Clingendael has been working at the interface between research and practice for more than three decades. Our experts carry out state-of-the-art analyses and policy research with the aim of providing strategic analysis and tailor-made advices for an audience of government ministries, companies, business associations and non-profit organisations.

The products and services that we offer range from trend analyses that are part of our Clingendael Strategic Monitor to high-quality in-depth analyses, scenario-building, horizon scanning and alerts. Our mission and signature approach is to ensure that policy development is informed by as many relevant insights as possible.

Clingendael is not a standard consultancy service provider. As an impartial and independent player in the public domain, we also see it as our mission to provide an effective platform for sharing and promoting reports and findings with a broader audience.

Conflict and fragility

Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit (CRU) conducts research on the political economy of conflict and fragility dynamics. By offering insights and innovative approaches on how to reduce the occurrence, intensity and impact of violence, we aim to achieve that policy makers and practitioners feel urged and enabled to take informed action against the human suffering caused by modern-day violent conflict. As such, CRU works with international policy makers (like the German and US governments, the European Commission and NATO in 2020) as well as with operational aid organisations (like the International Organization for Migration, IOM; VNG International and Finnish Church Aid in 2020). The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains a key partner for CRU. Working together with this ministry through the Conflict & Fragility Research Partnership, as well as the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law (which CRU manages on behalf of the ministry in collaboration with Saferworld and the International Development Law Organization), we aim to strengthen the effectiveness and relevance of peace and security policies and programming. 

Our research combines expertise in the fields of security and justicepolitics and crimebusiness and fragility, and migration and conflict, with knowledge of the international aid architecture. These areas of expertise are subsequently applied to concrete cases within our focus regions: the Sahel, the Levant and the Horn of Africa. 

Impact COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work of CRU in a number of ways. First and foremost, we had to adjust our research agenda in order to allow us to understand if – and if so, how – COVID-19 affects the causes and consequences of conflict and fragility, and subsequently peace and security programming and policy-making. We have conducted a series of research projects on this – both from a regional perspective and from various thematic perspectives. Our main finding has been that the pandemic compounds and accelerates the existing crises in the fragile and conflict-affected regions that we focus on. Most of the countries in these regions have weak healthcare systems to begin with, which have not been able to provide basic health services and care to COVID-19 affected populations. Instead, they have had to rely on social measures to slow down the spread of the virus (such as social distancing, curfews, movement restriction, school closure and closure of certain economic sectors) which are very costly to individuals. For populations living at or near subsistence level, strong restrictions combined with little services may lead to significant suffering and dissatisfaction. In addition, countries with poor governance effectiveness and/or weak public finances are likely to struggle with the post-COVID-19 recovery. They will not have the financial means to implement large financial stimulus packages for the private sector and will be hit hard by the global economic downturn that follows. This could highlight weak government capacity and opacity. As ruling elites will most likely continue to enjoy the same benefits while inequality and visible wealth will grow, this could trigger popular protests and calls for more government transparency and accountability (both for the health response itself and the ensuing recovery) of the kind that Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and Sudan have recently experienced. Our research efforts on the topic have fed into a continuous dialogue with donor governments and aid organisations on the challenges but also the opportunities provided by the pandemic.

The major operational consequence of COVID-19 has been that planned research activities – and particular fieldwork that was to be conducted in the focus regions – had to be re-designed in such a way that the data collection could be carried out by CRU’s local research partners under the guidance of CRU staff working from home. While much more time-intensive than originally foreseen, this did provide us with the opportunity to accelerate our ongoing efforts to strengthen and expand our network of local research partners. COVID-19 also seriously affected the conflict and fragility research “market” – in that most funding entities decided to freeze their procurement efforts while digesting the consequences of the pandemic on their policy and programming abilities. As a result, there have been less opportunities for CRU to expand its project portfolio.

Cover photo of report “COVID-19 and conflict in the Middle East”. Workers disinfect Tajrish bazaar against coronavirus. Source: Student News Agency / Wikimedia Commons.

