Rimko van der Maar and Hans Meijer, Herman van Roijen 1905-1991: Een diplomaat van klasse.
Herman van Roijen was the archetype of a diplomat of his time, and an outstanding example of it moreover. His origins were patrician, from a very well-to-do family, with his father a diplomat too. He was groomed to follow his footsteps, and studied law. He had all the time to get acquainted with a diplomat's life when in his first years with the Foreign Affairs department he was tutored in Washington by his father (1930-1933). It was followed by terms in The Hague, where he married the daughter of a diplomat, and Tokyo, and then a return to The Hague in 1939. He worked closely with his direct superior Eelco van Kleffens. In 1940 war interfered. Van Roijen was involved in resistance activities, arrested a few times, and participated in a number of informal circles of prominent Dutchmen where the future of the post-war Netherlands was debated. It earned him prestige and respect, as well as a myriad of personal contacts on which he capitalized in the years to come. He crossed the front line to the liberated south and London, the site of the government in exile. He returned home in June 1945, to become minister without portfolio, to assist Minister of Foreign Affairs Van Kleffens in reconstituting the Dutch foreign relations. He made the switch from pre-war Dutch neutralism and aloofness to post-war international alliances. When in March 1946 Van Kleffens became the United Nations representative, Van Roijen was the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, until July 1946 when he became ambassador in Canada, and also the close assistant of Van Kleffens in UN dealings. Already as a minister he gradually became ever more involved with the developments in Indonesia, where the Republic of Indonesia of Soekarno and Hatta demanded independence. Van Roijen agreed with the Dutch position, in which the Dutch autonomy to arrange a solution of this internal affair was emphasized. He was to repeat this in the UN over and over again in the next few years. Notwithstanding, the international dimension became more and more important, with the United States as the ultimately decisive factor. Van Royen and his colleagues played the anti-communist card by denouncing the Republic as a crypto-communist structure. The Linggadjati and Renville agreements did not bring a solution, and the Dutch cabinet resorted in its flight ahead in December 1948 for the second time to military action. There, however, was no clear-cut follow-up. The us and the UN were outraged, and strong reprisals threatened. Van Royen and his delegation made overtime to avert the worst dangers, while Dutch politics in Jakarta and The Hague were hesitant and indecisive. Thus, initiative inevitably switched to foreign affairs. Van Roijen's realistic appraisal of the situation was to lead the Netherlands out of the quagmire. In April 1949 he entered into negotiations with his Indonesian partner Mohammed Roem. He succeeded in reaching agreement, with us support, and with a Dutch cabinet and Dutch authorities in Jakarta angry, teeth gnashing, only agreeing after Van Roijen's threat to resign. After signatures were appended many difficulties ensued, and many a crisis followed, up until the conclusion of the Round Table Conference in November 1949. According to the authors an ambassador never interfered with government policies as decisively as Van Roijen did.
Van Roijen was again instrumental in reaching compromises. Van Roijen was lavishly praised, then and up until now. He was with his particular skills the right man at the right place at the right time. He returned to a diplomat's unobtrusive life, now as ambassador in Washington (1950-1964). Indonesia, however, kept haunting him, now as a dispute with Indonesia on New Guinea, which was exempted from the transfer of sovereignty in December 1949. Talks soon ended in a deadlock, with the Dutch claiming to educate the New Guinea population to become independent. Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Luns was the staunch opponent of transfer to Indonesia, and was backed by the Dutch cabinet and public opinion, as well as Van Roijen. Indonesia, however, put rising pressure on the Dutch and sought international support. The us was reluctant to give assurances to its Dutch ally, however much Luns tried to persuade them to do so. The only result was a half-hearted promise, by Foreign Secretary Foster Dulles, in 1958, which was used by Luns as a trump card, a clear case of wishful thinking. Inevitably, support crumbled and the Dutch became increasingly isolated.
Internationalization and self-determination met a cold shoulder. It all became even more hopeless when the Kennedy Administration took over and set its priorities. New Guinea was to be ceded to Indonesia. Van Roijen was aware of this and the only recourse was to work together with the us to maximize Dutch interests. Luns did not agree, and stuck to his intransigent position, even through selectively informing his department and his cabinet. In the end Luns was all but relieved of his discretionary power in the crisis. The cabinet turned to Van Roijen to find a way out. This time there was not much room for maneuvering. He had to yield to Indonesian, us, and UN demands, and next he had to put accomplished facts before a grudging cabinet. And here and elsewhere Luns continued his opposition, blaming Van Roijen for insubordination, and making him a scapegoat. Van Roijen was bitter about this and in his retirement he was eager to set matters straight in interviews.
This solid biography of Van Roijen, with almost 130 pages of endnotes, is the work of two historians. Hans Meijer is mainly responsible for the four chapters on Indonesia and New Guinea. Altogether 250 pages are devoted to Van Roijen's Indonesian exertions. This is all solidly based on archival sources and published literature. It is not untrodden ground they are exploring, but their careful reorganization of these sources, among a number of new ones, concentrating on Van Roijen's role adds surplus value. And they also engage in discussions with Joop de Jong's Avondschot. Hoe Nederland zich terugtrok uit zijn Aziatisch imperium (2011), and Albert Kersten's Luns. Een politieke biografie (2010). Also an image is given beyond the impeccable, classic diplomat by interviewing his family and his inner circle of fellow-diplomats. His diaries and notebooks, as well as the frank letters to his wife, add a lot of flavour to this biography--impeccable and classic as his subject.
A minor error concerns Roem's study in the Netherlands (p. 222): he did not study there. And Cochrans oral note of 10 September 1948 was not after the suppression of the communist Madiun Revolt, as this only started on 18 September. And it may be too explicit to speak of an about-face of the Americans when the Republic succeeded in suppressing the Madiun Revolt. The us remained reluctant and yet (from its perspective) still steered an impartial course.
Harry A. Poeze
KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
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|Author:||Poeze, Harry A.|
|Publication:||Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2014|
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