YATA Netherlands Article: Excursion to the Royal Military Academy in Breda

Category/Categories: Our Views

“Excursion to the Royal Military Academy in Breda”

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“Excursion to the Royal Military Academy in Breda”

On July 3d, the Dutch Atlantic Youth ended the year with an excursion to the Royal Military Academy (RMA), located at the Castle of Breda. On this sunny day, twenty participants joined in a guided tour around the historically important Castle of Breda, a presentation about life at the RMA, and an interactive lecture about Smart Defence.

Our guide prof. dr. Wim Klinkert explained that the importance of the Castle of Breda for the country of the Netherlands dates back to 1350, when the Duke of Brabant sold the Castle to Jan II van Polanen, who fortified the building. The family name Van Polanen ended with granddaughter Johanna. In 1403 she married the German nobleman Engelbrecht I van Nassau. This marriage formed the basis of the relationship between the Netherlands and the Van Nassau-family, which still exists today. The last name of the Dutch royal family is now Van Oranje-Nassau.

Over the years, many changes were made to the castle, most profoundly by Hendrik van Nassau-Breda, who turned it into a Renaissance palace in Mediterranean style. Unfortunately, not much of this splendor remains today, although a few original elements remained.

In 1826 it was decided to locate the Royal Military Academy in the Castle of Breda (partially because of its historic importance). The building was again reconstructed to adapt to its new function. In 1828 the first cadets arrived. It was only in 1976 that the first female cadets arrived. (Let’s just hope they were not offended by the plaque of the cavalry that can still be found and reads (in French) ‘on women and horses we ride, we are the cavalry’.)

After lunch and the group picture, it was time to head for the lecture halls. Former cadet Theo Bosman explained a little about the different types of education that can be found at the RMA. Mostly he focused on cadet life outside of the classroom/sports fields. Though the RMA may seem rather strict to the average student, it very much resembles a ‘normal’ university, with lots of social activities organized by student committees. In fact, participating in such a committee is considered an important part of the training too, as it stimulates personal development.

Colonel Peter van den Aker agreed that personal development, combined with knowledge and skills, is an important aspect of the training that the cadets receive. ‘Knowledge is power, but character is more.’ Today an officer is no longer just a warrior, he is a manager and a diplomat as well.

Mostly, Colonel van den Aker spoke about Smart Defence, the name of which may be new, but the concept is not. Countries have been cooperating for many years. However, there are often good reasons for this cooperation not to intensify. It hardly ever happens that all parties share the same interests, and then there is also often a lack of trust, especially in top-down initiatives. Colonel van den Aker believes that bottom-up initiatives have a better chance of success , because they allow for more time to be spent on building up trust and loyalty. After his lec ture, the Colonel invited the participants to a drink with a view of Breda. Of course, the invitation was gladly accepted.

“Transatlanticism at the Crossroads: An Economic Crisis, an American Election, and the Future of the West

This guest lecture, which took place on March 21st, was organized by the Dutch Atlantic Youth, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in The Hague and the University of Amsterdam. Ms. Conley explained an American view on European political affairs and the future of the Transatlantic relationship to an audience of around 25 students and young professionals.

Ms. Conley sees the reformulation of a “Common Narrative”, which was lost when the Cold War ended, as the biggest challenge for both sides of the Atlantic. Thus far, the “War on Terror” has been unable to provide a similar sense of community. In fact, the opposite has occurred, resulting in a ‘lost decade for Transatlantic relations’.

This became painfully clear when in 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis, the EU turned to China for financial help, instead of to its longtime ally the US. According to Ms. Conley, the economic crisis calls for stronger Atlantic ties. For decades, the US and Europe professed a desire to spread democracy and other Western values around the world. But now that there is a cry for democracy in many places, the economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan have caused Europe and the US both to suffer from a lack of self-esteem, in the face of declining power. The BRIC-countries are rising, but instead of dealing with the geopolitical and economic consequences jointly, the US and Europe are turned inward.

The Transatlantic relationship can be compared to a stool with three legs: security, economy and common values. In the last decade, too much emphasis has been placed on the first leg, security. For the stool not to wobble, or even fall over, there needs to be more attention for the other two legs, economy and common values. For example, the US and Europe should form one bloc in their trade relations with the BRIC-countries, to receive better deals.

Although one decade has been lost for the Transatlantic relationship, Ms. Conley was slightly optimistic about the coming decade. Both sides of the Atlantic are better off when their relationship is strong. All it takes are political leaders who are well aware of this.