Conflict and Fragility

Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit (CRU) conducts research on the causes and consequences of conflict and fragility. At a time when more countries are experiencing some form of violent conflict than at any time in the past 30 years, it has become clear that existing international conflict mitigation mechanisms have reached their limits. Taking the broader political economy of conflict as a starting point, CRU’s research aims to identify new ways of addressing conflict and fragility, and to make policymakers and practitioners feel encouraged and enabled to take informed action against the human suffering caused by modern-day violent conflict.

The increasing demand for analytical support in the field of conflict and fragility was not only reflected in the fact that the CRU team grew from 11 to 16 researchers over the course of 2018. We have also seen a further diversification in our client base, where we are increasingly being asked to support the operational implementation of peace and security activities in fragile and conflict-affected settings. In 2018, for instance, we worked with aid organisations such as International Alert, VNG International and the Danish Refugee Council, as well as with international peacekeeping missions such as MINUSMA in Mali and UN agencies such as UNHCR. In addition, we continued to work with international policymakers including the Danish, German and Swiss governments and the European Commission.

We believe this shift in demand partly stems from the fact that we have organised the bulk of our work in three regional research programmes: Our Sahel research programme looks into the nature of local governance in situations of conflict, organised crime and migration in the wider Sahel region. Our Levant research programme analyses the impact of hybrid security actors on state performance and development in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. And our Horn of Africa research programme focuses on how informality – and specifically informal economies – can be harnessed to strengthen stabilisation strategies in the region. In 2018, we invested in strengthening our network of local research partners in these regions. This allows us to conduct original in-country research, which we can combine with our knowledge of the practical and political realities of Western policymakers.

In our programmes, we combine expertise in the fields of security and justice, politics and crime, business and fragility, and migration and conflict with knowledge of the international aid architecture. In 2018, for instance, this resulted in an exploration of the lack of governance as a structural driver of resource conflicts in Mali, the effects of Gulf investments in the Horn of Africa on the region’s stability, migration and security, and a series of analyses of the Iraqi Hashd armed groups (Popular Mobilisation Forces) in an effort to understand the potential for these groups to integrate into Iraqi security forces and thereby affect the Iraqi state-building process.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains an important partner for CRU. Through the Conflict & Fragility Research Partnership, and through the management of the Secretariat for the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law [1], CRU works in close partnerships with the Ministry in an effort to strengthen Dutch policies and engagements in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Security and Defence

After two years of launching European defence initiatives, 2018 was marked by implementation. The challenges posed by the implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation and specific Dutch interests in PESCO were assessed in several activities. The debate on European strategic autonomy in security and defence was also taken up in events and publications. The growing tensions in NATO – visible at the 2018 Summit in Brussels – led to a renewed focus on the future of the Atlantic Alliance.

Nuclear weapons received particular attention after the publication of the Nuclear Posture Review by the United States, which was analysed in a Clingendael Policy Brief. Two other publications discussed policy options to reduce the risk that any nuclear weapon will ever be used – intentionally or by accident. Chemical weapons received attention in three publications, ranging from the effect of US retaliatory bombardments after chemical weapons use in Syria to recommendations to strengthen the Chemical Weapons Convention. Cyber weapons were also dealt with in various publications, for example in a Policy Brief offering response options for states hit by a massive cyber-attack.

The Strategic Monitor 2017-2018 “Stilte voor de Storm” was published on 13 April after the first hard copy had been presented to the Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands, Joke Brandt. In preparation for the 2018-2019 version, several global security pulses were published on topics such as migration & security, hybrid conflict, political warfare and the future of NATO.

2018 was a very busy year for the Analysts’ Network on National Security (ANV). The Ministry of Justice and Security tasked ANV with an integrated threat analysis in preparation for a cross-departmental national security strategy. For this, the Security Unit prepared an additional, sixth, national security interest: the ‘rules-based international order’ and was responsible for the ‘international security’ part of the threat analysis. Earlier in 2018, the Security Unit led a project that in record time produced a ‘Horizon Scan 2018’ as well as a project on hybrid threats from Russia, China and North Korea.

EU in the World

For the European External Action Service, Clingendael provided advice on strategic questions concerning EU-Asia relations (APRAN). This work is carried out jointly with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Chatham House and also resulted in an analysis on Chinese activities in the Western Balkans and Black Sea region and an analysis on EU-India relations. For the Asia-EU (ASEM) Summit, we prepared the ‘ASEM Connectivity Inventory’.

For the Netherlands Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, China’s influence on the UN was examined in two papers and an expert seminar, and attention was also focused on the strategic implications of China’s investments in Europe. With HCSS a climate-security capabilities game was developed with several climate risk scenarios. The game was accompanied by a video and played by members of the Senate and participants in the 2019 Planetary Security Conference.

In 2018, Clingendael continued its analysis of the policies for the European neighbourhood in cooperation with its partners ECFR and Chatham House. Expert seminars were held on the Eastern Partnership region, Turkey & the Western Balkans, the Southern Neighbourhood, and Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Gulf. Special attention was devoted to migration, resulting in the report entitled Innovation in EU migration policy: towards a truly comprehensive approach to migration. The project furthermore allowed policymakers and consortium researchers to take part in ECFR strategy groups and the Chatham House Europe and its Neighbourhood conference.