Research impact

In collaboration with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), CRU commissioned an independent progress review to provide a forward-looking assessment of the results achieved by the above-mentioned Conflict and Fragility Research Partnership. The review, which was conducted by KPMG Norway, concluded that CRU delivers high quality and relevant research products – for which the end users of the research consistently perceive the quality, relevance and uptake of research to be positive. Here it was noted that the end users perceive that the research has both a direct and indirect influence on the formation and implementation of policy. The primary influence described is building “tacit” knowledge that shapes the perceptions and approach of MFA officials – which underlines the importance of the trust relationship built within the research partnership, and the value of ongoing and continuous conversations and joint learning processes rather than conducting one-off assignments and research projects. Working with research programmes, as CRU has been doing since 2016, in other words pays off. 

Our Sahel research programme focuses on security and survival under fragmented sovereignty in the greater Sahel region, and how intervention strategies can be better adjusted to these dynamics. One major project that was finalised in 2020 focused on governing conflict over access to resources in Burkina Faso. Pastoralism fuels conflict in Burkina Faso as it is a determinant for loyalty/opposition to local armed groups. Yet, not much is known about how local and customary authorities in Burkina Faso manage pastoral resources (and hence, how resource governance may or may not affect conflict). The study highlights how pastoralists loose out in the value-chain (where livelihoods are earned) and how much of these problems are rooted in unequal resource governance. To this end, the report provides recommendations on what type of governance interventions could be harnessed to de-escalate conflict in Burkina Faso at the local level. Data collection was implemented in collaboration with other research entities and aid organisations active in the region, such as the Institute for Security Studies, the Danish Demining Group, the Human Security Collective and the Danish Refugee Council, so as to ensure that the research builds on existing knowledge and strengthens ongoing interventions. 

Cover photo of report “When the dust settles”. Source: Anna Schmauder (May 2019).

Another important component of the research conducted under the Sahel programme focuses on the relationship between crime and governance in the border area between Libya, Niger and Chad. In 2020, CRU has finalised a study zooming in on the Agadez region in northern Niger, where human smuggling and drug and arms trafficking have grown increasingly important in recent years. Under the banner of migration policies, the restrictions to such activities have been tightened – which has impacted on the opportunities for local populations to foresee in their livelihoods. The study has investigated the economic and governance repercussions of migration policies in the Agadez region, focusing on the main challenges that confront local communities and how this affects the local (traditional) authorities’ ability to govern and mediate conflicts. The outcomes of the study have been discussed with aid organisations active in the region, like IOM, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Danish Refugee Council, as well as with bilateral donor governments and the EU. 

Our Levant research programme examines the impact of hybrid security organisations on political order and state performance / development in Syria and Iraq in the context of Turkish, Saudi and Iranian foreign policy. The programme also pays attention to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, political crises in Lebanon and the Turkish/Kurdish conflict. In 2020, one of the lines of research was focused on options and pathways for governance reform in the region. Many of the Levant countries are dealing with a situation in which there is an entrenched and largely unaccountable (sectarian) elite linked with strong and influential foreign interests. CRU has conducted exploratory research to identify options and pathways for governance innovation in the face of such circumstances. First, an in-depth comparative analysis of prospects for reform in Iraq and Lebanon’s quasi-democratic sectarian systems was conducted. It was followed by a successful and large engagement with the MFA including the embassies in Beirut and Baghdad, as well as with the World Bank in Beirut. Second, an in-depth study of the utility of Syria’s Constitutional Committee as lever for developing governance reform ideas for the future of Syria was conducted. 

Another line of research focused on producing concrete policy advice on what meaningful, long-term EU engagement in the Middle East could look like. What policy principles, approaches and tools should play a role to achieve political objectives that take adequate account of the complexity of the context? What obstacles, trade-offs, public diplomacy frames from the region and conflicting interests among EU member states are at play? We initially focused this line of inquiry on Syria given that it represents the most acute conflict challenge for the EU in the Middle East and one where the EU has been profoundly unable to shape either the diplomatic or the military agenda and therefore represents a useful source of lessons to learn. As part of a broader Friedrich Ebert Stiftung study on the role of Europe in addressing conflicts throughout the Middle East, we contributed a case study focused on practical entry points for developing a new EU-Russian understanding on Syria, in partnership with a Russian author. Moreover, based on several years of research of the Syrian conflict we developed an extensive brief on EU policy options for dealing with Assad given the dead-end nature of waiting for the ‘elusive meaningful political transition’. This brief enjoyed high praise from the Dutch Syria Envoy (DAM) and also served as input for a joint Clingendael-Bertelsmann Stiftung event at the margins of the Brussels-IV Syria conference. It finally benefited from a helpful informal roundtable discussion with several EU staff, including heads of unit from the European External Action Services (EEAS) and the Directorate-General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). 

