This Strategic Monitor 2019-2020, Between Order and Chaos? The Writing on the Wall, examines the structural long-term trends and current events that shape the global security environment and that influence Dutch national interests and values. This year’s report looks in more detail at the emergence of a new world order, or rather, orders. The report describes and analyzes the most important developments in the international regimes that form the international order. In seven chapters the trends and developments in international relations and the Dutch security environment are studied and interpreted, taking stock of the world today and tomorrow.
This Strategic Monitor examines the trends and developments with regard to the six most urgent security threats from Worldwide for a safe Netherlands: Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022: military threats, cyber threats, unwanted foreign interference and undermining, threats to vital economic processes, the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and terrorist attacks. Most indicators for these six themes point to an increased threat for the coming five years. The trends and developments in the international order reveal a predominantly negative picture with regard to four themes: military competition, hybrid conflict, economic security, and CBRN weapons. For all four of these themes, the degree of cooperation in the international order is shifting towards a greater struggle over the norms and rules of the existing regimes. Trends and developments related to new rules development in cyberspace and rules compliance in counterterrorism are, however, decidedly more positive in nature. Here we see the development of new standards in cyberspace and increasing cooperation in the international efforts to combat terrorism.
Our analysis of global geodynamics yields a kaleidoscopic picture. The world population has become more prosperous, but inequality has also increased by different measures. Although the world as a whole continues to become more connected, increased connectivity has not necessarily brought people closer together. Societies worldwide have not become more inclusionary, due to a marked increase in identity-driven politics, higher levels of religious restrictiveness, and increases in social hostilities. At the same time, the rule of law has been strengthened and, despite the structural human rights violations in a number of countries, research suggests that human rights protection regimes are improving over time. But despite the growth and spread of democracy over the past two decades, democracy as an institution and especially individual freedoms are under prolonged attack. Civil and political rights have been declining for over a decade now, in both free and unfree countries. At the same time, illiberal governments have undeniably been gaining more influence in the regulation of global affairs. Finally, over the past two decades, the world has become less peaceful and secure because of a growing number of conflicts and conflict fatalities.
On the world stage, the Netherlands finds itself in a relatively fortunate position. It can count on close allies and partners in its immediate geographic surroundings. Despite ongoing turbulence in the European Union, this regional regime is becoming more relevant for the Netherlands. While the United States and Germany continue to be dominant in Dutch foreign relations, emerging powers have become more relevant as measured along economic, political, and military dimensions over the past decade. China’s ascent economically, militarily, and politically, in combination with the fact that China has a different values system than the Netherlands, implies that, for the Netherlands, China presents both an opportunity and a risk. In addition, a number of middle powers have both become more relevant and moved closer to the Netherlands on important value dimensions, which means that the Netherlands has a range of potential partners to collaborate with in shaping international regimes and rules in this changing context.
Interestingly, a number of other countries in their international security documents not only have a different assessment of the six threats identified in the Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022, but also give greater weight to additional threats. These include climate change and the exploitation and militarization of space. However, as in the Dutch case, most of these documents pay very little attention to the other side of the security coin: opportunities. It is recommended that these two observations be taken into consideration in the design of next year’s activities in the framework of the Strategic Monitor.
Overall, this Strategic Monitor concludes that the tenets of the international order continue to shift. Here it is important to recognize that it is the combination of national and international vectors that converge to undermine bastions of the existing international order, both from within and from without, both bottom-up and top-down.
Increased global competition across military, economic, and political domains goes hand in hand with a persistent erosion of significant aspects of the existing architecture of the international order. Compliance and cooperation are giving way to violation and confrontation across important political, economic, and security regimes, and rules are systematically violated while underlying norms are incrementally hollowed out. There are, however, certainly areas in which international cooperation persists, albeit in the context of voluntary and non-binding initiatives of coalitions of the willing, comprising both national and local governments, and increasingly in partnership with non-state and private actors. The shifts described in this report all take place in an era of rapid technological change, generating a host of new challenges to political and societal cohesion, economic equality, national security, and fundamental human rights.
The increased global competition is having important implications for the nature of threats, including the further fusion of the internal-external security nexus. Borders, physical or otherwise, no longer shield against the dangers posed by external forces. This implies the compression of time and geographical distance. Increased competition is also accompanied by the spillover of threats from one domain to another, with multidomain threats becoming the rule rather than the exception in the context of a connected world.
The dynamics of the US-Sino rivalry will be different from those between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War: the former will take place across multiple domains in the context of a more tightly integrated global economy. Some degree of economic protectionism can be expected to remain part of future US policies, alongside a continued strategy of military pre-eminence. Interdependence in different domains can contribute to stability by creating mutual interests, but it can also contribute to the spillover effects that fuel negative spiral dynamics. Economic decoupling into different blocs around the US and China will remove incentives to constrain competition in other domains, most importantly the military domain.
Now, do these developments signify the demise of the existing international order, or do they merely represent a perhaps overdue renovation of regimes within that order that are no longer fit for purpose? The developments suggest a little bit of both: some elements in the existing international order are revised and brought in sync with the global distribution of power; other elements are redesigned from scratch. This leaves the shape of the emerging international order still uncertain, but not entirely unclear during this period of transition.
Based on this year’s reading of the writing on the wall, international relations are expected to feature more outright forms of competition in the economic, military, but also in the ideological realm. The international order is expected to become less liberal in nature and less global in scope, and it will be more fragmented. However, modern means of communication and transportation will continue to facilitate coordination and collaboration that underpin the regimes that make up the order, and vested interests, both public and private, will continue to argue for international coordination and collaboration. Despite ideological differences and competing interests, the urgency of various key international challenges, such as climate change or nuclear proliferation, may yield sufficient pressure on global political leaders to act.
What does this outlook mean for the Netherlands? In light of increasing competition in the context of a decaying order, lopsided dependence on single actors across multiple fields is potentially dangerous. Investing in greater strategic autonomy, not just militarily but also economically and politically, creates greater maneuvering room, which in turn contributes not only to the security and prosperity of the Netherlands but also to the stability of the system at large. Strong collaboration within Europe will remain indispensable, not as an end in itself but as an instrument. However, the changing context and the adaptation of the existing order require greater investment in bilateral relationships that can help achieve Dutch core interests, both inside and outside of multilateral frameworks. In selecting such partnerships and making strategic choices, it is vital to have a clear understanding of the vulnerabilities to which the Netherlands is exposed as well as of the opportunities which the Netherlands can leverage.
