January-February 2022 Articles

H.E. André Haspels Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States

"When the Gift of a Carillon Becomes an Instrument of Diplomacy"
James A. Winship, Ph.D.

The path that Ambassador Haspels followed into the Dutch diplomatic service was rooted in the family business.  He describes his father as a flower merchant who started a small business buying flowers from Dutch growers at the Aalsmeer flower auction, near Schiphol International Airport, and selling them to retail flower shops throughout the Midlands. As the business grew, his father expanded his operation buying flowers worldwide, mainly orchids from Singapore and Thailand as well as ferns from Florida. He succeeded in building a wholesale flower business of international dimensions.

Haspels recognizes that experience as his pre-diplomatic training ground. “I was the one not only making bunches of flowers,” he recalls, “but I was also doing the correspondence with my father’s clients in Asia and Florida. That experience acquainted me with the world beyond the Netherlands, and it made me more curious about the specifics of doing business with other countries.”

Following graduation from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam with a degree in political science, specializing in international relations, Haspels joined the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1987. Upon completing the basic diplomatic training program, his first appointment was as Third Secretary in the Political and Economic Affairs Section of the Netherlands embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a rank that he laughingly notes “doesn’t exist anymore” in the Dutch foreign service. He remembers vividly, however, the Saturday mornings he was required to give up as junior officer in Colombo to go to the embassy, unlock the secured room that contained the cryptographic machine, decode messages – often of limited importance – and drive to the Ambassador’s residence to hand deliver the overnight messages personally.

Ambassador Haspels’ career has taken him from that first assignment as Third Secretary to the highest career ranks of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and service as a deputy member and later a full member of the Ministry’s Senior Management Board. Immediately prior to his appointment as Ambassador to the United States (2019), he served as Deputy Director-General for Political Affairs (2014-2016) and then as Director-           General for Political Affairs and policy adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (2016-2019).

His many faceted career development, following his initial posting in Sri Lanka, saw Haspels serve as press secretary to the Dutch Minister of European Affairs; as a Seconded National Expert at the European Commission in Brussels, where he dealt with business policy as it affected small and medium enterprise within and beyond the EU; and as an adviser to the Dutch House of Representatives where he was assigned to the Committee on International Policy/European Affairs.  These assignments grounded him in critical diplomatic skills – public affairs, European Union affairs, and the intricacies of Dutch legislative politics.

Subsequently he served as Head of the Political Department of the Dutch Embassy in South Africa (1997-2000) facilitating cooperation with political democratization projects and with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to implement restorative justice procedures intended to bridge between the end of apartheid and the establishment of full and free democracy in South Africa.

Previous to being named Ambassador to the United States (2019) Haspels served as Netherlands Ambassador in Hanoi, Vietnam (2005-2008) and Pretoria, South Africa (2011-2014). When not posted abroad, the Ambassador held a series of progressively responsible administrative positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague.  These included heading the External Affairs Division of the European Integration Department (2000-2005); serving as Director of the Sub-Saharan Africa Department responsible for bilateral policy (2008-2009); and serving as Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and as a policy advisor to the Minister of Development Cooperation (2009-2011).

The Netherlands Carillon . . . Symbol of Harmony and Renewal

Summarizing a rich and varied diplomatic career is never easy, but encapsulating a foreign policy initiative is even more difficult, especially when it involves the complex history of the Netherlands and the United States in the post-World War II world. Yet, it is that very history that lies not only at the heart of the relationship between these countries but also at the policy center of the transatlantic alliance and economic structures that bind them.

Located at the edge of Arlington National Cemetery overlooking the Potomac River and Washington’s National Mall, the Netherlands Carillon is an assemblage of chromatically tuned bells that allows the carillonneur to take advantage of the tonality and the resonance of the bells to exploit a range of music. This extraordinary gift from the people of the Netherlands to the people of the United States was presented as a token of thanks for what the United States had done during and after World War II to liberate the Netherlands from occupation by Nazi Germany and to acknowledge the economic assistance of the Marshall Plan in rebuilding the Dutch economy.

The original gift of the carillon was transferred to the United States in 1952 by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. At that time, President Truman noted that, “No gift could be a better symbol of the harmonious relations which have always existed, and which should always continue to exist, between the Netherlands and the United States. The people and the Government of the Netherlands,” Truman added, “are working closely with us in our struggle to bring about permanent peace in the world. It is only through unity with other nations, that any one of the free nations can make itself secure against the threat of war in the future.”