Our Horn of Africa research programme finally focuses on how informality – and specifically informal economies – can be harnessed to strengthen stabilisation strategies in the region. In 2020, we achieved substantive impact with a project that focused on employment, grievances and ethnicity in the urban informal economy in Ethiopia. The research explores in what ways employment and (self-)employment in the informal economy in Ethiopia relieves or fuels potential (ethnic) grievances and how this affects propensity for violence and inclusiveness. As such, the aim was to provide input for the development of Dutch policies and programming on the issue, focusing specifically on the questions how Dutch and international interventions contribute to grievance expression or reinforcement by their effects on (self-)employment in the informal sector; and how Dutch and international interventions contribute to young people’s (self-)employment in the informal sector in a way that facilitates their ability to organise and express grievances.

Another line of research in 2020 focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) growth and resilience in the fragile context of Somalia. While the COVID-19-induced economic shock did not structurally change the Somali political economy, it did exacerbate existing patterns of inequality. The support the private sector provided to the COVID-19 response has likely supported a range of livelihoods throughout the Somali territories, yet the preferential access to governance and strong competitive position that allowed this also highlights a worrying level of inequality, market concentration and raises questions regarding government legitimacy. The study finds that the COVID-19-induced economic crisis has reinforced rather than destabilised those dynamics that prevent small businesses from competing on an equal footing in Somalia, and that prevent fragile situations from developing and stabilising. The study has fed into a roundtable discussion on the topic bringing together representatives from donor governments and aid organisations active on SME-development in Somalia.  

EU & Global Affairs

In 2020, the EU & Global Affairs (EUGA) Unit was composed of three research programmes and two research centres. The permanent research staff consisted of about 10 fte, but in project work they received a lot of support by colleagues from the other units, Clingendael Associate Fellows and interns. The staff is well networked across Dutch, European and international policy and think tank circles. During the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, like the rest of Clingendael, they showed tremendous flexibility in shifting to working from home offices, continuing with ongoing research, setting up new formats for online meetings that attracted surprisingly large audiences and also managed to acquire several new projects.

Cover photo of report “Diagnosing enforcement of EU border control”. Source: Frontex.

European cohesion and governance

We devoted two research projects to ways to deepen the EU’s capacities for monitoring and enforcement; one focused at EU border management/Schengen and the other at economic governance. Both areas struggle with the question to what extent “deeper” integration also means more centralisation and handing over sovereignty. Both areas also underline that the EU’s ambitions are not matched by the EU’s governance systems when it comes to enforcement. They were spearheaded by Clingendael Senior Research Fellow Adriaan Schout. In honour of his work, he became (part-time) professor at Nijmegen University in 2021, working on the relationship between the Netherlands and European governance. He is one of the renown Dutch thinkers on European cooperation and governance and frequently quoted in national and international media.

Another research project looked at the EU’s ambitions to become more geopolitical. In a world with increasingly assertive great powers and the rise of China in particular becoming more of a concern, the question of how the EU should strategically respond is pertinent. An essay was published in Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer on how Europe can avoid to become a playground for great power competition, and instead act as one of the key players. It subsequently discusses what this means for Dutch foreign policy and its positioning towards other EU member states, notably France and Germany. The essay received a lot of attention in policy and political circles and is considered a source of inspiration for a new government that is expected in 2021.

Another essay that was published in De Groene Amsterdammer and the Clingendael Spectator, entitled “The real danger of the myth of Europe’s decay”, covered the issue of European values and their continued relevance.

