacy of the Marshall Plan” op Harvard University, Boston op 3 juni 2017
De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.
It is a great pleasure, and indeed a great honor, to be here today as we recall the historic importance of the European Recovery Program. A plan that was announced by Secretary of State George Marshall in this very Hall, seventy years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me be clear from the outset.
This remembrance comes at a highly volatile and complex time, which I have dubbed, in previous speeches, a ‘possible turning point in history’.
A moment when transatlantic relations are clearly under strain.
A moment when the structures, that brought all of us unprecedented freedom and prosperity, and took us seven decades to build, seem to be questioned like never before: the most recent NATO summit, the G-7 meeting, and, the, in my view, regrettable announcement last Thursday by President Trump on the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, are the most recent examples thereof.
A moment when, paradoxically, we need these structures like never before. Because the challenges are such, that not one country can face them alone.
I am, therefore, extra grateful for this occasion at this great university.
Because I can hardly think of a moment more fitting for us to pause and look at the inspiring examples history has to offer.
The Marshall plan is such an example.
Today is an opportunity to think about what Marshall’s legacy means for all of us. To see what we can still learn from it, and most of all: to explore the spirit from which it emanated: the recognition that self-interest and cooperation are not, ever, mutually exclusive.
On the contrary: they reinforce each other. Especially in challenging times - like the present one. Times when, as Marshall said in this hall, seventy years ago:
‘the whole world of the future hangs on proper judgement’.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“No one ever listens to these speeches.”
That is what Undersecretary Dean Acheson said, seventy years ago, when he was told that Marshall wanted to announce his plan in this hall, during a Commencement ceremony.
In hindsight, of course, it was one of the most influential speeches ever, perfectly fitting the occasion. Commencement, after all, marks the beginning of a new chapter.
Marshall’s speech was such a new beginning - the first step into a different future. A future in which America would continue to show its commitment to a Europe ‘whole and free’. With time, Europe would be shaping up precisely so. On the rubbles of the Second World War, in our mutual interest and to our mutual benefit, a strong trans-Atlantic partnership was built – and Marshall’s speech was a steppingstone to the realization of that vision.
I say all this with enormous gratitude, because: Plan Marshall greatly impacted my country. In 1947, productivity had already reached pre-war levels in the Netherlands, but American assistance greatly boosted morale and accelerated the rebuilding of infrastructure. From the first Marshall shipment to the Netherlands to the last - the Netherlands was better off because of the Marshall Plan.
The papers were full of it. On February 7, 1949, the Dutch newspaper “Het Vrije Volk” (The Free People) boasted that by the end of 1949, the port of Rotterdam, severely damaged during the war, ‘would be better – and more modern – than its pre-War version’ !
Such a speedy recovery was possible only because of the delivery of steel from the United States. By early 1949, already 70 million USD worth of Marshall goods had found their way to Europe via Rotterdam.
The Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Willem Drees from 1948 to 1958, made the best possible use of the Marshall funds.
The story goes that Prime Minister Drees hosted two high American officials in his private residence - a very modest house in a very modest neighborhood. The American guests were offered just tea and cookies - by his wife.
A sober treat indeed.
After this humble experience, the Americans apparently decided that their money would be safe with the Dutch.
Indeed, the Dutch were eager to get their country back on track, and worked hard to that end. As a Dutch farmer said at the time: “We take our hat off to Marshall, but are rolling up our sleeves to get to work”.
The Marshall plan thus reinforced a beautiful friendship between our two countries.
But: that does not mean that we did not also clash at times.
For example in 1948, when the Netherlands, in an attempt to regain control over territory that had already claimed its independence, insisted on intervening militarily in Indonesia. The American government threatened to withhold assistance, scolding us in the UN Security Council.
Then, the Dutch needed the Americans to remind us that - as Marshall himself expressed was the aim of his Plan - the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist - also applied to our former colony Indonesia. It was as painful as it was necessary.
It’s an example that reminds us that the Marshall Plan was not just economic, but as much political in nature. The Marshall Plan expressed America’s enlightened self-interest, it helped American exports to Europe but also catalyzed European political integration in a devastated continent and was meant to stop domestic radicalization. A unique set of political and economic considerations at a pivotal moment in time expressed American leadership.
And Indonesia also reminds us that indeed, allies can and should not avoid to quarrel over essential things: common values, on which our free and prosperous societies are built.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Marshall’s plan was not just good for the Netherlands. It was, first and foremost, good for Europe.