Arriving in Washington to assume his new role Ambassador Haskels inherited the initial stages of a project intended to underscore the importance of that relationship between the United States and the Netherlands but also to bridge the past to the 21st century future of relations between the two countries. To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of Europe, a new gift from the Dutch people would refurbish the Netherlands Carillon, tune and repair its bells, and extend a gift of three additional bells to allow the instrument to attain the status of Grand Carillon.

A leading Dutch scholar has suggested that, “The Netherlands Carillon can only be understood against a background of two nations trying to reinvent themselves during the Cold War.” Today the United States and the Netherlands are partners in rethinking and stabilizing not only the transatlantic alliance but also in revising an international system where core values and fundamental security are under challenge from multiple directions.  In the midst of an uncertain world the renewal of the Netherlands Carillon has become a symbol of reaffirmation.

As President Biden has observed during his visit to Europe earlier this year, “Europe is our natural partner, and the reason is that we are committed to the same democratic norms.” Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte has made similar observations. “It is crucial,” he has noted, “to keep the transatlantic bond strong and vibrant. We are stronger together than we are apart. Our unity is the bedrock of our future. Both our futures.”

Ambassador Haspels was kind enough to take a closer look at those futures in an extended interview.

Diplomatic Connections:   Why the gift of a carillon? What does it symbolize? 
Ambassador Haspels:   This refurbished Netherlands Carillon represents not only a renovation of the instrument itself but also a renewed commitment to maintaining the peace, the rule of law and human rights. We thought it was very important to keep people investing in this symbol of Dutch-American cooperation.
The tradition of carillons dates back to the Low Countries – Belgium and the Netherlands – in the 16th century and is closely linked to the technology of metallurgy and the art of bell casting. Carillons were simultaneously musical and architectural achievements. They were seen (and heard) as symbols of civic accomplishment marking historical events and cultural advancement.  The gift of a carillon to the United States was deeply rooted in Dutch tradition and at the same time symbolic of a world reborn following the 20th century’s two World Wars.

Diplomatic Connections:   How has the work of renovation and refurbishment been undertaken? 
Ambassador Haspels:   The bells were taken down in October 2019. It was agreed that the National Park Service would be responsible for renovating the structure that houses the bells, and the bells would be sent back to the Netherlands where they would be restored by a very specialized company,a bell foundry called Royal Eijsbouts.
When the bells were originally given, they came from three different companies.  If you were an expert you could hear that there was a dissonance to the bells.  Because they were cast by different companies using their own procedures, the bells were slightly, but noticeably, out of tune. Royal Eijsbouts has invested a great deal of time and research in developing computerized techniques designed to provide exacting casting of the bells and very precise machining to tune the bells and adjust their harmonics by determining precisely where the clapper should strike the bell. That is why they were chosen to complete the work of refurbishing all of the bells and to cast the three new bells that are being added.
The new bells are named after General George C. Marshall – Secretary of War and later State under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and father of the post-World War II Marshall Plan for European Recovery; Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – civil rights leader; and Eleanor Roosevelt – human rights leader and shepherd of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. They are important persons in American history but also in our Dutch history and the global history of the post-war world.

Diplomatic Connections:   The long-standing relationship between the United States and the Netherlands dates back to the American Revolution. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1782. What is the basis of that long-standing relationship? 
Ambassador Haspels:   The Netherlands was the first state to recognize the flag of the United States because we had the first salute when an American ship, the Andrew Doria, entered the Dutch controlled Caribbean port of St. Eustatius in 1776.  Dutch authorities on the island ignored the trade restrictions imposed by surrounding islands under British, French and Spanish control and operated St. Eustatius as a free port, making it a vital transshipment point. Dutch merchants there were important suppliers of gun powder to the American colonists. Returning the Andrew Doria’s 13-gun salute announcing its arrival and the birth of the 13 American independent states with an 11-gun salute from the port authorities meant that the Netherlands recognized the new United States as a sovereign state.

Diplomatic Connections:    And since that early recognition of U.S. sovereignty? 
Ambassador Haspels:  Today, the United States is the largest foreign investor in the Netherlands, and our country is the fifth largest foreign investor in the United States. Dutch companies support roughly 900,000 jobs in the United States and the U.S. supports about 200,000 jobs in the Netherlands. We are the world’s second largest agricultural exporter behind only the United States in agricultural exports. There are many other areas of trade and finance where we cooperate closely with the United States.
The military relationship between our countries is very important to the security of the Netherlands both as a bilateral relationship and through the NATO alliance. We were among the founding members of that alliance. On the cultural level there are many Americans with Dutch ancestors and Dutch roots. The Dutch heritage is apparent across many parts of the United States.