The yearly Clingendael State of the Union conference was held in the autumn of 2020 as a series of online webinars that attracted a lot of audience. It focused on how the EU responds to crises. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unprecedented crisis for the European Union. Not only did it bring back memories of the eurozone struggles, but it also re-enacted the divisions of the time, with framings of the “frugal” North and the “fragile” South re-emerging. Internally and externally, it raised questions about the EU’s state of readiness for a next crisis, while old ones – such as the irregular arrival of asylum-seekers and migrants and growing tensions with Russia – are still slumbering. With a total of eight online debates the conference reflected on the European Union’s “polycrisis” of the last decade and its effect on European integration and solidarity. Furthermore, it re-evaluated the various perspectives for action and leadership of the European Council, Commission and the Parliament.

Opening of the State of the Union Conference 2020 with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok and Clingendael’s General Director Monika Sie Dhian Ho.

Ahead of the State of the Union conference the policy brief “Europeanising health policy in times of coronationalism” was published on the EU’s COVID-19 response in the health domain. The policy brief illustrates how the EU has responded and stepped up cooperation in the field of health policy, notably with regard to joint vaccine purchasing. It also points to a European Health Union not being automatically appreciated by EU member states and raising a lot of questions with regard to a diversity of European health systems and ways they are financed.

On transatlantic relations we prepared a paper for the European Parliaments’ Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade (AFET). The paper entitled “No Way Back: Why the Transatlantic Future Needs a Stronger EU” was finalised just after the outcome of the US elections became clear, and generated a lot of attention in view of its topical relevance. It covered security, trade and global public goods issues, notably climate change and health. A presentation of the report was delivered in front of the AFET committee and the contents were also used for a webinar with the Washington-based Brookings Institute on global public goods cooperation, and shorter publications on global health and climate change published with the Wilson Center.

As part of the “Foreign Affairs Barometer” survey series, we published a Clingendael Alert on the state of the transatlantic relationship. Based on opinion-polling among the Dutch population, the Alert highlights a turn to more support for European (security and defence) cooperation.

Cover photo of webinar “A new era of transatlantic cooperation on global public goods?” Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Source: Gage Skidmore / Flickr.

Clingendael also worked on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. We produced a paper on EU-UK foreign and security policy cooperation for the European Policy Centre (EPC). We addressed various conferences on EU-UK affairs, including conferences organised by the “UK in a Changing Europe” thinktank in March 2020 and the EPC in November 2020. Rem Korteweg was also a frequent commentator on the state of the Brexit negotiations for national and international broadcast media and television, including as a repeated guest on Nieuwsuur and popular podcasts like “Europa Draait Door” on NPO Radio 1. In 2020 he continued his work as a member of the informal European thinktank group liaising with the European Commission’s Brexit negotiating team and the EU-UK Track 2 process organised by the EPC.

European neighbourhood and Western Balkans (including Balkans Hub)

The EU & Global Affairs Unit further expanded its work in 2020 on the regions around the EU. As part of the work for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence, our experts delivered a paper outlining three dilemma’s the EU faces in the Eastern Partnership region, including contributions from the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). We furthermore assessed EU-Turkey cooperation on migration in a policy brief, and researched the role of the Netherlands in the EU’s enlargement policies towards the Western Balkans. Our experts also compared Turkey’s and Serbia’s accession process in a Clingendael Alert. Lastly, together with the ECFR, we produced an extensive report (as well as a webinar) on the growing role of China in the Western Balkans and to what extent that affects EU cooperation with the region (see also the China Centre).

The EUGA Unit moreover continued cooperation with Western Balkans partners as part of its Balkan Hub. With the Centre for Education Policy (CEP) in Belgrade a report on media freedom in Serbia was produced, and with the Albanian Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) the policy brief “Together or alone? The need for increased Albanian-Dutch cooperation to fight transnational organised crime”. EUGA also facilitated cooperation between the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) and the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS), which resulted in the policy brief “What EU Member States can learn from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters and their families”. With the Democracy for Development (D4D) institute in Kosovo, Kosovo's NATO future was researched in a policy brief. Moreover, colleagues wrote a policy brief on state capture. The unit further initiated the “Western Balkans in focus” series in the Clingendael Spectator magazine, featuring in 2020 articles on the history of EU-Western Balkans relations and on the constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In terms of events, on 23 April 2020, both an expert meeting and public webinar were organised with the ThinkforEurope network (TEN), titled “The Zagreb Summit – A moment of Decisions for EU enlargement?”. Also with TEN, Clingendael organised a public webinar on closing the economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU.