The changing context requires not just new partnerships, but also concept development and experimentation with new strategies to keep up with the evolving foreign policy environment. Finally, the changing international context does not mean that we should ignore or under-appreciate our own values. It rather means the opposite. Increasing rivalry between values systems in the world requires that we also make more explicit what we stand for, and which way of life we want to protect and develop, and that where possible we actively use our values as an instrument of power and influence.
Deze Strategische Monitor 2019-2020, Tussen orde en chaos? De tekenen aan de wand, onderzoekt de structurele lange-termijntrends en actuele gebeurtenissen die de mondiale veiligheidsomgeving vormen en van invloed zijn op de Nederlandse nationale belangen en waarden. Het rapport van dit jaar gaat dieper in op het ontstaan van een nieuwe wereldorde, of beter gezegd, ordes. Het rapport beschrijft en analyseert de belangrijkste veranderingen in de internationale regimes die de internationale orde vormen. In zeven hoofdstukken worden de trends en ontwikkelingen in de internationale betrekkingen en in de veiligheidsomgeving van Nederland onderzocht en geïnterpreteerd, en wordt de balans opgemaakt van de wereld van vandaag en morgen.
In deze Strategische Monitor worden de trends en ontwikkelingen onderzocht ten aanzien van de zes meest urgente veiligheidsbedreigingen uit Wereldwijd voor een veilig Nederland: Geïntegreerde Buitenland- en Veiligheidsstrategie 2018-2022, te weten militaire dreigingen, cyberdreigingen, ongewenste buitenlandse inmenging en ondermijning, bedreiging van vitale economische processen, dreiging van chemische, biologische, radiologische en nucleaire (CBRN) middelen en terroristische aanslagen. De meeste indicatoren voor deze zes thema's wijzen op een verhoogde dreiging voor de komende vijf jaar. De trends en ontwikkelingen in de internationale orde geven een negatief beeld met betrekking tot vier thema's: militaire competitie, hybride conflicten, economische veiligheid en CBRN-wapens. Voor alle vier deze thema's verschuift de mate van samenwerking in de internationale orde naar meer strijd over de normen en regels van de bestaande regimes. De trends en ontwikkelingen met betrekking tot nieuwe normontwikkeling in cyberspace en normconformiteit bij terrorismebestrijding zijn echter beslist positiever van aard. Hier zien we de ontwikkeling van nieuwe normen in cyberspace en meer samenwerking bij internationale inspanningen op het gebied van terrorismebestrijding.
Onze analyse van de mondiale geodynamiek levert een caleidoscopisch beeld op. De wereldbevolking als geheel is welvarender geworden, maar ook de ongelijkheid is toegenomen. En ondanks dat de wereld als geheel meer verbonden raakt, heeft de verhoogde connectiviteit de mensen niet per se dichter bij elkaar gebracht. Wereldwijd zijn samenlevingen minder inclusief geworden door een toename van identiteit-gedreven politiek, een groter aantal religieuze beperkingen en een toename van maatschappelijke polarisatie. Tegelijkertijd is de rechtsstaat versterkt en suggereert onderzoek dat de bescherming van de mensenrechten, ondanks stelselmatige mensenrechtenschendingen in een aantal landen, in de loop van de tijd verbetert. Maar ondanks de groei en verspreiding van democratie in de afgelopen twee decennia, staat democratie als zodanig, en met name individuele vrijheden, onder druk. Politieke rechten en burgerlijke vrijheden nemen nu al meer dan tien jaar af, zowel in vrije als in minder vrije landen. Tegelijkertijd hebben onliberale staten ontegenzeggelijk meer invloed gekregen in de regulering van mondiale aangelegenheden. Ten slotte is de wereld de afgelopen twee decennia minder vredig en veilig geworden.
Nederland bevindt zich op het wereldtoneel in een relatief gelukkige positie. Het kan rekenen op bondgenoten en partners in zijn directe geografische omgeving. En ondanks aanhoudende turbulentie in de Europese Unie wordt dit regionale regime steeds relevanter voor Nederland. Terwijl de Verenigde Staten en Duitsland dominant blijven in de Nederlandse buitenlandse betrekkingen, zijn opkomende mogendheden, gemeten langs de economische, politieke en militaire dimensies, in het afgelopen decennium relevanter geworden. China's economische, militaire en politieke opkomst, in combinatie met het feit dat het land een ander waardensysteem kent dan Nederland, betekent dat China voor Nederland zowel een kans als een bedreiging is. Daarnaast is een aantal midden-machten relevanter geworden en op waardenniveau dichter bij Nederland gekomen, hetgeen betekent dat Nederland een scala aan potentiële partners heeft om mee samen te werken bij het vormgeven van internationale regimes en regelgeving in deze veranderende mondiale context.
Interessant is dat een aantal andere landen in hun internationale veiligheidsdocumenten niet alleen de zes bedreigingen uit de Geïntegreerde Buitenland- en Veiligheidsstrategie 2018-2022 verschillend beoordelen, maar ook meer gewicht toekennen aan andere bedreigingen. Deze omvatten klimaatverandering en de exploitatie en militarisering van de ruimte. Net als in het Nederlandse geval wordt in het buitenlandse veiligheidsdiscours weinig aandacht besteed aan de andere kant van de medaille: de kansen. Aanbevolen wordt om met deze twee observaties rekening te houden bij het ontwerp van de activiteiten van het volgende jaar in het kader van de Strategische Monitor.
Over het geheel genomen concludeert deze Strategische Monitor dat de kaders van de internationale orde blijven verschuiven. Hierbij is het belangrijk te onderkennen dat het de combinatie is van nationale en internationale vectoren die samenkomen om de bastions van de bestaande internationale orde te ondermijnen, zowel van binnenuit als van buitenaf, zowel bottom-up als top-down.
