Trade and Globalisation


Junior Dutch Diplomats draft 4 future foreign policy scenarios

02 Jul 2014 - 10:27

This article is a contribution by Oleg Büller and Pieter van den Berg, both participants to the 2014 course for Junior Diplomats from the Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Scenarios for future global developments

Friday, June 20th, one of the last days of our three-month training program at Clingendael Institute, was dedicated to ‘scenario planning’. Under the supervision of Ron Ton, Director of the Clingendael Academy, our group of 20 junior diplomats from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 6 young civil servants from other ministries, was faced with a major challenge: we had to come up with four possible scenarios, based on future global developments that will potentially influence our foreign policy towards 2020.

A real challenge

We must admit that we were a bit skeptical at first as to how realistic it would be to come up with sensible scenarios in such a short period of time. Especially those in our group who already had some experience in policy making knew how difficult it can be to assess prospective developments and how much time it takes to formulate subsequent scenarios.

Picking key drivers

We were tasked with picking the two most important drivers in international relations. We were both pleased with and surprised by the consensus within the group on the most important current global developments. Not surprisingly they were very much aligned with what you will read in today’s newspaper.


Interestingly, some of the topics that did not make it to the final scenario, e.g. regional war/regional alliances, were obviously influenced by recent developments in Ukraine and Syria. This begs the question to what extent long-term foreign policy planning is influenced by short-term developments and front-page news.

There was little discussion however on whether the future of the European (dis)integration would be a defining factor in the formulation of Dutch foreign policy for years to come. Similarly, ‘the state of the global economy’ and the question whether we have effectively dealt with the financial crisis was another essential factor we could all agree on.

Going to extremes

In order to fit the aforementioned two developments into four possible scenarios we had to form a quadrant with two extremes (positive and negative) for both developments on each axis. For the state of European integration we designed an X-axis varying from ‘increased fragmentation’ to ‘increased cooperation’, while the State of the global economy on the Y-axis varied from ‘increased stability’ to ‘increased instability’.

The scenario's were given catchy titles like 'EUropia' or 'Tumbling into darkness' (in the case of increased European fragmentation and  increased economic stability). Consequently, all of the different scenarios generate different policy strategies with different aims and objectives. If you, however, are able to identify similar strategies within different scenarios you will have established a very solid foundation for future policy making.

Consider all options

In conclusion, this exercise of collective brainstorming and consensual decision-making enabled us to formulate four viable scenarios for the future. Through these scenarios we were able to come up with potential policies that could accurately deal with ensuing developments in the global landscape.

It is important to realize here that while scenario planning can definitely result in valuable policy options, it is the process that forces you to consider all possible options and prepares you for the future in the best way possible. Hence, scenario planning certainly proved to be a helpful policy making tool in an ever changing world.