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'Promoting universal values is a good strategy for resilience'

Many Western defence strategies concentrate on maintaining the status quo. Actively promoting universal values can also be a good strategy for resilience, according to Theo Brinkel, Professor by Special Appointment in Military-Social Studies. Inaugural lecture 15 January.

Banning hate preachers, monitoring financial support from foreign powers and singing the Dutch national anthem as a sign of national pride. These are means by which the Rutte III cabinet hopes to make the Netherlands resistant to foreign influences, which can range from the call to Jihadism to Russian attempts to destabilise Western countries. 

Universal values

But this defensive form of resilience is probably not enough to combat present-day challenges, Brinkel says in his lecture. Repeatedly referring to 'our' values, norms and customs can undermine our security in the long term. Bearing this in mind, Western countries should strive not only to maintain the status quo, but also to actively propagate universal values. Brinkel continues, ‘What we currently call ‘Western’ or ‘Dutch’ values are actually universal values. I don't know of any Chinese dissident who says that being tortured is OK because it just happens to be part of Chinese political culture.' 


In his lecture Brinkel discusses different assumptions about resilience. He sees that the Netherlands and other Western countries such as the United States primarily focus on resilience as maintenance of the status quo. The  focus of the Dutch Cabinet is primarily on upholding Dutch values, while on the other side of the pond Donald Trump is advocating a new isolationism with his ‘America first’ slogan.


A different form of resilience - transformative resilience - gets a lot less attention. This type of resilience is found in societies that have the ability to reshape themselves if existing structures become untenable. A good example is the emergence of the European Union out of the destruction of the Second World War. The founders believed the only way to avoid another war was to work more closely together. The war thus became a kind of springboard to a better situation.

Postmodern thinking

Brinkel believes that transformative resilience can combat the threats that we are now facing, whether these are fake news, cyber warfare or hate preachers. The problem, in his view, is that 'postmodern thinking' has relativised everything, which means that the political values on which the democratic system is founded are also up for discussion. ‘The universality of human rights seems to have been abandoned, and the will and the ability to defend these rights are slowly ebbing away.' It's countries like Russia that benefit. They may not have invented the doubts in the West, but they do benefit from supporting parties that weaken the cohesion within NATO and the EU.'

Military forces

Since 1 December 2016 Theo Brinkel has worked as Professor by Special Appointment at the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University, where he studies the relationship between military forces, politics and societies in Europe. He also teaches bachelor's and master's students. The special chair is an initiative of the Netherlands Royal Association of Marine Officers (KVMO). Brinkel is also a member of the Netherlands Defence Academy.

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