Placing the responsibility for a program for economic recovery firmly with the Europeans themselves was a smart move. It encouraged European cooperation when the time for European cooperation was ripe.
Just look at the posters that were designed to promote the Marshall Plan, with the flags of the 16 recipient countries flying proudly together, against the backdrop of the American stars and stripes.
Whatever the weather, we only reach welfare together – the slogan read. While this slogan may not meet modern day marketing standards, it is as true today as it was at the time.
Then, people understood a few basic things: the need to work together and act on it.
This included then British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, yes, a British Minister, who was the first to jump on Marshall’s speech, which he called a lifeline to a sinking man.
It was Bevin who pulled European nations together in Paris that same month, and led the efforts from there. He was instrumental in shaping the entire ‘post-war toolkit’ – the Marshall Plan, NATO, the United Nations, the beginnings of the EU. Bevin understood the importance of working together for the common good. Foreign policy, he said, is not something that is great and big. It is common sense and humanity as it applies to your affairs and mine.
Thanks to all these efforts, Europe would emerge from this war differently. This would not be a peace of victors; our strength would hence lie in unity. A notion that I believe has served us well over the past seventy years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is important to underline one other aspect.
This would, indeed, not be a peace of victors. But we could not all be friends at once.
The Marshall Plan started out as an inclusive instrument, reaching out to friend ánd – former – foe. Germany received 1.5 billion USD. The economic recovery of Germany was instrumental to our Dutch economic recovery as well.
Some of our Central and Eastern European neighbors wanted to join, too. But under coercion of the Soviet Union they had to step back. Their accession to the European Union, almost sixty years later, set straight this historic injustice – they had had to make up for what was denied to them after the war. A tough transformation followed, to principles the other European nations had long grown accustomed: a social market economy, free – and hopefully fair - trade, democracy, the rule of law.
Countries like my own helped them in this difficult process of fundamental transformation.
The gap in GDP between Europe and the US narrowed quickly. Democracy and rule of law were strenghtened. It was precisely as Marshall and others had foreseen when they designed their plan: effective and dramatic action (…) to serve as a catalyst for Europeans hope and confidence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In his Pulitzer price winning account of the president Truman’s life, David McCullough wrote:
In the spring of 1947, with the Marshall Plan following on the heels of the Truman Doctrine, things of importance happened - principally because a relative handful of men made them happen, almost entirely on their own, against great odds, and in amazingly little time.
I am struck by that image.
These few men, sitting together, pondering, devising a plan that would change the course of history. A plan that would help forge a strong trans-Atlantic alliance that has lasted throughout the years.
It is a great image, in the best of American traditions.
But it also makes me wonder. Because if things of importance can be made to pass in such circumstances, they can also be undone by just a handful of men – mostly men. In amazingly little time, against great odds.
We are at a turning point.
A turning point in which the world has become truly multipolar, the implicit consequence of the post-war of the American led order;
A world where soon, seven billion people will live, and have to be fed, four billion in Asia;
A world where our multilateral institutions are crucial, but to many people they seem to lack effectiveness, equity and legitimacy and therefore, we need to defend them ánd to innovate them;
A world where domestic social contracts are endangered, leading to new nationalism and inwardlookingness, and sometimes xenophobia and hatred.
And yes, a world of enormous progress, a world of great strides towards reaching the sustainable development goals, but also a world of conflict, international terrorism, hybrid threats, mass migration and climate change;
A world in which, in my view, a new trans-Atlantic deal, fostered by a new generation, will have to be struck, different in form and substance, but still inspired by Marshall’s ideas.
I know: in a globalized world, the US interest in Europe will decline. And Europe reaches out to China and other parts of the world as never before. That is only natural. And yes, the US will – for instance – continue to insist that Europe takes responsibility for its own security. President Trump is saying it overly loud and clear.
That is understandable. The Wales NATO commitments are important and should be respected. The Europeans, including my own country, are already reversing the trend. The Netherlands participates in missions in Mali, the Baltic states, Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Mediterranean near Libya.
But we should, I think, also realize that sharing the burden is about so much more than just hard security. It’s about our investment in international public goods, such as food and energy security, clean water and clean air, and care for the climate – a burden we should also share fairly.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Of course, we all realize: this is no longer a post-war situation, when the Americans had to come to our rescue. We realize that our grand European geo-political vacation is over, and we have to act accordingly. We have grown up, so to speak, or maybe I should say, “our relationship has matured”.
Seventy years down the road, we need to shoulder our own responsibilities on our side of the Atlantic - both when it comes to protecting our security interests, as well as in promoting our prosperity.