For the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the EUGA Unit facilitated three foresight workshops on the future of the Western Balkans up to 2030, taking place in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Pristina, respectively. Our experts designed the project, conducted background research, facilitated the workshops and produced concluding reports, and held a concluding strategic discussion with GIZ staff. Other scenario activities included our participation in four strategic foresight workshops organised by Aspen Institute Germany on the future of the EU, resulting in a public report. We moreover participated in a scenario workshop from DGAP on the future of the Eastern Partnership in November 2020.

In line with European policy development, the promotion of trajectories for legal migration is one of the six pillars of the Netherlands “Integral Migration Agenda”, that was published in March 2018. Against that background Clingendael carried out a big study into the possibilities for circular legal migration pilot projects between a number of African countries (Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria) and the Netherlands. The objective of the research was to develop a holistic framework for the analysis of circular migration (taking into account the many interests and concerns of the stakeholders involved) and to explore the benefits, possibilities and difficulties, conditions and concrete content for effective circular migration programmes between Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria as countries of origin and the Netherlands as a host country.

Geopolitics of the new economy: digital connectivity, trade wars and big tech

In 2020, Clingendael enhanced its strong international profile on digital connectivity in and with the Indo-Pacific. Among others, research projects on cooperation, synergies and coordination between the EU and India, and the EU and the Republic of South Korea were part of this year’s projects. Additionally, studies on China’s Digital Silk Road and its implications for Europe’s Digital Decade carried out by the EU & Global Affairs Unit are considered important stepping stones in building and disseminating knowledge on digital connectivity. Presentations on connectivity and EU-Asia relations were delivered at the Delhi-based Raisina Dialogue, European Parliament, Fudan University (China), German Marshall Fund and Institute Montaigne.

Delegates at the Delhi-based Raisina Dialogue 2020, including Clingendael Senior Research Fellow Maaike Okano-Heijmans.

Despite the lockdown, the international network of Clingendael researchers greatly expanded in 2020, especially on the nexus between technology, economics and geopolitics. The new and strengthened ties were translated into an edited report by Clingendael researchers: Dealing with China on High-Tech Issues. This report bundles chapters from the US (CNAS/CSIS), Japan (Tokyo University), India (Carnegie), Australia (ASPI), Germany (Bertelsmann Stiftung) and France (IFRI). Lastly, Clingendael established a long-term relation with the Cambodian Institute of Cooperation and Peace (CICP) in a three-year partnership funded by the EU and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They will cover EU-ASEAN relations on several issues, including connectivity.

In 2020, the international trading system faced major challenges, including large-scale disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing geopolitical tensions between the US and China, crumbling multilateral cooperation, and the climate and digital revolutions. In 2020, the AIG Global Trade Series project was organised for the second year in a row. The initiative is a collaboration between US insurer AIG and six leading centres of trade policy research, with one of our experts acting as lead convener. As in 2019, the original plan was to organise three conferences in the US, Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, these activities could not take place. Instead, a series of ten podcast conversations was recorded with eminent international trade experts and policy makers covering a range of topics from the future of globalisation to African trade integration and the climate-trade nexus. One of our experts was the host and moderator of these conversations.

Clingendael International Sustainability Centre (including the Planetary Security Initiative)

2020, whilst being a challenging year, saw a fantastic amount of progress by the Planetary Security Initiative (PSI) in helping advance the understanding of the climate-security nexus. Work continued in Iraq and culminated in the “Iraq: Climate, Water & Conflict in 2020” webinar as well as further stakeholder meetings to develop community-based action in the South of Iraq. Continued collaboration with organisations like Free Press Unlimited, helped promote local activism and journalism on the topic regionally.

Screenshot of the webinar “Iraq: Climate, Water & Conflict in 2020” on 8 July 2020, moderated by Louise van Schaik, Head of Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit and Coordinator of Research on Climate change and sustainability at Clingendael.

