The Dutch opposition to the neutron bomb, and the subsequent reluctance to accept their share of the cruise missiles, have led to the diagnosis of 'Hollanditis', a supposedly contagious Dutch disease. Laqueur and others have speculated about a re-emergence of the tradition of neutralist abstentionism, now that both gratitude for American aid and fear of Soviet expansionism have waned. Such a diagnosis can be valid only if it is accepted that the penchant for neutralism disappeared when the Netherlands joined the Atlantic Alliance. Neutralism can then be said to have been pushed to the background by the exceptional circumstances of the first post-war decades. Now that things are returning to normal, the Dutch return to neutralism. If, on the other hand, we agree with the view that NATO only provided the security umbrella under which the Dutch could continue to foster their aloofness from power politics, the Dutch misgivings about nuclear weapons cannot be interpreted in this way. In this respect it is interesting to note that, whilst the percentage of the population agreeing that NATO contributes to detente in Europe dropped from 65 in 1968 to 39 in 1978, the proportion of the population in favour of continued membership of NATO did not decrease significantly.
Most observers disagree with the Hollanditis diagnosis, whether they think that neutralism was abandoned when the Dutch joined NATO or not. There are three major counter-arguments to the Hollanditis thesis. Some argue that the shift from staunch to critical, or even reluctant, ally should not be interpreted as a sign of neutralist abstentionism, but as a development towards a less submissive attitude, and a more activist role of the Dutch government in international affairs. If there is a return to old traditions at all, the Dutch opposition to NATO's nuclear deterrent fits in with the moralist or idealist orientation of Dutch foreign policy. That is why the churches are involved; that is why opposition to the missiles was closely related to a stronger emphasis on human rights and development aid (see below). One author even speculates that the changes in foreign policy are caused by post-colonial guilt, felt in particular by Social Democratic Cabinet Ministers .
It is also argued that the more critical posture of the Dutch government within the Alliance should not be explained in terms of Dutch foreign policy traditions. If they are traditions at all, they arc traditions of the foreign policy elite, not of the general public. More than other policy areas, foreign policy has always been in the hands of a small, close-knit establishment. In general, foreign policy was not the subject of conflicts between the political parties, with few notable exceptions (such as rows over a Dutch embassy at the Holy See in the 1920s). Foreign policy-making was also not embedded in a neo-corporatist network of interest groups and advisory councils. In many respects foreign policy making was the last remnant of a nineteenth-century style in politics: elitist and non-partisan. This changed abruptly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Foreign policy-making did not escape this change. As a result of politicisation and polarisation the political parties, and in particular the Labour Party, developed and emphasized their own partisan proposals for the Netherlands' external relations. In the population at large 'action groups' became more vocal and visible, and some of them sought to change the country's foreign policy. Popular disenchantment with the Dutch role as America's staunch ally is thought to have resulted from factors such as the coming of age of a new generation that had not itself experienced the Second World War, the revulsion arising from the widely televised atrocities of the Vietnam war, and exasperation with the ongoing arms race.
It is this 'domesticisation of foreign policy that is often held responsible for the change in Dutch foreign policy. Support for this view can be found in the fact that the return from politicisation and polarisation to the original 'rules of the game', was followed by a less 'deviant' position of the Netherlands within NATO. It can also be argued, however, that the removal of the nuclear missiles from the international agenda made such a return to the mainstream of NATO possible, and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact since Gorbachev came to power in 1985 may even have brought the mainstream of NATO closer to the Dutch position. The position of the Netherlands within the Alliance in the late 1980s and early 1990s is best illustrated by the opposition, on the one hand, to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, and the reversal, on the other hand, of an earlier decision to scrap the nuclear capabilities of the F-16 jet-fighters and Orion anti-submarine planes.
Both these counter-arguments accept that a change in Dutch foreign policy has taken place, but disagree with interpreting the change as a return to neutralist abstentionism. However, the strongest argument against the Hollanditis diagnosis comes from those observers who argue that, in practice, the changes in the foreign policy of the Dutch government have been only marginal. They argue that, pressured by domestic critique of NATO's nuclear strategy, the Dutch government paid lip service to the ideal of nuclear disarmament, while continuing its support of NATO. Perhaps the only difference with other member states was the impact of public opinion on the Dutch government. But if this resulted in the official rhetoric being neutralist, so the argument goes, the realitywas not so affected. Voorhoeve, for one, does not concur with the popular description of Dutch security policy after 1970 as that of a critical or reluctant ally. Himself a member of the opposition at the time, he writes of the Cabinet that is held most responsible for the changes in the country's foreign policy: 'They left not only staunch NATO supporters, but also the disarmament lobby highly dissatisfied. By steering in-between these extremes, the Den-Uyl Government had simply changed the country from a "super-loyal" into a "normal" ally'. In support of this analysis he points to the cuts in the Dutch defence budget in the mid-1970s which have often been used as evidence of Hollanditis. Whilst such cuts may have been important in absolute terms, they were not greater than in many other NATO countries. On the contrary, the relative contribution of the Dutch to NATO's defence expenditure increased slightly during the 1970s, whereas that of countries such as the US or the UK decreased at the time.