Toenemende wereldwijde concurrentie in de militaire, economische en politieke domeinen gaat hand in hand met een aanhoudende erosie van belangrijke aspecten van de bestaande architectuur van de internationale orde. Naleving en samenwerking maken plaats voor schending en confrontatie in belangrijke politieke, economische en veiligheidsregimes, en regels worden systematisch overtreden terwijl de onderliggende normen geleidelijk worden uitgehold. Er zijn echter ook gebieden waarop de internationale samenwerking stand houdt, zij het vaker in de context van vrijwillige en niet-bindende initiatieven van gelegenheidscoalities, bestaande uit zowel nationale als lokale overheden, en in toenemende mate in samenwerking met niet-statelijke en private actoren. De verschuivingen die in dit rapport worden beschreven, vinden bovendien allemaal plaats in een tijdperk van snelle technologische veranderingen, die een groot aantal nieuwe uitdagingen met zich meebrengen voor politieke en maatschappelijke cohesie, economische gelijkheid, nationale veiligheid en fundamentele mensenrechten.
De toegenomen wereldwijde concurrentie heeft ook belangrijke implicaties voor de aard van de bedreigingen, waaronder de verdergaande samensmelting van de interne en externe veiligheidsdimensies. Grenzen, fysiek of anderszins, beschermen niet langer tegen de gevaren van externe krachten. Dit impliceert een compressie van tijd en geografische afstand. Méér concurrentie gaat ook gepaard met spillover van bedreigingen van het ene domein naar het andere, waarbij multi-domeinbedreigingen zoals hybride conflictvoering eerder de regel dan uitzondering worden in de context van een verbonden wereld.
De dynamiek van de rivaliteit tussen de VS en China zal anders zijn dan die tussen de VS en de Sovjet-Unie tijdens de Koude Oorlog. Eerstgenoemde zal plaatsvinden over verscheidene domeinen in de context van een veel nauwer geïntegreerde mondiale economie. Van het toekomstige Amerikaanse beleid wordt verwacht dat dit gekenmerkt zal worden door een zekere mate van economisch protectionisme, naast een strategie gericht op het behoud van de militaire dominantie. Onderlinge afhankelijkheid in verschillende domeinen kan weliswaar bijdragen aan stabiliteit, maar het kan ook bijdragen aan de spillovereffecten die een negatieve spiraaldynamiek voeden. Economische ontkoppeling in gescheiden blokken aangevoerd door respectievelijk de VS en China zal de prikkels om concurrentie op andere domeinen te beperken, vooral het militaire, wegnemen.
Betekenen deze ontwikkelingen nu de ondergang van de bestaande internationale orde, of vertegenwoordigen ze slechts een renovatie van die regimes binnen de orde die niet langer bij de tijd zijn? De ontwikkelingen suggereren dat het een beetje van beide is: sommige elementen van de bestaande orde worden herzien en gesynchroniseerd met veranderingen in de mondiale machtsverdeling, andere elementen worden helemaal opnieuw ontworpen. Daarmee is tijdens deze overgangsperiode de vorm die de internationale orde gaat aannemen nog steeds onzeker, maar niet helemaal onduidelijk.
Op basis van onze analyse van de tekenen aan de wand, verwachten wij dat de internationale betrekkingen meer openlijke vormen van concurrentie zullen vertonen in de economische, militaire, maar ook in de ideologische sfeer. De internationale orde zal naar verwachting minder liberaal en minder mondiaal van aard worden en zal meer gefragmenteerd zijn. Maar moderne telecommunicatie- en transportmiddelen zullen de coördinatie en samenwerking blijven ondersteunen die ten grondslag liggen aan de bestaande regimes, en actoren, zowel publieke als private, zullen blijven pleiten voor internationale coördinatie en samenwerking. Ondanks ideologische verschillen en tegengestelde belangen, kan de urgentie van verschillende belangrijke internationale uitdagingen, zoals klimaatverandering of nucleaire proliferatie, leiden tot voldoende druk op politieke leiders om op te treden.
Wat betekent dit vooruitzicht voor Nederland? In het licht van de toenemende concurrentie in de context van een veranderende internationale orde is eenzijdige afhankelijkheid van bepaalde actoren potentieel gevaarlijk. Investeren in een grotere strategische autonomie, niet alleen militair, maar ook economisch en politiek, creëert een grotere manoeuvreerruimte, die op zijn beurt niet alleen bijdraagt aan de veiligheid en welvaart van Nederland, maar ook aan de stabiliteit van het mondiale systeem als geheel. Sterke samenwerking binnen Europa blijft daarbij onmisbaar, niet als doel op zich, maar als instrument. De veranderende context en de aanpassing van de bestaande orde vereisen meer investeringen in bilaterale betrekkingen die kunnen helpen Nederlandse belangen te behartigen, zowel binnen als buiten multilaterale kaders. Bij het selecteren van dergelijke partnerschappen en het maken van strategische keuzes is het van vitaal belang om een goed begrip te hebben van de bedreigingen waaraan Nederland is blootgesteld, evenals van de kansen die Nederland kan benutten.
De veranderende mondiale context vereist niet alleen nieuwe partnerschappen, maar ook de ontwikkeling van en experimenten met nieuwe concepten en strategieën om gelijke tred te houden met de veranderende omgeving van het buitenlands beleid. Tenslotte betekent de veranderende internationale context niet dat we onze eigen waarden moeten veronachtzamen. Het betekent eerder het tegenovergestelde. De toenemende rivaliteit tussen waardensystemen in de wereld vereist dat wij ook expliciteren waar wij voor staan, wat wij willen beschermen en willen bevorderen, en dat wij waar mogelijk onze waarden actief inzetten als een instrument van macht en invloed.
This report focuses on long-term structural developments as well as current events that shape the global security environment and affect Dutch national interests and values. The title of this year’s Strategic Monitor, Between Order and Chaos? The Writing on the Wall, is a reference to the warning of impending discontinuity in the biblical tale of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, as described in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar hosted a lavish feast for more than a thousand dignitaries for which he had used gold and silver goblets taken from the temple in Jerusalem. These goblets were sacred, but the king and his guests drank from them anyway. During the feast a hand appeared and wrote an inscription on a wall. The terrified king called on his magicians to explain what the writing on the wall meant. Only Daniel, the head of the king’s seers, could decipher it. Daniel explained that the writing was a warning to Belshazzar that his days as king were numbered because of his arrogance toward God, and that his kingdom would be split in two. Sudden, structural change such as the end of Belshazzar’s kingdom is a key feature of discontinuity. And the challenge for strategic analysts is to decipher the writing on the wall and to foresee possible future events and developments.