More widely, the PSI contributed to global advancements in climate security understanding through the publication of reports looking into the militarisation of climate change and how natural gas may act as a new ‘green’ resource curse. This was also discussed in the webinar “Climate Interventions & Peace in the Age of Covid-19”, hosted by the PSI. Finally, much of the research for the Climate Security Practices report, a first of its kind breakdown of tangible climate security actions, was conducted in 2021.

Clingendael and its Planetary Security Initiative are participating actively in the International Military Council on Climate and Security. The first edition of the World Climate Security Report was launched just ahead of the lockdown in 2020 at the Munich Security Conference. At this prestigious event the leaders and opinion shapers of the security and defence sectors are meeting to discuss the most pressing international security challenges of our time. This year’s conference was attended by Clingendael Senior Associate Fellow General Tom Middendorp and Clingendael General Director Monika Sie Dhian Ho. In his capacity as Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), General Middendorp took part in a mainstage panel on climate-security.

Munich Security Conference 2020. From left: Jennifer Morgan (Executive Director, Greenpeace International), Tom Middendorp (General, Chairman, International Military Council on Climate and Security), Helga Maria Schmid (Secretary General, European External Action Service), Ban Ki-moon (Former Secretary General of the United Nations), John Kerry (Former Secretary of State, United States), Edith Kimani (News Anchor, Deutsche Welle). Source: MSC / Kuhlmann.

The Clingendael researchers working on climate change and sustainability also covered the European Green Deal and its relationship with the Dutch Climate Agreement. They followed the developments in Brussels closely with presentations at a meeting of the platform that developed the Dutch Climate Agreement (on 7 February 2020) and a policy brief on how the European Green Deal stayed alive in the debate on European post-COVID-19 recovery. We published a Clingendael Spectator article on climate change as topic in the US elections, and jointly an article was written on transatlantic cooperation on climate change.

On the issue of water and conflict we published on the weaponising of water in the Middle East, tensions surrounding water distribution related to the Congo river and the Nile water conflict. The latter attracted quite some media attention as the building of the dam by Ethiopia leads to grave concerns with Egypt. An event on the water-conflict relationship was organised at the Geneva Peace Week.

Research on sustainability in 2020 was extended to the issue of global health. Several publications and events materialised, discussing the international relations implications of the COVID-19 perspective. We moderated several webinars in the context of the Clingendael Global Health Initiative (in cooperation with Cordaid, AIGHD, KNCVTBC and others). One of the webinars that was organised in May 2020 featured Minister Sigrid Kaag and Corona Envoy Feike Sijbesma, and was viewed over 1,400 times online since it was the first time Minister Kaag talked at a public event on how the Netherlands looked at the international implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and how its policies and programmes were adjusted. We furthermore published a report on the globalisation paradox of health. Jointly with the Berlin-based thinktank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) a closed webinar was organised one weak after a crucial World Health Assembly took place in which the EU secured a resolution to an international COVID-19 response led by the World Health Organization (WHO). As a result of this cooperation an influential comment was published. At the end of the year an article was published in a high impact academic journal on the EU’s role in the WHO.

Screenshot of the Clingendael webinar organised in May 2020, featuring Minister Sigrid Kaag and Corona Envoy Feike Sijbesma, on how the Netherlands looked at the international implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and how its policies and programmes were adjusted.

Clingendael China Centre (C3)

The aim of the Clingendael China Centre, which was established in 2019, is to coordinate the Institute’s research activities on China and to make Clingendael more visible as a knowledge centre on China at the national and international level. In 2020, the China Centre was involved in a range of publications and events on China. The centre is coordinated by Frans-Paul van der Putten who published a book on China’s international rise in 2020 with Prometheus.

In 2020, the Clingendael China Centre acted as the secretariat for the China Platform for European Institutional Investors (CPEII). The first publication of the platform, “Fire and Haze”, looks at the most disruptive events of 2020 in geopolitics and finance. The authors reflect on how these events impact long-term trends, as well as translate those into relevant prospects for European institutional investors for 2021. In a turbulent year like 2020, particular attention was paid to two major events: the Sino-US trade war and the COVID-19 crisis. To enhance knowledge for European institutional investors even further, Clingendael published the biweekly newsletter “China Finance Focus”, focusing on international politics and finance, the stock market and investment, and developments relating to green finance.