Diplomatic Connections:  How is it that such a relatively small country as the Netherlands can become such a large agricultural exporter? 
Ambassador Haspels:  True that we do not have large expanses of agricultural area for growing crops.  It is an example of how knowledge intensive agriculture can be highly productive in limited spaces.  We have very high production of flowers and vegetables in greenhouses. One of the secrets of our high productivity is the extraordinary degree of cooperation between our farmers, the government, and our well-known Wageningen University – a world leader in the study of agriculture, forestry and sustainability. This is what is sometimes called our “Golden Triangle” for the development of high-tech urban agriculture (HTUA).

Diplomatic Connections:  As part of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, the embassy has also sponsored special exhibits honoring two groups of sometimes overlooked Americans - “Rosie the Riveter,” celebrating the work of American women who went to work in the defense industries during World War II; and “Black Liberators,” honoring the African American troops who fought in the war and participated in the liberation of Europe. Why did you choose to highlight these groups? 
Ambassador Haspels:  Both groups played a very important role in the victory over fascism. We recently had an event to celebrate the “Rosies” with two surviving “Rosies” – both over 100 years old – at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy here in Washington, D.C. “Rosie” stands for the more than 8 million American women who worked in the war industries to support troops in the field. What they did was not only to support the war effort but to support the peace by building the planes that brought food, medicine and supplies to the post-war reconstruction effort. We are very grateful to them.
That is also the case for the “Black Liberators.” The Netherlands supports a project where we try to identify those black soldiers killed during the war who have not previously been identified so that we can communicate to their families where the body was found and where their loved one was buried. We have tried to gather more information about black soldiers who are buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial on the outskirts of Maastricht and especially about the more than 1,700 names listed on the cemetery’s “Wall of the Missing.” When we have identified a body we try to find children or other family members here in the United States. It is important to us to honor the “last full measure of devotion” these American soldiers gave to the liberation of the Dutch people. That is especially true for members of a group whose commitment and sacrifice was not fully recognized in the United States.

Diplomatic Connections: The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a government led by the Prime Minister and the elected members of parliament. Could you explain the roles that King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima play alongside the government in the day to day functioning of the country and its diplomacy? They both have played active roles in the United Nations, have they not? 
Ambassador Haspels:  First of all, they are symbols of our country and of our national unity. The king is formally our head of state. In terms of diplomacy he will meet with other heads of state.  But, the king does not have a formal role in our constitutional democracy anymore.
That said, as symbols of our country, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima are very active and highly visible in Dutch civil society. The King and Queen serve as goodwill ambassadors on formal state visits to other countries that are important to the Netherlands. They frequently combine these visits with trade promotion efforts to encourage the import of Dutch products and foreign investment in the Netherlands.
Although he was not permitted to continue certain of his activities when he became king, as the Crown Prince, King Willem-Alexander was very active in water management affairs internationally.  He is an expert on water related issues. Until he assumed the throne on his mother’s retirement, he served as a member of the International Olympic Committee, as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Water to the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, and Chairman of the Secretary General of the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

Diplomatic Connections:   And, Queen Máxima? 
Ambassador Haspels: Prior to her marriage Queen Máxima had a career in international banking and finance. She has served the United Nations Secretary General as Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development since 2009. In that capacity, she works to advance universal access to and responsible usage of affordable, effective and safe financial services. She also serves as Honorary Patron of the G-20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion and as a Global Agenda Trustee for the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on the Future of the Global Financial System

Diplomatic Connections:   Earlier this year you made a trip to Alaska.  Many embassies seem to be reaching out beyond the federal government to the individual states. Why is that the case? 
Ambassador Haspels: First, we cannot do without the federal level. If we want to talk about trade, if we want to talk about defense or foreign policy, that has to be done in Washington, D.C. with the executive and legislative branches. But, in a federal system, we also recognize that there is a great deal of power that rests with the state governments, especially if we want to talk not about trade policy but about the nuts and bolts of trade – the core issues of foreign direct investment in an area, of products imported and exported and the transfer of technological expertise.
At that level, it is important to know the leaders, to meet the people, to understand the state and its unique needs. There is no substitute for being there on the ground and having first-hand knowledge. That is why we think it is important to meet with governors and mayors, to interact with state officials, and to develop relationships with the business community in the states. This is a significant part of the work of our consulates and honorary consuls around the country.

