Back to Know Your World

The Netherlands lies at the nexus of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. It controls the lower reaches of the Rhine, Europe’s richest river, which grants it command of one of the major trade arteries leading to the European interior. The key to Dutch success is that they aren’t their neighbors. For much of history, dealing with the Netherlands was preferable to dealing with its much larger, and pushier, neighbors. If the English and the French were in one of their frequent spats but still wanted vibrant trade, the Dutch provided the perfect middleman. The same goes for Germany via the shared river ways leading to the Atlantic. The Netherlands’ position as an important trade hub protected it from invasion and enriched its people (which isn’t to say the Dutch have always succeeded in resisting invasion …)

In contemporary times, the Dutch favor both a deepening of European integration as well as an expansion of EU membership. As the logic goes, a Europe that is large and united and free is one that no single country – or pair of countries – could possibly dominate. And so long as everyone is within the Union and playing by the rules, Europe’s long propensity for backroom deals and wildcard players can finally and firmly be relegated to history. From the Dutch point of view, France and Germany’s tendency to steer the Union without consulting anyone else is just as much of a problem as the United Kingdom’s threats to leave. The Netherlands’ partial solution is to admit as many new countries as possible: the more countries voting, the less chance the big boys will have in determining Europe’s fate.

And of course the Dutch have a back-up plan: a strong friendship with the United States. The Netherlands is third-largest foreign direct investor in the United States – and vice versa. Both countries don’t want to see a Europe dominated by any single player, and the Dutch-American partnership goes so far as to include the stationing of American nuclear weapons on Dutch soil even today.

For more on how the Netherlands will fare in the years to come, see Chapter 11 of The Accidental Superpower.