Defence minister Eimert van Middelkoop heads the Dutch delegation at the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague. Now, for foreign readers, I should explain something. The Dutch contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been hotly debated, the discussion focusing on the question whether this is a ‘fighting’ or a ‘reconstruction’ mission. You would think that the words ‘Security Assistance’ are self-explanatory. Not so in the Netherlands. Right up to this day, politicians, pollsters and the media continue to feed this discussion, whether out of sheer ignorance or for political reasons.
Which brings me back to our Defence minister. What did I hear him say today: “ISAF, the Security AND Assistance Force”. You can probably see the connotation of the word AND. Security is the nasty fighting bit (not so popular in Holland); the word ‘assistance’ (in isolation) could be construed as referring to the lovely rebuilding part (ever so popular in the Lowlands). Slipping in the ‘AND’ is no slip of the tongue. I’ve heard it before, including from a Dutch Chief of Defence who also should have known better.
Eimert, sir, please check the official NATO website and assure yourself that there is no AND in the definition of ISAF. To spell things out: the task of ISAF as underwritten by the Dutch government is “assisting the Afghan authorities in providing security and stability and creating the conditions for reconstruction and development.”
Joop and Otte (those concerned will know who I refer to), do make sure the minister doesn’t make a fool of himself at tomorrow’s International Conference on Afghanistan by using the word AND there, too. This is the serious international arena, not the backwaters of local Dutch politics in which one can play with words to appease coalition partners or influence public opinion. If you don’t succeed, I (almost) give up… and you’ll stand accused of a nasty bit of MEDIAOPS. In plain English: disinformation and deception.