Diplomatic Connections:   How have diplomacy and the role of the Netherlands in diplomacy changed in the course of your professional career? 
Ambassador Haspels: Diplomacy will always be needed because people and governments must talk to each other. Diplomatic efforts can facilitate that process. Guaranteeing the freedom of speech and protecting the security of ambassadors and their staff is the basis of presenting credentials to the host government and the origin of the privileges of diplomatic immunity. The goal was and still is to establish open channels of communication and to encourage the proverbial “full and frank” discussion of issues.
The big change in my thirty years plus in the profession is the rise and application of the new communication technologies. Computers have made the world much more connected, and most communication is done through secure computer links. The speed of communication is dramatically different today, as is access to the means of electronic communication by a wide range of persons outside the realm of official diplomacy.
Today diplomats literally must be “well-connected.” They must understand and present themselves well on social media. They must have the computer literacy to quickly glean information that is relevant for their job - ranging from pandemic precautions to agricultural methods and production to climate change and technological developments that may affect the economy or international security.
Diplomacy must develop whole new areas of expertise that recognize the realities of a 21st century world while honoring the traditions that have nurtured the arts of diplomacy. The challenges posed by cyber-security present a real threat to the Netherlands, to the United States, and to the free world.  There is an enormous amount of damage that can be done by cyber-attacks and ransomware infections.  Key elements of infrastructure – electrical grids, water distribution systems, and key communications links – are at risk, and it is necessary to develop both warning systems and security systems that will protect this critical architecture. The diplomatic community needs to aid in developing rules that govern these new realms of possibility and vulnerability.

Diplomatic Connections:   Imagine that one of the valedictory assignments as you approach the end of your career is to address the new incoming class of Dutch diplomats in training. What would you tell them based on your experience?  
Ambassador Haspels: I would underline that diplomats must always represent the values and the interests of their country. At times that is not easy, especially when they are speaking with representatives of a country that does not share their country’s values. But you have to stand for your own values. The important truth is that sometimes you have to bring a difficult message.
That said, diplomacy is also a contact sport. Diplomats need to look each other in the eye, not only in a formal meeting but also in more informal circumstances. They need to see what the tremendous diversity of the world looks like on the ground. And they need to hear and honor each other’s concerns  . . . even when they disagree.
First, you have to know your own country very well because you are representing the views of that country, the citizens of that country, the interests of that country, and the policies of your government even when you may not personally agree with them. Though it may not always be the most interesting area of representation, consular work is very important because whether it is a lost passport, the mechanics of doing business or a serious accident we have to help our citizens. That is as close to the people of your country as you can get, and it is consequential – often in unexpected ways.
Second, recognize the importance of your country’s business leaders and listen to their concerns.  We have to help them not only to facilitate their business operations but to advance the economic interests of your country in the world.
Third, recognize the connections between your country’s internal policy and its external policy.  Foreign policy should not be divorced from the fundamental values of your country.
Diplomacy is not an easy job.  Sometimes when you are an ambassador you have to engage with regimes that may have a bad track record on human rights or that repress their citizens.  But still, that is the job; you have to do that.  That is why I admire our diplomats in Afghanistan and our military, who have been in a very difficult position and were able to evacuate many, many people - not enough unfortunately - but given the circumstances they did a great job.

Diplomatic Connections:   How does the government of the Netherlands see the future of relations with Afghanistan unfolding?
Ambassador Haspels: Everyone was surprised by the speed with which the Taliban took control of Kabul and became the de facto ruling authority of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the evacuation had to proceed very quickly and was chaotic. Diplomatically, we are now in a transition phase where Afghanistan and the Taliban regime are concerned.
The Netherlands is engaged with Afghanistan and the Taliban, and we intend to remain so. That is something different than recognizing the Taliban regime as the official leadership of Afghanistan.  That is not the case, at least not yet. But, the Netherlands is engaged with them because they are the group that is in control of the territory.
We remain focused on getting those persons out who want to leave the country. That is the subject of delicate negotiations in Doha and elsewhere that are being conducted through the “good offices” of third parties.  We have been working closely with the countries in the region – Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey – as our avenues of communication. There is also the issue of resettling refugees who have left Afghanistan but would prefer to stay in the region. The efforts of global NGOs will be important in sheltering and relocating these people.
As for the future of Afghanistan, the Netherlands wants to remain committed to assisting with development issues working through NGOs and the United Nations and to the cause of human rights, especially the rights of women and girls.  But, for the moment, we have to be realistic and recognize that we might have to limit our ambitions for the country based on the actions of the Taliban regime.

Diplomatic Connections:  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.  We have gained from your experience, the wide-ranging assignments it has included, and from the insights you have offered.

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