The Dutch Parliament building, the Binnenhof, is reflected in the waters of Lake Hofvijver. Photo by Neirfy
By William Andrews
A dedicated member of the European Union and a founding member of NATO, the Netherlands has an extremely close and multi-faceted relationship with the United States. The Netherlands and the Dutch people played a key role in the founding of the United States. After all, the neighborhoods of Brooklyn (Breuckelen), Harlem (Haarlem), Yonkers (Jonkheer), and Coney Island (Konijneneiland) all come from the time when New York was called Nieuw Amsterdam.
Of course, there has been a lot of change over the last century in the Netherlands, both within the country and in terms of U.S. presence there.
The Hague‘s Gravenhage—literally the count’s hedge—is home to most of the embassies in the Netherlands, as it is the seat of government and the home of the Dutch royal family. However, as most people from Amsterdam will remind you, The Hague is not the capital city. For decades, the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands was located in the heart of The Hague, just across from the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliament building. This embassy building was designed by Hungarian-American architect Marcel Breuer, who attempted to showcase modern American architecture in its design. Located downtown, the building opened in 1959, but after fifty-eight and a half years, the old embassy finally shut its doors. In 2018, the United States opened its new embassy just outside of the city limits.
The new embassy building is in the neighboring municipality of Wassenaar, on a picturesque lot replete with canals and right on the border with The Hague. Illustrating the evolving priorities of U.S. foreign policy, sustainability was an important focus in the embassy’s construction, and continues to be an important part of facility maintenance. The team employed environmentally friendly methods throughout the construction of the campus. Limited car parking is available since a significant number of employees bike to work across the extensive, well-maintained, and safe bike lanes that permeate the country. The convenient location means the embassy is a quick (15- to 20-minute) bike commute from either downtown The Hague or downtown Wassenaar, where most embassy employees live.
The Mission is home to more than 20 federal agencies, which reflects the extensive and multifaceted partnership the United States shares with the Dutch. Most of these agencies are present in the new embassy building. The Office of the Legal Counselor, for example, is located in the building, and works on the U.S. partnership with the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice in the “city of peace and justice.” Also co-located in the embassy is the U.S. Delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), tasked with representing U.S. interests at the 193-member multilateral institution. The presence of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation headquarters and European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation in The Hague means the embassy has a large law enforcement presence, including many agencies of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Treasury.
The Foreign Agricultural Service oversees the relationship between the two biggest exporters of agricultural goods in the world—the Netherlands is second only to the United States. U.S. Department of Defense representatives work closely with their Dutch counterparts in the Dutch military, both bilaterally and under the NATO umbrella. The Netherlands has always had a strong Atlantic foreign policy orientation, and Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine has reminded many Dutch people of the importance of military cooperation between the United States and the Netherlands.
As the United States’ first ambassador to any country, John Adams served as ambassador to the Netherlands. He arrived in The Hague in 1780 to establish diplomatic relations and on April 19, 1782, the Dutch government formally recognized American independence and acknowledged Adams as ambassador. Thus, on that day, Adams’ house in The Hague became the United States’ first embassy abroad. Since April 19, 1982, Dutch-American Friendship Day annually celebrates the close relationship between the two countries. In 2022, the embassy hosted a concert to honor the 40th anniversary of Dutch-American Friendship Day and the 240th anniversary of John Adams being recognized as the first U.S. ambassador.
Current U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Shefali Razdan Duggal arrived in the Netherlands in October 2022, and is the first person of color to hold the position. Since arriving, she has prioritized reaching out to diverse communities, including the many communities of color within the country.
“I think it’s important to meet with and interact with those who normally would never have the chance to meet a U.S. ambassador,” said Razdan Duggal.
As part of Razdan Duggal’s inclusive effort, she is planning official visits to all 12 Dutch provinces and meeting with diverse communities during these trips. While touring the province of Limburg, the ambassador visited the economically challenged city of Heerlen, met with vocational students, and visited a family-run Moroccan grocery store. Earlier this year, the ambassador hosted a reception celebrating both the Hindu holiday Makar Sankranti and Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the chief of mission’s residence. Through this reception she was able to facilitate connections among different underrepresented groups in the Netherlands, particularly Afro-Dutch, Surinamese Hindustani, and South Asian communities.
While giving remarks during the reception, Razdan Duggal said “I am making a concerted effort in my first months in country to get to know people from different perspectives, divergent experiences, diverse ethnicities, and varying socio-economic backgrounds and educational levels.”
