Toespraak van de Prins van Oranje ter gelegenheid van de officiële opening van de conferentie ‘The Future of War’ tijdens zijn bezoek aan St. Petersburg

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I consider it a great honour and pleasure to speak at this prestigious conference on “The Future of War’.

There are two reasons for this meeting. First, we are commemorating the legacy of Ivan Bloch. In his study on “The future of war in its technical, economic and political relations” he gave Czar Nicholas II the clear advice the war could no longer be waged successfully. The conviction led to the first Peace Conference, which was hosted by my great grandmother Queen Wilhelmina in The Hague in May of 1899.

Second, we are here to rethink the phenomenon of war in today’s context: after a century that has seen the most terrible wars followed by the most hopeful attempts at overcoming them. You will be discussing the future of military strategy, the nature of future conflicts, but mostly, I hope, the strengthening of international governance in the next century. After all, reflecting on the future of war can serve no other purpose than furthering future peace.

Ivan Bloch was convinced that a military and technical revolution had taken place during the second half of the nineteenth century. The range, power and speed of firearms had increased. The invention of smokeless explosives had enhanced visibility of the battlefield. This had put the defence in a better position. Conscription and railroad transport would lead to mass movements of troops and weapons.
Given these developments, successful warfare would no longer be possible, since even the so-called ‘victors’ would suffer severe losses. Bloch feared that warfare would destroy the very fabric of society.

His ideas ran counter to the cult of the offensive which dominated military thinking in Europe at that time. With hindsight, we know that his analysis was correct. The First World War developed into an extremely bloody stalemate on the Western front. The mood had been very optimistic at the start of the war. Yet the outcome was a long bloodletting that weakened the European state system that had dominated the world.

The developments cast great doubt on the possibility that war could be waged in any kind of rational way. And they cast doubt on Carl von Clausewitz’ famous plea that war should be “a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”. Was controlled warfare, with limits on the hatred between peoples and the war aims of politicians, still possible?

What does this question mean for us today? How has war been transformed bu nuclear deterrence, the changing nature of conflict during the last decade and the influence of the media and information technology?

Warfare nowadays seems to take different forms in different parts of the world. We should perhaps draw a distinction between at leas two different kinds of warfare.

Firstly, war between states. Although it seems to have become less frequent, which is a hopeful sign, military aggression between states still exists. However, these days states are using their military apparatus in totally new ways.

The second form of war, intra-state violence, occurs much more frequently. It encompasses a continuum of violence ranging from terrorism and communal violence to anti-regime rebellion and civil war. These conflicts tend to become drawn out, and the dividing line between war and peace often becomes blurred. This kind of violence results from the inability of states to resolve internal conflicts in a peaceful manner. It is related to problems of political legitimacy, tensions between population groups and religions and stagnation in socio-economic development. The most dramatic consequence of this kind of violence is when states fail completely and even collapse. Although we may label these wars as internal, neighbouring countries can be drawn in. Indeed, the effects of these wars usually threaten peace and security in a wider region. Often, intra-state wars are accompanied by gross violations of human rights. Such humanitarian catastrophes may lead to the international community becoming involved.

This century has also seen the most vicious forms of state terror, often under the guise of civil or external warfare. The human suffering this causes far exceeds our comprehension.

So what opportunities are there in the contemporary international system to prevent and limit wars?

The Conventions agreed at the two Hague Peace Conferences were intended to limit the damage after war had broken out the so called (ius in bellum). The did not address the issue of war prevention (ius ad bello). The Geneva Conventions of 1949, and their follow-up in 1977, extended the rules governing warfare. However, bad governance in many states has frequently led to the regulations being ignored.

Immediately after the Second World War, the UN Charter attempted to eradicate the scourge of warfare between states. The intent was to equip the United Nations with armed forces provide by its member states. Due to the Cold War, however, this goal never became a reality. After the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the Netherlands proposed that a rapid reaction force be established  under UN command. This, too, has failed to materialise. However, progress has been made with the establishment of a rapidly deployable mission headquarters. Furthermore, a number of states are presently working on the establishment on a rapidly deployable peace-keeping brigade for the UN stand-by arrangement system.

