Dutch Government Stumbles Over Afghanistan Mission

February 22, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende delivers a speech after he announced that his government had collapsed in The Hague on Feb. 20. The Dutch government fell after coalition parties clashed over a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission in Afghanistan, the prime minister said. (Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images)
Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende delivers a speech after he announced that his government had collapsed in The Hague on Feb. 20. The Dutch government fell after coalition parties clashed over a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission in Afghanistan, the prime minister said. (Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images)
WOERDEN, The Netherlands—A formal request letter from NATO to prolong the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan until after 2010, caused the Dutch government to fall on Saturday. After two days of intensive debate between the three ruling parties, Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende announced in the early morning that the die was cast.

Dutch Labor Party (PVDA) demanded the unconditional withdrawal of all Dutch troops from Afghan province Uruzgan after 2010, whereas the Christian Democrats (CDA), and Christian Union (CU), wanted to keep options open and take time before replying to NATO.

“Unfortunately, I have to conclude there is no fruitful path to allow this cabinet of CDA, PVDA and CU to continue,” said the prime minister, and leader of the CDA, Jan-Peter Balkenende in a statement that announced the fall of the government.

He added, “When there is a lack of trust, an attempt to come to an agreement about content is doomed to fail. It could only be an overture to new controversy in the future.”

PVDA leader Wouter Bos told the press about the Labor Party's decision to pull out of the cabinet after it had become increasingly clear that there was an “irreconcilable difference in views on our military contribution in Afghanistan.” Bos said that thereafter “the Labor Party could no longer be part of the cabinet in a credible manner.”

A Frail Unity

Relations between the Labor Party and the CDA had increasingly turned sour in recent times. In January, there was a heated debate on the CDA's and the prime minister’s role in the war on Iraq. In the process, it became clear that there was a lack of unity within the cabinet.

Besides the ruling parties’ contrasting views, there was general dissatisfaction among the public with the cabinet’s performance and lack of leadership in tough economical times.

The Labor Party has been criticized by its supporters for denying socialist ideals since they joined the ruling coalition with the CDA and CU three years ago.

The CU, by far the smallest party in the coalition, took sides with CDA on the Afghanistan matter, and attempted to mend the political row. In terms of power sharing, the CU has had a rather marginal role.

On Friday night, a large crowd of journalist gathered outside of the Parliament building in the Dutch political capital the Hague and when at 4:00 a.m. the news came that the cabinet had fallen, it came as no surprise.

International Reputation Damage

Withdrawal from Afghanistan might harm international relations and consequently have a resonance on The Netherland's influence globally. Especially since an unconditional "no" to NATO's request might set a trend among other countries stationed in Afghanistan.