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Consultation economy in wartime

The Netherlands and the First World War

For his PhD dissertation Samuël Kruizinga explored the role played by the Netherlands as a neutral country during the First World War. In Overlegeconomie in oorlogstijd, Kruizinga explains how a private organisation, the ‘Netherlands Oversea Trust Company’ (Nederlandsche Overzee Trustmaatschappij, NOT), acquired substantial control over Dutch economic policy and trade politics. ‘It was long thought that Dutch neutrality meant we didn’t interfere in anything, whilst in actual fact there was plenty of discord within the Netherlands about both the importance and nature of neutrality.’

Samuël Kruizinga
Samuel Kruizinga


The NOT was created in November 1914 after both the Allies and the Central Powers attempted to prevent one another from gaining access to vital markets and natural resources via the Netherlands. Kruizinga: ‘The Dutch government feared that compliance with one might be viewed as a declaration of war by the other, and therefore withdrew itself. The negotiations with the warring factions were left to businessmen.’

Van Aalst vs. Kröller 

The NOT comprised different companies with different agendas. A prominent member was the Amsterdam banker Karel van Aalst. ‘He was closely involved in the trade with the Dutch East Indies and wanted to stay friendly with the British so as to prevent a British blockade of the former. This vision wasn’t shared by Rotterdam businessman Anton Kröller, who believed Dutch interests to be safeguarded by the transit function of the Port of Rotterdam to Germany.’

Consultation economy

‘The conflict between Kröller and Van Aalst is the central theme of the book because it made it difficult for the Netherlands to respond to international tensions. This conflict of interests tore the NOT apart, and eventually dragged the entire Dutch business community and even politians with it.’ This led to the belief that the government had to act as some sort of arbiter. Kruizinga: ‘The roots of the Dutch consultation economy can be found in the First World War.’


It bothers Kruizinga that there is so little interest within the Netherlands for the centenary anniversary of the First World War in 2014. ‘The Netherlands was neutral, but didn’t stay on the sidelines. Via diplomacy and economics the Netherlands was thoroughly involved in the War . ‘My book is also an attempt at saying: “Do not forget the War! Think about the ways in which it formed a watershed in modern Dutch history”.’