So even now that the Cold War has ended, we have to admit that the capacity of the international community to safeguard peace and security is rather restricted. I want to conclude my contribution by mentioning five sets of problems and dilemmas we must address if we are to strengthen this capacity.

Firstly, classic defence tasks now have to be combined with new ones, such as conflict prevention and crisis response. How do you strike the right balance between the defence of your own territory (or treaty area) and these new tasks?

Secondly, how can these tasks be combined most effectively in operational terms? Sometimes a soldier is required to be a warrior, at other times he (or she) has to act like a policeman or even a diplomat. It is not always easy to shift from one skill to another. The armed forces therefore need a finely balanced staffing policy.

Several Western states abolished conscription after the end of the Cold War. The reasons were that not enough of those eligible for conscription were actually being called up and that a professional army could be deployed much more easily for peace support operations. However, the end of conscription changed the relationship between the armed forces and other sectors of society. Professionalisation of the armed forces implies that military personnel must have high qualifications. This should give them advantages in the labour market after they have completed their term in the armed forces. The attitude towards them should not be the one of ‘wasted time, older and therefore more expensive for my company’. Their extra years of experience, often not under the easiest conditions, should be seen as an asset, strengthening the rank of the company.

Thirdly, we have to consider the requirements of equipment and technology. We seem to live in an era where “manned arms” are being transformed into “armed men”. This would imply a return to the era before the mechanization and motorization of armies. On the other hand, as I saw during my three visits to Bosnia-Herzegovina, heavy weapons and a willingness to use force are indispensable in “peace enforcement” and “state building” missions. As a historian however I acknowledge the danger of lessons learned in the past as carbon copies for future policies.

As for technology, opinions differ. Some military strategists argue that improvements in technology, leading to superiority in accuracy of weapons and to advantages in information and communications, should enable us to cope with the new kinds of threat. Other point tot he limitations and weaknesses of technological solutions.

The fourth set of problems relates to the future of state. States are having to cope with processes like globalization, regional integration and decentralization. The concept of sovereignty is therefore being broadened. For instance, in an integrating Europe, state power includes what has become known as ‘sharing sovereignty’.

Intra-state violence has coincided with fragmentation of central authority in a number of societies. We therefore face the major challenge of increasing political leaders’ capacity to deal with the political and economic demands of their citizens in a non-violent way.

Finally, strong and reliable states remain necessary to increase the capacity of international organizations.

Fortunately, since the end of the Cold War the United Nations has become a forum for cooperation between the great powers in this world. In view of its continuing shortage of capacity, we should also welcome the fact that the UN can now increasingly rely on regional organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Similarly, organizations capable of engaging in military operations, such as NATO in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have been willing to implement UN Security Council resolutions. We must also be thankful for the cooperation between NATO and its former adversaries. In the case of Russia, the Permanent Joint Council is a major accomplishment. In the new security context, the prevention of armed conflict requires much of our time and energy. We must find new formulas for arms limitation, to help guarantee military stability.

I would just like to return to European integration. Is this not a perfect example of our human potential to transcend the deep-seated reflexes of war, of how it is possible to establish democracy, stability and wealth among former adversaries? Is this not the only real answer to the silent questions of the millions of war dead this century has seen? This process can serve both as a sign of hope and as a practical example of those entangled in the many different conflicts raging around the world.

European cooperation involves, among other things, politics (the furthering of democracy), economics (aimed at prosperity) and security (military cooperation). Peace results not only from military and economic cooperation, but also from democracy. The spread of democracy tot Central and Eastern Europe can therefore be considered a major contribution to stability, as is reflected, for instance, in the framework of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish you every success in your deliberations at this conference. I am sure that you will raise the right questions and start giving the world some new answers.

Let me finish with Tolstoy. In “War and Peace”, he showed himself to be highly sceptical about the human capacity to regulate warfare. He wrote, for example, that:

“no solution could be found for the most obvious question that occurs to one at once at examining any historical event; that is, how did millions of men come to combine to commit crimes, murders, wars, and so on” ( p. 1132)

The difficulties we encounter in preventing, limiting and ending war should give us an additional impetus to search for peace.

Thank you.