Europe and the EU

2018 was marked by several important discussions at EU level that influenced the activities of Clingendael’s EU Internal Affairs programme. Among others, three book chapters were written on Dutch visions for the future of Europe. Several contributions for reports were also related to the theme of Dutch EU priorities. This output is closely linked to the growing interest among EU member states in the current position and visibility of the Netherlands as a European partner. In addition, the quality of EU governance was a major focal point in our work with policy briefs on the Added Value of the EU budget, the state of affairs concerning Better Regulation (a Dutch EU priority) and the development of EU agencies as governance innovations at EU level with a view to reinforcing independent policy preparation and enforcement. Finally, Clingendael cooperated with the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) on the Citizens' Consultations on Europe.

Trade & Globalisation

In the field of trade and globalisation, activities were clustered with those of EU in the World. Specifically on trade, Clingendael organised meetings on Asia and connectivity with Business Europe (in the context of the APRAN contract for the EU). Clingendael also cooperated with the LeidenAsiaCentre on a study on Chinese investments in Europe. The Institute also organised several events on the geopolitics of trade and globalisation for the members of the Clingendael Corporate Membership Programme.

Last year’s publications on trade and globalisation include policy briefs on South Korean diplomacy, connectivity in the Balkans and Black Sea region and the relevance of geopolitics for European business. A Clingendael report commissioned by the province of Noord-Brabant analysed China’s relevance for regional governments, a Clingendael Alert discussed fake news and two separate book contributions focused on EU-Japan relations and Japanese economic diplomacy. Two of our staff members edited a special issue of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy on diplomacy and the duty of care. Finally, the Institute continued its weekly newsletter on the Belt and Road Initiative.

For all publications on Trade and Globalisation, please see our website.


The Clingendael Institute’s research on migration focuses on understanding the drivers of migration and the effect that contemporary migration policies (with a specific focus on EU policies) have on the stability of countries where migration and displacement originate and through which migrants and displaced persons transit (with a specific focus on the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Levant – in line with the research programmes of our Conflict Research Unit (CRU)). It looks into how migration is a response to – but also a driver of – conflict and stability dynamics, and how migration policies can be designed in a humane and conflict-sensitive manner.

In 2018, CRU, with support from the National Postcode Lottery (NPL), the German development agency GIZ and UNHCR Niger, strengthened its evidence base on the political economy of the refugee response in the Middle East and Niger. Specifically, research focused on issues of social capital in protracted displacement and refugee economic integration. In addition, the NPL support allowed Clingendael to offer training activities to non-‍govern­mental practitioners working in the refugee response in Lebanon, as well as to organise a series of events in Lebanon, Brussels and The Hague to discuss the effects of the European ‘protection in the region’ policy on the situation of refugees and host communities in Lebanon.

CRU also received funding from the European Commission, the Netherlands’ and Swiss ministries of foreign affairs and the Danish Refugee Council to conduct a series of field studies on the implications of migration policies for the human rights of migrants, the configuration of human smuggling networks and stability in the Sahel and Libya. This has allowed the Unit to further extend its research portfolio on migration routes in the Sahel – an issue on which Clingendael was invited to share findings and insights with Dutch and European policymakers on numerous occasions.

Clingendael sustainability experts looked at the relationship between climate change and migration in the context of the Planetary Security Initiative. They carried out a study for the Ministry of Agriculture and Nature on the potential contribution of landscape restoration in Africa to migration and security policy objectives. The Institute’s Europe researchers looked into the issue of European border control in relation to migration streams and proposed ways to innovate European migration policies.


In 2018, our Planetary Security Initiative developed into the global hub for knowledge and news on climate-related security implications with a popular website and wide coverage. It closely monitored efforts in the UN Security Council to acknowledge climate change as a root cause of security risks in specific cases, such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Small Island Development States. The Initiative contributed to the shift that emerged internationally from awareness to action on the ground on climate-related conflict prevention and peace-building efforts. During a meeting with Political and Security Ambassadors of EU member states in Brussels analysis was presented on the EU's responsibility to prepare and what it can do in Iraq and Mali. Together with partners from these countries further activities were undertaken in the lead-up to the major Planetary Security Conference of February 2019 #Doable. In 2018 preparations were in full swing for this two-day event with 30 sessions, several closed side events and over 450 policymakers and experts from over 55 countries.

A prominent example of a locally grounded approach was the regional Planetary Security Conference in the Caribbean region, where 80 participants from across the region worked on a Plan of Action on Resilience. This meeting was organised in close collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Also in December 2018, General Tom Middendorp (ret’d) attended the UN climate talks in Katowice on behalf of Clingendael to present on the urgent need to tackle the security angle of climate and related scarcities of natural resources.

For the Ministry of Agriculture and Nature we mapped actors operating in the field of landscape restoration in Africa. These activities were hardly ever explicitly motivated by migration and security objectives, but the potential to bridge them could justify a significant upscaling of activities to restore land, water and soils (see also a specific Clingendael Alert on migration and sustainability).

In 2018, we participated in the domestic political debate on a climate law and agreement and its international and European dimension.


In collaboration with the UK-based NGO Safer World and the International Development Law Organization.