The annual Strategic Monitors have been taking stock of events and developments for almost a decade now. Born out of the Dutch interdepartmental Defense Policy Survey of 2010, the continuous Strategic Monitor horizon-scanning efforts contribute to the government’s long-term strategic anticipation function. In previous iterations, they identified and warned about spikes in great power assertiveness (2013-2014), the risks of conflict breaking out over pivot states (2014), the fragility of the Middle East and the contagious effects of political violence (2014 and 2017), the return of interstate crisis in hybrid guises (2014-2015), and the emergence of a multi-order (2017). In last year’s report, we identified the existence of an interregnum, a transition phase during which the old had died but the new was yet to be born (2018).
This year, we delve deeper into the development of a new international order, or, more precisely, orders. We conceive of the international order not just from the perspective of a liberal world order, but look at it more broadly as being rooted in a collection of international regimes, which are defined as “a set of implicit and explicit principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures around which the actors converge in a particular area of international relations.” Orders can be global or regional, and they can be ideological (for instance, liberal) or agnostic in nature. The post-Second World War international liberal order, for instance, never encompassed all countries. Certainly during the Cold War period it was a regional order, rather than a global one, except at the very top with the United Nations. Similarly, these orders can be thin or thick in nature: thin orders feature selective elements of engagement on a limited number of important issues (e.g., state sovereignty and arms control); thick orders are characterized by norms and rules that suffuse many aspects of international relations (e.g., trade, human rights, the environment, etc.). The latter is visible in the liberal order that was constructed after the Second World War, came of age during the Cold War, matured further in the 1990s and the 2000s and is now under severe pressure. Orders are rooted in a distribution of power that gives “rise to a relatively stable pattern of relationships and behaviors.” These stable patterns are then institutionalized in the form of coordination arrangements and regimes that are considered legitimate by the most important actors. Orders therefore rest on power and legitimacy.
In times of rapid shifts in the international distribution of power, these stable patterns are undercut by the foreign policy of states dissatisfied with the status quo and with their roles in the system. These states start contesting the role of the leading state, aspiring to a more dominant role in the regulation of international affairs for themselves. This process leads to increased international competition, not just in a narrow, traditional geopolitical sense, but understood more broadly as ‘the attempt to gain advantage, often relative to others believed to pose a challenge or threat, through the self-interested pursuit of contested goods such as power, security, wealth, influence, and status.’ Dissatisfaction thus breeds increased competition, which in turn seriously undermines existing regimes and upsets the existing dominant order. It also leads to friction and to crisis and sometimes to conflict and can even escalate to war between contenders and defenders of the status quo.
With the benefit of hindsight, dissatisfaction has been lurking not only under, but also at the surface for quite some time now. For instance, in his 2007 Munich Security Conference speech, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin openly declared that “the unipolar model is not only unacceptable, but also impossible in today’s world.” President Putin denounced “unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions” and asserted that “the United States has overstepped its national borders in every way” because of “the economic, political, cultural, and educational policies it imposes on other nations.” Observing that “the economic potential of the new centers of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multi-polarity,” he called for a serious rethink of “the architecture of global security” and “a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue.” Vladimir Putin was not alone in uttering these sentiments. Less antagonistically, but equally determined, China’s President Xi Jinping laid out in 2013 his goal of pursuing “a renaissance of the Chinese nation,” calling for a “new type of major power relations” and, more recently, “a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation.” Now, as we are entering the third decade of the twenty-first century, European leaders can no longer ignore the impacts of both international and domestic developments on the sustainability of rules and regulations of the international order. At the end of 2019, Emmanuel Macron declared a moment of “unprecedented crisis in our international system,” which “requires new alliances and new ways to cooperate.” And even though the French president views a stronger Europe in many respects as a necessary precondition to transcend this crisis, Macron considers our continent to be “on the edge of a precipice,” with growing societal polarization, considerable disparities between West and East, and a seemingly never-ending Brexit.
The Strategic Monitor annual report monitors, describes, and analyzes the ongoing transition and assesses changes across international regimes that are important tenets of the current international order. The outcome of this transition is far from certain, but it is clear that current events have significant ramifications for the future of international relations, including the rules and regulations guiding state interaction. The international order can evolve in multiple directions at the same time, across different domains of state interaction: it can incline more toward international cooperation, as it would in an ideal notion of a liberal international democratic order, but in parallel it can also evolve toward more international competition. Because of path dependency, developments in the early stages of international order formation have disproportional effects on later outcomes or phases of the order. A better understanding of developments will help policymakers to ‘get there early’ and provide a basis for informed action.
In this context, this report investigates and interprets the developments in international relations and in our security environment, and answers the following question: What have been the main developments in the past ten years with regard to international security, and what trends are in prospect for the next five years? In the following six chapters, we take stock of the world of today and of tomorrow. Chapter 2 looks at trends and developments with regard to the six most urgent security threats from the Dutch policy white paper Worldwide for a safe Netherlands: Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022: military threats, cyber threats, unwanted foreign interference and undermining, threats to vital economic processes, the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and terrorist attacks, and assesses their impact on Dutch national security interests. Chapter 3 examines trends and developments in international regimes based on these same six themes. Chapter 4 turns to geodynamics in the global system and considers structural trends in socio-economic, identity, connectedness, judicial, political, and security domains, in order to provide a snapshot of the state of humanity at multiple levels. Chapter 5 surveys the role and the position of the Netherlands in the world based on an empirical analysis of Dutch foreign relations in the political, economic, security, and human rights realm. Chapter 6 explores global perspectives of important third actors on the six threat themes and identifies differences and similarities. Chapter 7 draws conclusions regarding the threats and international regimes, dominant geodynamics, and the role of the Netherlands. This in turn feeds into an overall assessment of the evolving international order in this period of transition.
The research activities conducted for this year’s Strategic Monitor led to the publication of ten individual in-depth studies in various sub-areas. This report provides an overall framework with which to understand the results of these individual studies (which are of value in their own right) in a more comprehensive context (see Table 1). The ten in-depth studies provide further background, data, analysis, as well as references to the literature used. They thus provide the body of evidence for the insights that are provided here in a more concise form.