The United States is fortunate to have both an embassy in The Hague, as well as a consulate general in Amsterdam. The U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam is a historic property in the heart of the city on Museum Square—just across from the world-renowned Royal Concert Hall, the Van Gogh Museum, and Rijksmuseum. The building has a unique history. A Dutch entrepreneur originally built the property as a family home with a fortune made from spice trading in the Dutch East India company. Later, in the 1930s, his widow sold the house to the German government. During World War II, the Nazi Party used the house as its headquarters in Amsterdam. From this building, the Nazi Party organized the systematic persecution and deportation of the Netherlands’ Jewish population, including Anne Frank and her family. The nail hole where Adolf Hitler’s portrait once hung is still visible in the consul general’s office as the building has been carefully preserved to ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten. The building is considered a national monument by the Dutch government and one of the Department of State’s many culturally significant properties overseas.
Since 1947, the United States has flown the U.S. flag from this prominent property, on a square the Dutch consider to be their national mall. There, with the challenges and charms of operating from a 1913 home, the consulate provides consular services for the entire country, including 47,000 U.S. citizens resident in the Netherlands and millions of U.S. citizen visitors each year.
The Mission leverages this platform to advance American foreign policy objectives and diplomatic goals, and to champion democratic values, especially those related to diversity and inclusion. During Amsterdam’s world-renowned Pride Week, for example, the staff adorned the facade of ConGen Amsterdam with pride banners for all on Museum Square to enjoy.
The consulate general team also engages with Amsterdam’s vibrant business community and seeks opportunities to grow economic ties between the United States and the Netherlands. Recently, ConGen Amsterdam teamed up with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to offer a Global Entry enrollment event in Amsterdam for more than 500 trusted travelers, including many members of the American Chamber of Commerce, demonstrating U.S. commitment to facilitating lawful travel with every available tool.
The United States used to maintain an additional consulate general in Rotterdam, the second largest Dutch city. Rotterdam was historically an important city in the U.S.-Dutch relationship as many Dutch citizens immigrating to the United States departed from this port city. During the 1930s, all Dutch citizens wishing to emigrate to the United States had to apply for a visa at the consulate in Rotterdam, whereas the consulate in Amsterdam only issued visas for temporary stays. The family of Anne Frank tried twice to get a visa to emigrate to the United States from the consulate in Rotterdam, but were unsuccessful. The consulate, along with most of the city, was heavily bombed during World War II and ultimately closed in 1986. Three years later, the Netherlands became a Visa Waiver Program participant. As Rotterdam is only 15 miles from The Hague, Embassy The Hague continues to regularly engage with this dynamic city.
Although the U.S. Mission to the Netherlands now functions with an embassy and one consulate, they are fortunate to have two ambassadors: Razdan Duggal and Ambassador Joseph Manso, who serves as the U.S. Permanent Representative to OPCW. Founded in 1997, OPCW promotes adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of chemical weapons and requires that they be destroyed. Whereas many other nations have their bilateral ambassador to the Netherlands concurrently act as the permanent representative to OPCW, the United States ascribes so much importance to eliminating the use of chemical weapons that is has its own ambassador-rank permanent representative to the organization, who works with a dedicated interagency team to further U.S. foreign policy goals in OPCW. The U.S. Mission to OPCW (USOPCW) used to operate out of a separate building near the OPCW headquarters, but when the new embassy opened in 2018, USOPCW moved in as well.
“Only a very small number of countries, including Syria and Russia, challenge the global norm against chemical weapons use,” highlights Manso, “and the United States is committed to holding them accountable.”
For centuries, picturesque Dutch windmills have dotted the countryside of this low-lying country. Many of the more than 1,000 windmills across the country are still operational today, churning out flour and other products hundreds of years after they were constructed. The windmills signify the nation’s impressive mastery of both wind and water, and the ingenuity that the Dutch people have demonstrated throughout history.
Today, windmills still cover the countryside, but now sleek modern turbines generating wind energy can also be seen on land and at sea. These new modern windmills generate roughly 10% of all Dutch energy. The Dutch government has announced that it plans to make offshore wind the country’s biggest power source by 2030, with a goal of generating 21 gigawatts. If the Dutch meet this goal, 75% of the country’s energy needs would be generated by offshore wind turbines, supporting two key U.S. goals in the Netherlands of supporting a clean energy transition and reinforcing Europe’s energy security.
When designating April 19 as Dutch-American Friendship Day, President Ronald Reagan described the relationship between the two countries as “the United States’ longest unbroken, peaceful relationship with any foreign country.” The U.S. Mission to the Netherlands looks forward to many more centuries of close cooperation and amity, no matter how the winds and seas change.
William Andrews is a public diplomacy officer at Embassy The Hague.