Together with the colleagues working on the Western Balkans, a report was written on how China is impacting on that region and how this is relevant to its European perspectives. The Clingendael report China and the EU in the Western Balkans focuses on China’s approach towards the six non-EU countries of the Western Balkans and particularly aims to explore whether this influence affects the behaviour of the six Western Balkans governments in ways that run counter to the EU’s objectives in the region. The authors propose several actions based on recognising the developmental needs of the countries in the Western Balkans, one of which is for the EU to maximise accession conditionality as a tool to influence the conditions under which China is involved in the region. On 7 October, a webinar based on this report was hosted, in which the question was answered to what extent China tries, through its Belt and Road initiatives, to get a foothold in the EU’s “inner courtyard”?

A similar research was conducted on how China is operating in the Arctic and specifically its engagements with Greenland and Iceland. This research was presented at the Annual Ambassadors Conference in January 2020. It found that China is trying to acquire a presence in the region, but only to varying success. The research report concludes that the EU needs to respond more strategically also in this region of the world. The team cooperated closely with colleagues from the Security Unit who simultaneously worked on another Clingendael report on international security and the Arctic, as input for the update of the Dutch Arctic Strategy.

The “Silk Road Headlines” newsletter that is published weekly has a wide international readership. In 2020, Clingendael further strengthened its role as an international centre of expertise on EU-China relations and Chinese foreign relations. In recognition of this, the German presidency of the EU sought Clingendael’s advice.

Security and Defence

Impact COVID-19

The European dependency on outside supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic led to a series of papers on the geopolitical impact of the virus. These were delivered with great speed in the period May-July by allocating the flex part of the budget of Progress Work Package 4 (Security and Defence) to this special project. Clingendael’s Security Unit delivered two papers (in the Dutch language) on the consequences for the EU and on the impact on the multilateral system in the area of security and defence.

New focus on Russia and Eastern Europe

In the spring of 2020, the Clingendael Russia and Eastern Europe Centre (CREEC) was launched with resources from the Public Platform programme. Clingendael invested in this new centre in response to the widely felt need for deeper understanding of the Russian Federation and of regional developments in Eastern Europe as a whole, both within the Dutch government and wider society. As such, the aim of CREEC is to increase knowledge of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia through analyses, strategic policy advice and events, in close cooperation with Dutch universities and knowledge platform Raam op Rusland. CREEC brings together researchers with relevant thematic and geographic expertise from different parts of Clingendael.

Since its launch in May, CREEC organised a number of well-attended webinars on a variety of topics, such as COVID-19 and Russia (1,816 views), the hot summer in Belarus (448 views), and the strategic reflection process in NATO and the relation with Russia (502 views). CREEC also contributed to several publications, including the Barometer Alert “What do you think: are the Russians coming?”, which documented the threat perceptions and increasing polarisation of opinions about Russia within Dutch society. It was widely picked up by media and used both for public consultations by Foreign Minister Stef Blok, for closed-door briefings for members of Parliament and for several embassies in The Hague. Another prominent publication was the Clingendael Alert “Five crises around Europe not to be forgotten despite Covid-19” of July, in which CREEC warned about potential escalation in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Belarus – both of which indeed materialised a few months later. These publications and webinars helped to build Clingendael’s profile on this region and highlight its expertise, which is now increasingly sought after by the Dutch government, the media and other relevant stakeholders.

A screenshot of the webinar “The Impact of COVID-19 on Russia’s domestic politics and foreign policy” on 26 May 2020, the first part of a series hosted by the Clingendael Russia & Eastern Europe Centre (CREEC).

Major output

Despite the restrictions on working conditions, the Security Unit’s researchers delivered in 2020 many other publications on a wide variety of themes. They also contributed to a large number of webinars and were very active in the media by commenting on current issues. The following five publications represent the Security Unit’s major output.

1   Strategic Monitor 2020-2021

The Strategic Monitor is an annual report produced at the request of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence on the major international trends in the next ten years. The 2020-2021 Strategic Monitor describes six major challenges that the Netherlands and the EU will face in the post-COVID-19 world.

