Honesty Upon Parting

The name’s Berlijn: Dick Berlijn. He’s Dutch, of course. He’s a general. In fact he is currently Commandant der Strijdkrachten, the highest-ranking officer in the Dutch armed forces, equivalent to the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But now, after almost a forty-year military career – spent mostly in the Koninklijke Luchtmacht, i.e. the Dutch air force – he’s about to head off into retirement.

In other words, as anyone with any military experience would put it: he’s a short-timer! (Or “short,” for short, meaning that your military service and the obligations related thereto are about to expire. I myself have been “short,” in fact twice.) It means you (mostly) don’t have to care anymore. It means you (finally!) can open up a bit and say what you really think.

General Berlijn is opening up, finally saying what he really thinks (to the press bureau ANP). And that is namely, as De Telegraaf (among others) reports, that the Netherlands really needs to bring back a universal military obligation for all Dutch youth (or perhaps just the males) coming to adulthood. And, on the face of it, he has a point: the Dutch armed forces are currently burdened with some heavy obligations – in particular, deployment in the Uruzgan section of Afghanistan as part of the NATO military effort there – and face a shortage of personnel numbering around 6,000.

Of course, that’s never going to happen: the Netherlands abolished the universal military obligation back in 1996, and it’s impossible to imagine reinstatement in practically any scenario other than an imminent invasion, for the obvious political reasons. Het Parool also reported Berlijn’s remarks, but along with some quotes from Tweede Kamer (i.e. parliament) members from parties in the governing coalition distancing themselves from the idea. “Defense is totally not built up around that any more,” was a comment from CDA parliamentarian Raymond Knops, for example, who went on, “We believe that applying reservists offers more solace.” But thanks to departing General Berlijn for his out-of-the-box ideas, anyway.

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