04:06 GMT +313 December 2019
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    Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, 21 December 2018.

    Europe Must be Able to Decide How to Serve its Interests Independently - Dutch Analyst

    Hamad I Mohammed
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    The Netherlands will contribute a ship to the French-led maritime mission in the Strait of Hormuz for a six-month period starting from January. France has been calling to establish a European maritime coalition, separate from the one led by Washington.

    According to Anneke de Laaf, an independent defence analyst from Netherlands, it is becoming clear for Europe that Washington pursues its national interests even at the expense of its allies.

    Sputnik: Earlier this year, France called for the creation of a European maritime coalition that would be a force independent from the one led by the US. In your view, why is Europe increasingly interested in independence from the United States? How acute is this issue?

    Anneke de Laaf: After some 75 years of America's dominating Europe, some dream of being able to act sovereignly again. Since the 2008 economic crisis and especially nowadays with a president in the White House who doesn't sugar-coat his policies, it has become clear that Washington aggressively pursues its national interests, even at the expense of its allies. For example, Europe carries the brunt of the damage caused by the anti-Russia sanctions. We have the Nord Stream II conflict at the moment, where Washington seeks to rescue its ailing shale industry at the expense of Europe's industrial growth.

    As global competition intensifies with new strong players, it is increasingly important for Europe to be able to decide independently how to best serve its own interests and not merely do the bidding of other players on the world scene.

    However, for Macron, another issue may be of even greater importance.

    After the historic coming together of Mitterrand and Kohl, it was Kohl's protégée Merkel who went on to dominate European politics. Today, however, her career is over; she no longer commands the same respect and authority as she once did, in Germany or within the EU. Her successor has yet to be decided. At the same time, the British MPs are embroiled in the Brexit mess. This leaves a vacant spot for the EU's dominant political leader for an ambitious politician to claim. Macron's CV shows he has plenty of ambition.

    Sputnik: In your opinion, can this initiative of France be related to the initiative of President Macron to create an independent army of the European Union? If so, then how?

    Anneke de Laaf: Yes. If he pulls this off successfully, it will be easier to persuade the other EU countries to take his EU army plans more seriously. I would add, though, that I'm not sure just how independent he envisions this army to be. I recall that it is meant to be complementary to NATO forces. Most of the EU nations are also NATO members, after all. And the EU itself has many legal connections to this organisation.  Sputnik: The French-led coalition is expected to be made up of 10 nations from Europe and elsewhere. What is your prognosis on what countries will form the coalition, taking into account the Netherlands has just joined it?

    Anneke de Laaf: The Dutch government will formally decide on joining on Friday.
    I understand Denmark is expected to join the mission; other Scandinavian countries may follow, as may Belgium. It will be interesting to see if the newer EU members will join in some way or other. The biggest question is of course, what will Germany do? Like the Netherlands, they have refused to join the American mission. Ms. Merkel has too many problems on her plate to add an unpopular mission. Then again, can she afford to let the initiative fall to France?  

    Sputnik: The Netherlands' decision to join France comes after Qatar and Kuwait announced earlier in the day that they would become part of the US-led naval mission in the Persian Gulf. In your opinion, did the moves by Qatar and Kuwait affect the decision of the Netherlands to join a coalition led by France? Or do you think completely different reasons are behind the actions of the Netherlands?

    Anneke de Laaf: In August of this year, an influential right-wing Dutch think tank, the Clingendael Institute, advised against the Netherlands' joining the American mission in the Strait of Hormuz. The EU was (and still is) supporting the Iran nuclear deal and joining the Americans could be interpreted as picking sides in that conflict. The Clingendael expert suggested joining a European initiative, most likely spearheaded by France, would be more appropriate. Although the French had not yet (publicly) discussed such a mission at the time, this option clearly has been on the table for some time.

    According to ANP sources, the Dutch government will focus on observing events in order to be able to establish who is responsible for any escalation (this couldn't be properly established last summer). Incidentally, they apparently hope this will appease the insurance companies and lead to lower insurance fees for the ships sailing through the Strait. We are a nation of traders, after all.

    However, as this coincides with the Qatar and Kuwait move, it is unclear whether the mission is meant to balance power between the various parties, insure that European interests are safe-guarded,  prevent escalation or corroborate events when they occur.

    As PM Rutte has not yet given a statement to clarify the objective and framework for the mission, we do not know.

    But I would be very surprised if the timing to leak this decision was coincidental.

    Sputnik: In your opinion, what is the likely impact of having two separate naval coalitions in the Strait of Hormuz/Gulf of Oman?

    Anneke de Laaf: With that many ships in such a small space tension will inevitably rise. The impact will depend heavily on coordination between the two missions. Do the missions have the same objective? This is unclear.

    All this means Macron's diplomatic efforts - and those of other interested parties - are of paramount importance. To prevent escalation, mere observation may not be sufficient.

    Sputnik: What could be the long-term impact on NATO of the Europeans acting without the US?

    Anneke de Laaf: Is Europe acting without the US? I don't think so. Not at this time. Nobody is suggesting cancelling their NATO membership. Indeed, Macron is expected to meet with Stoltenberg next week. I don't expect Macron to tell Stoltenberg that NATO must stay out of France's way in the Strait. They will coordinate their activities. This means nothing will happen before it is first coordinate with Washington.
    Macron won't reverse Mitterrand's decision and return to De Gaulle's point of view.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Netherlands, Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf, NATO, Europe
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