The nature of multilateralism is changing. Cooperation will continue to be a central feature of the international system, but it will frequently occur in ad hoc and rapidly shifting arrangements.
Interaction between the major powers will play a greater role in shaping the global system.
Middle powers are becoming more assertive in defending their interests, as the multilateral system changes and competition between major powers intensifies.
As a result of the evolution of the multilateral system and increasing competition between the great powers, non-state actors are gaining more power and influence.
Grey zone operations, or hybrid warfare, are an increasingly important feature of the international system, and one that presents more challenges for democracies than for authoritarian states.
The impact of climate change on international peace and security will continue to increase in the coming years.

The report offers a broad blueprint for the Netherlands and its EU partners to begin moving beyond their long-standing political and security dependence on the United States and do more to promote peace and security in our own region. Doing so is necessary, both in order to solidify the EU’s status as a global power – and Dutch influence within the EU – and to more effectively address the complex security challenges they face. 

In March 2021, the first copy of the Strategic Monitor 2020-2021 was handed over to Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld. Already in an earlier phase the draft was used by the Dutch government for strategy development in the field of foreign, security and defence policy, such as the Defence Vision 2035 and the resulting Strategic Concept for the Dutch Armed Forces. Additionally, the Strategic Monitor has been used as a framework for discussions in strategic policy planning sessions with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and with the Dutch National Police.

2   Arctic Security

At the request of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence already early in 2020 (April), the report The future of Arctic security was published, in view of the updating of the Netherlands’ Polar Strategy later that year. The report gave answers to the question what the foreign and security policy consequences can be of the melting of the ice in terms of geopolitical trends. One of the main conclusions was that that the unfolding great power competition in the Arctic no longer guarantees a political-military stable situation in the region that characterised the past. It recommended to the Dutch government to launch and support efforts to counter the trend of uncontrolled militarisation and potential destabilisation of the Arctic region. The Netherlands’ Polar Strategy 2021-2025 was released in December and contained a clear reference to the Clingendael report on this issue.

3   European Strategic Autonomy

Throughout 2020 the debate continued on the pros and cons of European strategic autonomy, both in the wider sense of the EU becoming a geopolitical actor as well as on the specific topic of security and defence. The report European strategic autonomy in security and defence, published in December, provided an important contribution to the debate in the Netherlands and abroad. The report argued for an approach of Europe ‘being able to act on its own when needed’ and provided a list of recommendations on the consequences that such a form of strategic autonomy would have for political and institutional dimensions, capabilities, and defence technological and industrial cooperation. The report has been an important contribution to policy development on European security and defence cooperation of the Dutch government. Furthermore, several lectures have been given on the report (ongoing in 2021) and the Dutch press also paid attention to the report’s conclusions and recommendations.

4   Nuclear Arms Control

While formal negotiations on nuclear arms control are stalled and various arms control agreements have collapsed or are under pressure, more informal venues may provide openings for international dialogue and constructive cooperation on this issue. One of such a new, informal venue is the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative of the US State Department. Since its start in 2019, Clingendael provides a so-called “NGO Facilitator” to a working group on Nuclear Risk Reduction within CEND. In 2020 the expert (financially supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs) co-authored several papers which were discussed during online sessions of the working group, in which over 40 countries participated. The contributions by Clingendael deepened the diplomatic discussion on possibilities to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons. In addition, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a series of (online) public events was organised to enhance public knowledge and understanding of current developments around the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

5   The National Network of Safety and Security Analysts

In 2020, the Security Unit actively contributed to various products of the National Network of Safety and Security Analysts (Analistennetwerk Nationale Veiligheid, ANV), in which Clingendael is one of the partners. The ANV is commissioned by the National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Security (NCTV). The Clingendael contribution consists, among other products, of the Integrated Risk Analysis (acronym GRA in the Dutch language) and horizon scanning. In the GRA, the most important risks for the national security of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are analysed. In 2020, for the first time, the ANV has produced a GRA of the Dutch Caribbean islands (Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius & Saba), based on a Clingendael input. In addition, in 2020 the ANV also produced the Horizon Scan 2020, which analyses future developments (0-5 years from now) potentially threatening the national security of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Clingendael was actively involved in the drafting of these products, especially on the themes of international (geo)politics and security.