The about-face late last week by the Dutch in sending warships to the Persian Gulf ends one era and begins another for the Netherlands. The protest peace movement there has now lost the strong influence it had on policy in the early 1980s in resisting NATO deployment of new ``Euromissiles.''
And, as the Dutch security and foreign-policy establishment now reasserts Holland's traditional interest in a robust Western alliance, it has rejuvinated the Western European Union (WEU).
The surprising Dutch pledge to send ships to the Gulf to join American, British, and French ships there in defending oil tankers came late last week after the British publicly had criticized earlier Dutch refusal to do so.
Last Thursday in the Hague, the current WEU chairman, the Netherlands, conducted a one-day meeting on the Gulf of senior diplomats from the member nations of Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries.
After the meeting Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van den Broek said the Netherlands will send naval vessels to the Gulf. Western diplomats see the move in part as a desire by the Dutch to use their WEU chairmanship to reassert the prominent role in Western alliance planning the Netherlands once played, despite its small size.
The Dutch move increases pressure on the reluctant Italians to join the Western flotilla in the Gulf. It does not increase pressure on the West Germans, since the allies are resigned to Bonn's plea of constitutional constraint on use of West German forces outside the immediate NATO area. While the West German Constitution says only that armed forces must be used exclusively for defense, the West German Navy would gladly define as ``defense'' participation in allied excursions outside NATO's immediate waters.
Decline of the Dutch peace movement is measured not only by the Gulf decision, but also by the presence of a more pragmatic leadership in the opposition Dutch Labor Party.