With that maturity also comes the obligation to define our common interests in clear terms, in a functional but updated version of Marshall’s vision.
- Yes, It is crucial that in the context of an assertive Russia, we re-affirm that article 5 is key for all of our security; that together, we still support the Harmel approach of defense, deterrence and dialogue;
- European unity is in all of our interest, also in a trans-Atlantic context, we have to re-affirm this in a sustainable manner;
- It is in all our interest to keep the Paris climate agreement alive. Withdrawing from it is a cardinal mistake for all citizens on our planet – including those in the US. Together, we have to work on this strategic goal of energy transition and the new, modern, circular economy which can boost employment and business worldwide.
And please, do not get me wrong: it is not America First that bothers me. This is not a plea against self-interest. All countries pursue a foreign policy that is first and foremost based on self-interest – so does my own. The Marshall Plan itself was a clear example of self-interest, and that was also how it was presented to American enterprises and the American public.
It was precisely out of self-interest, not altruism, that Congress agreed to such massive funding at the time. As the future Secretary of State Dean Acheson said in May 1947: saving Europe is necessary if we are to preserve our own freedoms, it is necessary for our own national security.
And Marshall, in his 1947 speech, understood the importance and the difficulty of explaining all this to his people, when he said:
“Furthermore, the people of this country are distant from the troubled areas of the earth and it is hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reactions of the long suffering peoples, and the effect of those reactions on their governments in connection with our efforts to promote peace in the world.”
This was a crucial sentence. This could be said today for the millions of people enduring proxy and regional conflicts, in many parts of our 21st century world.
Today, the US and Europe are facing this reality, and we are obliged, in my view, to face issues on the basis of common values and comparable interests, together, ánd in an intelligent manner.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Seventy years on, it is not the time to be nostalgic.
It is the time to be realistic, but also to inspire and be inspired by the good we can do together, if we set our minds and our hearts to it.
The Netherlands, as the world’s 17th-largest economy which relies heavily on foreign trade, always had an interest in a stable, rules-based world order. We invest heavily not only in the UN but also in NATO, the EU, and the OSCE. We do so because we understand it is in our vital interest. I strongly believe that, given the changing paradigms in the global arena, the same is true of the bigger European member states, and also, ofcourse, our transatlantic partner, the United States.
Because the last thing we should want is a world collapsing into multiple power blocs, and challenges by revisionist powers, each applying their own sets of rules, without the shared universal basis we still enjoy today.
That means we will have to strengthen and defend – but at the same time innovate and modernise – the way we work together at international level. The international order will not survive without a new framework for effectiveness and legitimacy.
That means we must continue to believe in the promise of our multilateral system, with the UN at its helm. Here, we need the US to continue to support our first and foremost international organization and the very sensible and urgent reform proposals by SG Guterres.
NATO will remain relevant, both in terms of a renewed emphasis on article 5 and on ‘out of area’ missions - the cornerstone of our security. But we need more balance in our relationship with the other side of the Atlantic. Because security is about more than simply NATO’s ‘hard security’. Europe has made huge investments in ‘soft power’ in recent decades and in it’s common foreign and security policy. Take the help it gave the former Warsaw Pact countries in their transition processes, offering them the prospect of entry into the European social market economy and the European community of values.
This is an approach which has worked successfully for some time, and – I’ll say it again – it represents a huge investment. I emphasise this point because it seems tempting lately to label European NATO partners ‘free riders’. They are not. At least, not in this crucial area.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Together, the US and the EU still represent 40% of global GDP, 50% of foreign direct investment and a third of global trade. So we must ensure we don’t simply put EU-US cooperation on hold along with TTIP.
We need protection, yes, but not protectionism!
With a new American administration, we may have to get used to this new, more disruptive tone coming from Washington. But the transatlantic relationship is about so much more. It goes back centuries and covers all sections of society. We are still the same community of values we have always been. We should remember that ‘what divides us makes headlines; what unites us makes progress’.
This means we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the US, as we did after 9/11, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in operations such as Resolute Support. And also, Baltic Air Policing, Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltics, and interoperability.
And we will have to muster the same determination when it comes to the issues of the future.
And there, sadly so - there seems to be a lack of conviction. A lack of urgency. And that is dangerous. If we choose protectionism over fair trade; if we kill the Paris agreement rather than transforming our world economy to save the planet and start a real energy transition; if we don’t work jointly to develop standards to control the risks of international finan