Peter van Uhm on Austerity in Defense. A commentary by Hester Menninga

The first Bread & Brains Lunch Series took place on Thursday 20 September, and was organized by Humanity House and the SID Netherlands Chapter. Peter van Uhm, former Chief of Defence of The Netherlands, spoke on security and austerity and how budget cuts will affect international peace, stability and development.

by Hester Menninga*
A pleasant, perhaps an even typically Dutch gezellige, room inside the city centre of The Hague. The room is set up like a theatre. The stage open and welcome for a speaker to impress an eager audience. Outside we hear loud noises and gun fire. However, nobody seems scared. A mix of international and Dutch people await the speaker to enter the arena. Sounds like a strange situation. Far from it. It is the perfect setting for the kick-off of the “Bread and Brains Series” organised by Humanity House in the Hague and the Society for International Development – the Netherlands Chapter.
No better speaker in this setting than the former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands, Peter van Uhm. We’ve all seen him silence a large audience on TedX Talks in 2011 when he spoke of his love for his peaceful instrument:  the gun. This time, he’s invited to give his views on the budget cuts in the defence budget and the consequences thereof for the international position and responsibility of the Netherlands.
Ring. Ring. It’s a wakeup call. The international interdependence is growing and growing. It can no longer be overlooked. We need  wise men (and women) to come up with urgently  needed visions, ambitions and decisions so that we all benefit from the advantages of the international community. Very worrisome, in politics, issues with a cross-border element are of no, or at least of a lesser, importance to politicians (in election time). Van Uhm pointed to these two parallel developments. In my own personal sick brain, the picture of a horse in the Middle Ages being torn in four parts came to mind. You pull and pull in opposite directions and what is left, is a very bad smelling mess.
Van Uhm raised an interesting point on the difference between statesmen and politicians. A statesman (or woman) being the person that is capable of side-lining his personal involvement for the greater good of the nation. Van Uhm stressed the importance of having statesmen (or women) being in charge of a nation. He is right. Three cheers for Van Uhm. Now, ask yourself, are we, is Afghanistan, is Mali, is Italy, is Greece being run by statesmen or politicians?
The room was silenced once more. You could hear a pin drop.  It was his message combined with his stature, his personality. It simply grabs you. He is one of the best users of the instrument of silence, of giving the audience the momentum to let sink in what they just heard, whom I have ever encountered.  Of course, a wakeup call needs to be followed by a perspective: a view for the future. So did Van Uhm.
He spoke of the great (still largely untouched) potential of international cooperation between a variety of actors (NGO’s to nations to international institutions). He pointed to the success of the so called  three D-approach (democracy, defence and development). An approach that could perhaps be the unique selling point of the Netherlands in the international arena. Invest in what you’re good at. Wasn’t it Ricardo who first came up with that idea in the 18th century?
The conclusion of the afternoon in that cosy little theatre? It is not first and foremost about the finances and the budgets. It is first and foremost about our ambition, our vision and our future. Come up with a plan. Have an idea. Let the plan guide us. Not the money. And for that, we also need statesmen and women.
The pin is dropped. The questions of the participants answered. Time is already running behind. The show in the theatre has come to an end. The curtain falls. The lights are dimmed. People are send back to the loud noises and gun fire of the impressive tour through the Humanity House.  The 18th of October will be the next Bread and Brains lunch. The kick-off set the bar: high. I can’t wait. You shouldn’t either! Register. Become Inspired! Become Involved!

*Hester Menninga is member of of SID Netherlands' Board. This article was originally published on SID NL website

Look at the SID NL October Agenda. To learn more about SID Netherlands activities, how to participate or how to become member of the chapter, please visit the SID Netherlands Chapter website at

photo: SID