Military Competition in Perspective: Trends in Major Powers’ Postures and Perceptions
Cyber security: Parsing the Threats and the State of International Order
Hybrid Conflict: Neither War nor Peace
Economic Security with Chinese Characteristics
CBRN Weapons: Where Are We in Averting Armageddon?
Terrorism in the Age of Technology
What World Do We Live In? An Analysis of Geodynamic Trends
The Evolving Position of the Netherlands in the World
In the Eye of the Beholder? An Assessment of Global Security Perceptions
Perceptions of Security: How Our Brains Can Fool Us
To answer the central research question, a wide range of methods and techniques were used to assess the current and future security environment from different analytical perspectives.
Threat assessment (chapter 2). To analyze the threats, a horizon-scanning method was used, involving a structured investigation of the six threat themes in the literature from government, international organizations, think tanks, and academia, supplemented with information from media and social media. Expressed in a set of indicators for each of the investigated themes, the developments over the last ten years were assessed and further validated using expert judgment. These sets of indicators then served as a basis for making statements on the trends expected over the next five years (up to 2025). Finally, the findings on the threats were linked to the Dutch national security interests to see whether and to what extent they are actually threatened. The Strategic Monitor considers three core interests: 1) national legal order and public security; 2) international legal order; and 3) economic prosperity. These three interests are derived from those used by the various ministries and are consistent with the Constitution, the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and further Dutch legal obligations. In the six respective trend tables in chapter 2, upward trends are indicated with , downward trends with , and stable trends with . These trends are further qualified as being either positive () or negative () in character, based on their impact on the three Dutch national security interests.
International cooperation and conflict (chapter 3). A comparative approach was used to gauge shifts in the degree of cooperation in the international regimes that together make up an international order for each of the six investigated themes. For each regime, an analysis was made of the extent to which states comply with concrete rules and agreements within the relevant regimes, and with the underlying norms on which those rules and agreements are based. In the six respective trend tables in chapter 3, upward trends are again indicated with , downward trends with , and stable trends with . These trends are again further qualified as being either positive () or negative () in character, based on their impact on the international order encapsulated in these various regimes.
Geodynamics (chapter 4). Next, this report assesses structural developments using a multi-perspective approach. It analyzes an assortment of developments across the socio-economic, identity, connectedness, judicial, political, and security domains at the level of the individual, the state, and the international order. In the six respective trend tables in chapter 4, upward trends are again indicated with , downward trends with , and stable trends with . These trends are again further qualified as being either positive () or negative () in character, based on their assessed impact on international stability and security.
The Netherlands in the world (chapter 5). In order to define the position that the Netherlands currently occupies on the world stage, this report provides an overview of Dutch bilateral relations based on four classic dimensions – economic, military, diplomatic, and ideological – and measures the degree of cooperation in those dimensions based on their associated indicators, such as trade volume, arms trade, state visits, and shared values, using the Dutch Foreign Relations Index (DFRI) developed by HCSS.
An assessment of global security perceptions (chapter 6). To gain a better understanding of the security perceptions of other actors, this report looks at over three dozen post-2016 national security and defense strategies published by other countries and survey-based threat analyses published by world-renowned think tanks and intergovernmental organizations. It examines their perceptions of the six threat themes as well as the international order and surveys which other salient threats and opportunities are identified in these documents.
Chapter 7 offers conclusions based on a synthesis of the findings of the chapters listed above.
This chapter highlights the most important developments that may threaten our national security in the upcoming years. In this chapter, ‘our’ security refers first and foremost to the security of the Netherlands. Of course, Dutch security interests cannot be seen in isolation from the security interests of Europe, the West, and the international community. This wider context is further elaborated on in chapters 3 and 4. As explained in the introduction, the threat themes discussed in this chapter are the six that were identified as the most urgent in the policy white paper Worldwide for a safe Netherlands: Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022: military threats, cyber threats, unwanted foreign interference and undermining, threats to vital economic processes, the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and terrorist attacks.
Over the past decade, states have been more actively engaging in military competition. States’ perceptions of the security environment have worsened at a time when military threats are becoming more common in the exchanges between rival states. Global military expenditures have increased only marginally, but some major powers have sharply boosted their defense budgets. States are also reprioritizing the modernization of their armed forces, with considerable funds being allocated to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and new operational domains such as space. While traditional interstate war remains low in prevalence, the uptick in the number of internationalized intrastate conflicts speaks to increased military competition between states. These findings are corroborated by an analysis of the intentions, capacities, and activities of key states over the past decade (see Table 2), and are further elaborated on below.
184.108.40.206 Perceptions of military competition
Military competition is increasingly perceived as an important security priority by major military powers. An analysis of the security and defense strategy documents published by the UK, Germany, France, the US, China, and Russia over the last decade shows a shift toward the identification of interstate competition as a concrete security threat. Both the UK and Germany prioritize interstate competition as a vital security challenge, citing respectively the “resurgence of state-based threats” and Europe’s disadvantage in light of increasing international military competition due to its traditionally limited defense budgets. France recognizes that “the international balance of power is changing rapidly,” stirring greater uncertainty and anxiety. Russia already observed in 2014 that the international order “is characterized by increasing global competition.” The US identifies the “re-emergence of long-term strategic competition” and states its aim of consolidating its military edge vis-à-vis rival powers, most notably China and Russia. China’s 2019 defense strategy, meanwhile, notes that the “international security system and order are undermined by growing hegemonic behavior, power politics, unilateralism, and constant regional conflicts and wars.”
220.127.116.11 Military threats
The intensification of military competition is apparent not only from state perceptions, but also from the use of threatening rhetoric in exchanges between rival states, especially in the context of a number of long-standing disputes. Using data from the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS), our analysis shows that political and military leaders of permanent members of the UN Security Council have frequently resorted to the use of threatening rhetoric over the past decade with occasional peaks. The highest peak was associated with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Lower peaks in the period since then can be attributed to the US’ placing of sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia, as well as to the rise in tensions in the South China Sea, and to the Kremlin’s increased engagement in Middle Eastern power politics.
