“On this tiny planet, we depend on each other like never before. Let’s start behaving accordingly. Let’s start turning the tide. Let’s mobilise the force for good.” At the end of Day 1, Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert called upon the participants of the Future Force Conference to intensify cooperation. The first contours began to take shape during the breakout sessions on various security issues. What ideas and solution-finding approaches did the participants put forward? Professor Jonathan Holslag delivered an initial reflection.
Hennis introduced her audience to the 67-year-old Muhammed Faris, who, 30 years ago, was the first and only Syrian to go into space. The ‘Neil Armstrong of the Arab world’ is now living as a refugee in Turkey. “From there, he does his utmost to help the people from his beloved country. His country that he once saw from space. And every time someone asks him about his dreams, he says: “I just want to sit at home in my country, in my garden, and see children play outside, without the fear of bombs.” A wish so simple, and yet so universal!”
Dreaming of a safer world
Hennis talked to the audience about how they form part of an ‘ecosystem of sorts’, a system in which people depend on each other. A universal system of like-minded people who dream of a safer world. “I am convinced that the quality of our cooperation within this ‘ecosystem’ will determine our future security. Only by combining all of our efforts for a more secure world can we hope to change the world for the better.”
What recommendations did the participants in the first 20 breakout sessions present to Jonathan Holslag?
- Perhaps the most important observation was that Europeans are increasingly worried about their security. Their security at home, but also the stability and the state of the world. Holslag: “The solution is that we have to try to take away these worries. We have to guarantee the 500 million men and women in Europe a livelihood, a habitat that is peaceful, stable and prosperous. But that’s of course not possible without engaging overseas in distant areas.”
- The second and in fact equally significant conclusion was that the most important ecosystem is still our own society. But what does that mean? Some of the participants felt that in missions you should start with the armed forces and then gradually engage with other parties. Others thought, however, that you should acknowledge that defence is just a tiny player. And that they interact, sometimes with force and less easily with many other parties, companies, civil society, and so forth. And what really binds us in an ecosystem is not so much structures, but the very cement is ideas and a common destiny.
- One of the main solution-finding approaches that recurred in many sessions was the structure and connection offered by current social technologies. The huge technological developments, some of which are also being demonstrated here, present enormous opportunities. But what many participants highlighted: it is not just about the technology, but about the social aspect itself. And in that regard: it’s not about me, but about ‘we’. For a positive ecosystem, the main starting point should no longer be made up of selfish, individual interests.
- Good citizenship is our first line of defence. In various ways, such as through education, we need to convince people that we’re in this boat together. Recognise a common history, but also a shared geopolitical situation. Social technologies also need to be used to stimulate citizenship, as do schools. Empowering children to deal with information. We give them books to study, but we don’t teach them how to recognise fake news that is broadcast via social media.
As Mayor Jozias van Aartsen said yesterday at the opening: the world is urbanising at a rapid pace. Cities are becoming increasingly important. How do you keep such places safe and stable? A fascinating example was that of a popular reggae band which helped the Brazilian police to understand the youth culture and sensitivities in the slums.
Walls don’t work. The Romans learnt that lesson 2000 years ago, and the Chinese were also forced to acknowledge the limited value of their wall. Europe must actively reshape its external security environment.
Work like Android, not like Apple
The last and most striking recommendation was aimed at Defence: be like Android, not like Apple. Do not monopolize, but inspire and facilitate, be a platform. Don’t dominate. Offer possibilities to other parties, social organisations, universities. Make sure that the local population feels involved during missions. Provide security and give people the chance to take charge of it themselves. Defence equals engagement. Defence is not isolation. It’s about building partnerships, soldiers who reach out to local communities.
Resilient societies depend on citizenship. Build an inclusive defence. Without the support of our citizens, it’s not going to work.
Forge new bonds
That advice fitted in very nicely with the speech by Minister Hennis. She said that the armed forces of the future will know how to connect with others. She believes that this will give the military the ability to adapt to predictable and unpredictable circumstances. “It is for this reason that I regard this Future Force Conference as unique and important. This conference brings together a broad range of talented people and widely respected organisations. This is important because we can thus forge new bonds, and strengthen existing ones at the same time.”