Speech by the Netherlands Chief of Defence, Admiral Rob Bauer NLD SOCOM founding ceremony

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered here today for a historic occasion: the founding of the Netherlands Special Operations Command.
It is good to have with us so many friends from around the world. Your presence here is a testament to the common interests – and common concerns – that bind our nations together as we face the dangers of the 21st century.

We live in an era of rapid and unpredictable social, economic and technological changes. All these global changes are having an extensive impact on the character of war and conflict. The boundaries between peace, conflict and war that were once much clearer have morphed into a grey zone.

In many areas in the world, there is a permanent state of competition in every domain: sea, air, land, space, cyber… sometimes all at the same time. This means that our perception of threat and security is changing as well. For the simple reason that, as General Giulio Douhet said in 1921:

“Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.”

The threats that we are now facing, increasingly require strategic actions, the involvement of new capabilities and thus very often also the deployment of special operations forces.

SOF-operations are characterized by flexibility… speed… independence… a small footprint… and a high level of precision. This makes them highly suitable for hybrid conflict situations, counterterrorism operations and operations against irregular forces.

Contrary to popular belief, special forces often come in before a conflict reaches its highest intensity. And they do everything in their power to prevent that conflict from spiralling out of control.

Special forces are able to work under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. These are the people who know the true meaning of Churchill’s’ famous quote: “If you are going through hell... keep going.”

SOF operators are able to prepare extensively for months and years… Contemplating every possible scenario. And then - in a split second – they are able to drop everything they’ve planned and improvise on the spot.

But instead of telling you what they do… 
I would rather show you what they do…
Men, take it away.

[demonstration special forces ]

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have just seen some of what we are capable of. In order to be deployable across the whole spectrum of operations, our special forces, both land and maritime, need to train under the most realistic circumstances possible. Virtual and augmented reality allows us to do that.

Together with Dutch company Re-Lion, our special forces have developed a programme called ‘SUIT’. This is a full-body motion-sensing virtual reality simulator. And it allows us to train extensively for real-life situations.

But as important as this hardware and software may be… it still doesn’t come close to the importance of the human factor in special operations. The success of a special forces operation always comes down to the individual quality and characteristics of the SOF-operators. And it is up to us to make sure they receive the best possible kit, training, support and command.

In the Netherlands, SOF-deployments are frequently integrated with other elements of the armed forces. They offer high quality expertise and they are able to work with a wide variety of partners.  But our national SOF-capacity remained fragmented.

So in order to coordinate and synchronize our efforts, we have decided to create a Special Operations Command, in short SOCOM. In doing this, we follow in the footsteps of our international partners who have already centralized their special forces operational command.

The Netherlands SOCOM will report directly to me. And it will systematically plan, provide for and verify the quality of our special operations. Innovation will play a major role in that.

Therefore, the establishment of SOCOM is a significant step in the modernization of the Netherlands Armed Forces. But there is another important reason why we are doing this. Creating a centralized command is essential for addressing a critical NATO shortfall. To that end, the Netherlands is setting up a Composite Special Operations Component Command together with Belgium and (lead nation) Denmark. Together, these three like-minded nations will guarantee a deployable SOF capability for the NATO response force in 2021.

Our hope is that the founding of the Netherlands SOCOM will enable us to remain a reliable and even more valuable partner within the global SOF-community. We are committed to be an active player in the global SOF-network. And we are determined to work together with all sorts of international and national partners and to coordinate across departments.

It is the only way in which we can find creative solutions for the ambiguous circumstances in which our SOF-operators work, be it on land, at sea, or in the air. The so-called 5th domain, cyber, is also increasingly becoming a terrain for SOF-operators to work in.

Together, we can make sure these men - and hopefully also women in the future! - are as prepared as they can be to perform their crucial and difficult task in protecting what is dear to us… protecting our freedom.

Thank you.