18.104.22.168 Military spending
Overall levels of absolute military expenditures are increasing internationally, albeit not significantly, and not when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Over the ten-year period from 2008 to 2018, expenditures increased by 13.2%, now amounting to $1.78 trillion in total. The only regions with a significant increase over the past decade are East Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. At the same time, military expenditures saw a decrease in various other regions. Since around 2015, Europe and the US have started to slightly increase their expenditures again, but in other regions, for instance in Latin America, the downward pattern continues or expenditures remain at a low level (relative to the overall level of military expenditures, which are still by far the highest in North America).
Despite substantial regional variation, military expenditures of key military actors have increased considerably. The most striking example is China, which has doubled its military spending from $120 to $240 billion in the examined period. While official numbers seem to reveal significant recent decreases in Russia’s military spending since 2017 (down by 20% to $66.3 billion), expert reports indicate that a large proportion of real military expenditures are concealed in the state’s budget and, when examined closely, could actually turn out to be as much as 40% higher than before.
22.214.171.124 Defense R&D and procurement
After stagnating between 2012 and 2014, military research and development (R&D) budgets are increasing once again. This is largely due to states’ pursuit of cutting-edge technologies. This is evident in increases in featured states’ R&D budgets, which can be attributed to efforts in military modernization of their armed forces and military capabilities, but also in more specific technology-related investments. Modern technologies’ contribution to increases in military R&D are also evident in the uptick in the number of military assets being launched into space, because of states’ increasing dependence on space assets in the waging of (interstate) wars. This ongoing development is illustrative of a wider trend: as military competition heats up, new domains and frontiers are commanding strategists’ attention.
The US is at the forefront of this trend of increased military R&D spending, focusing on the renewal and modernization of its conventional and nuclear capabilities. R&D funding for the development of modern technologies received the second-largest percentage increase in the US military budget request for 2019, which was 11% higher than its 2018 precursor. Other NATO members are increasingly following suit. Recognition of shortcomings in their military R&D efforts resulted in a 50% increase in allocation. In 2019, NATO members allocated on average 21.7% of their military budget to equipment procurement and R&D, an increase of 1.9% over the preceding year. In 2017, the EU launched the European Defence Fund (EDF), which will make €13 billion available between 2021 and 2027 with the goal of supplementing and amplifying national investments in defense R&D. The trend is also reflected in China’s and Russia’s R&D expenditures, with both states implementing a range of programs to modernize their militaries and upgrade their nuclear capabilities. Russia has committed $700 billion to an armament program that aims to modernize 70% of Russia’s armed forces by 2020, with 59% of Russia’s weapon systems having already been modernized by 2015. Beijing has announced intentions to fully modernize its armed forces by 2035, and is focusing on the development of AI applications for military use. In order to do so, China increased defense spending by 7.5% in 2019, $177,544 billion of which will be allocated to “sustaining, growing, and modernizing” the country’s military.
In this context, the size of investments made by the US and China underscores the role of AI applications in modern-day military competition. European states lag behind these countries in their pursuit of military AI, despite initiatives of individual member states. France, for instance, recently launched a military AI strategy, earmarking €100 million for the development of military AI by 2022.
Internationalized intrastate conflicts, such as those currently being fought in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, are particular instances of military competition in which states compete for influence in third states’ territories. This type of conflict has increased substantially: it tripled between 2008 and 2018, increasing from six to eighteen. By 2018, such conflicts accounted for 35% of all conflicts (as opposed to 18% in 2008). This trend stands in contrast to the number of state-on-state military conflicts (interstate war), which comes close to zero, and the number of internal (domestic, civil) conflicts, which stays relatively constant.
Unsurprisingly, the Middle East emerges as a hotspot when it comes to internationalized intrastate conflicts, largely as a result of geopolitical opportunities for foreign meddling brought about by the internal conflicts and power vacuums produced as a by-product of the Arab Spring. Furthermore, several states are increasing their military footprint on the African continent, in the context of wider competition for influence. Chinese and to a lesser extent Russian efforts in this region have attracted a lot of media attention. The US is also active, for example through the creation of a new drone base in Niger worth $110 million and the opening of lines of communication with large swathes of North and West Africa. Power competition over the continent is supplemented by assertive actions of middle powers. Among others, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have set up a peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea while securing the rights to military bases, ports, and trading outposts in those countries in the process. These developments do not neatly fall into the ‘activity’ category of military competition, in that they represent other forms of engagement, but they are nonetheless indicative of increasing awareness of the continent’s strategic importance, both militarily and otherwise.
As geopolitical rivalry is regaining prominence, the threat posed to the Netherlands by military competition has increased significantly – not so much in a direct threat to our territorial integrity, but certainly in an increased risk that the Dutch armed forces, together with the country’s allies, will find themselves embroiled in a future military confrontation.
Conflict in cyberspace has intensified exponentially in recent years. Our analysis of the intentions, capabilities, and activities of state actors in this domain suggests that this is unlikely to change in the near future, with greater risks of escalation. Cyber-military and cyber-security expenditures have increased, as have cyber-enabled espionage and computer network attacks. Disinformation campaigns are the new normal in global affairs. States regard threats emanating from cyberspace as a crucial security concern.
An increasing number of states identify cybersecurity as either the main or a major security threat in their national security threat assessments. Previous strategies (2006-2013) already acknowledged the relevance of various cyber threats, such as cybercrime, IP theft, espionage, and sabotage. Recent strategies (2015-2019) more specifically single out the threat posed by state actors and state-affiliated or directed cyber operations for offensive purposes, underscoring the relevance of cyberspace for national security. In this context, states have been developing initiatives to address risk management of cyber escalation. Most notably, the application of international law, norms of responsible state behavior, and confidence-building measures (CBMs) have functioned as stability mechanisms that establish ‘rules of the road’ for responsible state behavior in cyberspace. Over the last couple of years, the cyber-strategic postures of leading states have evolved to include the more offensive deterrence by punishment, complementing deterrence by denial, entanglement, and normative stigmatization. This is illustrated, for example, by the US doctrine of “persistent engagement” that is designed not only to thwart adversary cyber operations by continuously anticipating and exploiting their vulnerabilities, but also to reinforce deterrence by raising the costs for adversaries.
The lack of transparency in cyber capability deployment, and even in the method of operations or intended effects, renders the task of assessing a state’s intentions, capabilities, and activities difficult. Based on an open-source analysis of public statements, we observe a growing number of states disclosing their offensive cyber capabilities. The US National Security Agency puts the current number at thirty. It signifies the progressive militarization of cyberspace. To some degree, it also points toward efforts at increasing transparency, which is necessary for the development of rules and norms to harness competition in this domain.
Government funding to enhance cybersecurity can be perceived as either heightening or reducing the threat level in this environment, depending on whether the spending is directed toward defensive or offensive measures. We therefore distinguish between ‘national cybersecurity and counter cybercrime spending’, which is defensive by nature, and ‘cyber-military spending’, which includes both offensive and defensive capabilities. A review of open-source documents and budgets of eight Western countries shows current government spending has increased in both categories. The US remains at the forefront of cybersecurity spending, with countries such as France and the UK following suit. The rise in investment in defensive measures is also indicated by the creation of dedicated agencies and departments that focus on cybersecurity. As a reflection of the increase in states disclosing offensive cyber capabilities, cyber-military spending is also rising. The US leads this trend, with significant portions of the 2019 annual budget being allocated to the US Cyber Command. Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, the capabilities of the US Cyber Command have expanded through an increase in personnel, a greater operational mandate, and enhanced technical capabilities. Although overall military spending on cybersecurity is significantly lower in the other examined countries, their investments in offensive cyber capabilities have also grown.
In cyberspace, states may hide under a veil of anonymity to engage in malign cyber activity, in order to achieve strategic and operational gains. States have been more aggressively engaging in various activities: computer network exploitation, which includes cyberespionage; computer network attacks, which include attacking the availability and integrity of data and ICT systems; and disinformation campaigns. While attribution remains complicated, targeted states are increasingly naming and shaming malign actors. The past ten years saw a considerable rise in reported instances of cyberespionage, according to data from the Cyber Operations Tracker of the Council on Foreign Relations. China in particular is reported to be engaging in intellectual property and advanced military technology theft through its PLA Unit 61398 as well as other government units.
Similarly, Computer Network Attacks are increasingly prevalent. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the number of reported significant cyber incidents increased seven-fold between 2008 and 2018. Denial of service, domain name system (DNS) hijacking campaigns, malware attacks, phishing, and ransomware attacks seek to damage, destroy, or disrupt computers and/or computer operations, with direct or indirect negative impacts on states. Notable Computer Network Attacks include: Stuxnet (2010); the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure in 2012; attacks against the Ukrainian power grid (2015); North Korea’s targeting of Microsoft Windows computers (WannaCry, 2017); and Russia’s release of NotPetya (2017).
Cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns are increasing too. Although there is no comprehensive data source providing reliable data for the past decade, an abundance of studies and reports highlight how states are engaging in comprehensive disinformation campaigns to influence public perception and erode trust in democratic systems. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, the number of states featuring active disinformation campaigns more than doubled from 28 to 70 between 2017 and 2019. At least seven states (China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela) have executed influencing campaigns in other countries. Recent technological developments in this field – including the rise of ‘deep fakes’, i.e., hyper-realistic, difficult-to-debunk fake videos – are expected to further affect the nature and impact of disinformation campaigns. At the same time, efforts to counter disinformation campaigns are increasing, especially in European countries. Overall, our analysis of perceptions, intentions, capabilities, and activities of states in the cyber domain warrants the conclusion that cyber conflict is intensifying, and is likely to continue to do so in the years to come.
Hybrid conflict, understood as “conflict between states, largely below the legal level of armed conflict, with integrated use of civilian and military means and actors, with the aim of achieving certain strategic objectives,” has become much more prominent over the past decade. States are increasingly deploying hybrid tactics, often in a subtle and pervasive form to hamper detection, accountability, and retaliation. These tactics include the use of proxy actors in third-party military conflicts, the deployment of military exercises near borders, intrusions into aerial and maritime territory, the exertion of influence over foreign democratic processes, the use of economic coercion, the proliferation of disinformation campaigns, and the execution of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. Our analysis of intentions, capabilities, and activities in this sphere paints an overall bleak outlook (see Table 4).
Comparative assessments of security and defense strategies between 2008-2009 and 2018-2019 reveal that states increasingly recognize hybrid conflict as a threat to national security. The US currently identifies cyber conflict, disinformation campaigns, and economic coercion, explicitly designating China, Russia, and Iran as culprits. Germany and the Netherlands are particularly concerned about cyber threats and information warfare. Germany moved from signaling a “digital lack of security”, but without mentioning “hybrid”, in 2008 to explicitly identifying hybrid conflicts as a security risk in 2018. The Dutch Integrated International Security Strategy (2018) illustrates hybrid conflict with threats such as foreign interference through disinformation, cyberespionage, sabotage, and foreign funding. Over a ten-year period, the UK exhibits a heightened awareness of hybrid threats in the cyber and political domain. But the recognition of hybrid threats is not exclusive to Western countries. Russia points out risks posed by external manipulation and subversion, noting that “[t]he intensifying confrontation in the global information arena caused by some countries’ aspiration to utilize informational and communication technologies to achieve their geopolitical objectives, including by manipulating public awareness and falsifying history, is exerting an increasing influence on the nature of the international situation.” China, too, makes reference to hybrid threats emanating from the US, through the use of sanctions and political provocation. In contrast to its 2008 equivalent, China’s 2019 defense white paper mentions hybrid threats, including the rise of cyber-related threats, the potential use of sanctions against companies and academics, and other states’ financial support of Tibet’s freedom movement.
Having pioneered strategic innovation in this sphere over the past decade, Russia emphasizes “cross-domain coercion” as part of its strategic deterrence posture, which combines both military (conventional and nuclear) and non-military capabilities and measures. China’s latest defense strategy reserves “the option of taking all necessary measures” to safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security, and interests. Overall, such intentions are expressed to a greater extent than ten years ago, although Western states thus far have predominantly framed this within a defensive context of countering hybrid activities. The cyber domain represents an exception to this tendency, as states increasingly disclose their intentions to use offensive cyber measures against other states. The UK, for instance, stresses its willingness to use armed force to defend itself from cyberattacks and to protect its networks, if attacking the networks of the attacker is necessary.
States are increasingly investing in government agencies that engage in or respond to hybrid conflict. China, Russia, the US, France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands have all created, invested in and widened the scope of such government agencies over the past ten years. In addition to employing public organizations and agencies, many states carry out hybrid operations through non-state actors or covert units. Russia’s capabilities are illustrated by the increased role of the Russian Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (commonly referred to as the GRU), as well as the Russian Internet Research Agency, which is involved in “bot farms” and disinformation campaigns. In China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (home to Unit 61398, among others) has been mentioned by experts as a hybrid-focused force, with tasks including information warfare and cyber operations. China’s whole-of-government approach to conflict and security means that several government agencies, not specifically designated as ‘hybrid’ actors, may play a coordinated role in these activities. The US Cyber Command is another example of a military-focused agency with an important role in hybrid conflict, as exemplified by a cyberattack the Command undertook in Iran during July 2019. In Europe, for instance, the Netherlands has established a Counter Hybrid Unit.
Just as in the Cold War, states are engaging in proxy conflicts. Proxy conflicts arise when states “instigate or play a major role in supporting and directing a party to a conflict,” but do only a small portion of the fighting themselves. These conflicts allow states to secure ideological and/or strategic objectives without putting a significant number of their own troops in harm’s way. Proxy wars also offer the opportunity to test and showcase new weapon systems, facilitating a learning process that would otherwise only be available within the context of interstate conflicts. Proxy wars can be understood as a form of hybrid conflict, not only because they are also a form of gray zone operations – as can be inferred from states’ systematic denial of involvement in these conflicts – but also because there are well-documented instances of these activities being employed to secure objectives that fall outside these conflicts’ direct geographical scope. In addition to the earlier-reported steep increase in the number of internationalized intrastate conflicts – which with eighteen conflicts account for 35% of all conflicts in 2018 (as opposed to 18% in 2008) – the number of actors involved in these proxy conflicts has increased from an average of 3.7 actors per proxy conflict in 2008 to 5.8 actors in 2018. The upward trend in the use of proxy forces extends into cyberspace, where states increasingly rely on cybercriminals as extensions of state power.
Military exercises near the borders of actual or potential adversaries are a well-established practice, meant to intimidate without crossing the threshold into conventional conflict. Without any effective confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) in place, these military exercises have the potential to exacerbate instability and lead to escalatory retaliations. Military exercises near borders have increased in number and in magnitude over the last ten years. Especially over the last five years, after the Crimea Crisis, they have become both larger in scale and more regular in occurrence, both in Europe and in Asia.
Similarly, aerial and maritime activities that stay below the threshold of actual confrontations seem to be increasing. Intrusions are exercises that deliberately and provocatively enter other states’ territories (or threaten to do so). Measurements reveal a slight upward incline in interceptions of Russia’s aerial activities over NATO territory, but also a more striking trend toward indirect interferences that provokingly threaten, but do not violate, NATO territory. Similarly, expert analyses reveal that, since 2008, Chinese military naval activities have increased in the East and South China Sea. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the number of vessels within Japan’s territorial waters and the contiguous zone rose in 2012 and has since remained consistently high. The number of vessels in the contiguous zone is approximately twice as high as that witnessed in territorial waters, speaking to the notion that most Chinese maritime activities have not directly violated littoral states’ territorial integrity, but have rather taken a more blurred approach, typical of the hybrid domain. In 2017, this number spiked considerably, which can be linked to a more aggressive approach taken by China in the first half of 2017 when it departed from sending only ships into the disputed territories and began also to use unmanned aircraft. Overall, the Chinese are increasingly employing both military and paramilitary law enforcement ships in order to patrol and curb the influence of other actors in the waters.
Exploiting the networked nature of information societies, political interference has surged. Meddling activities include, but are not limited to, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and economic coercion. As reported in chapter 2.2, disinformation campaigns have greater reach and impact than ever before. In addition to well-reported cases, such as the 2016 US election interference, political meddling as a hybrid tactic occurs on a global scale. In Western Europe, cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns are more common than elsewhere, whereas countries in the Western Balkans tend to be victims of economic coercion and corruption. Russia’s activities include cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and economic coercion such as exploiting its energy resources. Russia also uses proxy organizations, such as the Wagner Group, to exercise pro-Kremlin influence in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. China also embarks on information campaigns, as well as engaging in persistent state-sponsored espionage and the fostering of economic dependencies on a global scale, which it can exploit for political purposes.
States are increasingly resorting to coercive economic measures to achieve their political objectives by exploiting economic vulnerabilities and dependencies. An analysis of Global Trade Alerts reveals a massive surge in ‘harmful measures’ associated with economic coercion between 2008 and 2018. In addition, economically coercive events, as reported in the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS), such as sanctions, boycotts, and embargos, have also increased considerably. This has been clearest in recent years, with the US becoming much more assertive. A spike occurred in 2018, with US measures aimed at China and Chinese state-owned enterprises, Iran and Iranian officials, Russia, and Turkey.
As reported in chapter 2.2.6, disinformation campaigns have become much more prevalent, with the explicit intent to manipulate democratic discourses and stir up societal disarray, polarization, and impact on democratic processes. The reach and impact of recent campaigns have increased through strategic and technological innovation. Disinformation campaigns vary by perpetrator, methodology, and motivation. While Western understanding of modern disinformation is predominantly shaped by Russian activities, an increasing number of states are also active in this domain. India, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, are developing capabilities in information manipulation. China is also becoming more active in this field.
As reported in chapter 2.2, the number of cyberattacks on states’ critical infrastructure has also increased sharply over the past ten years. Examples include the 2012 cyberattack on the Saudi national oil company Saudi Aramco and two attacks perpetrated in 2015: the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware attack on the UK’s National Health Service and the attack on Ukraine’s energy distribution company. In 2018, the US Government warned that actors associated with the Kremlin were conducting cyber reconnaissance on energy, nuclear, water, and other critical infrastructure sectors in the US, possibly in preparation for targeted attacks. An assessment of the most significant cyber incidents reveals that most attacks on critical infrastructure were state-on-state in nature. The most frequent actors to target other states’ critical infrastructure were Russia, China, and Iran, closely followed by North Korea. The main targets of such cyberattacks have been the US, South Korea, India, and Ukraine. Many of the reported events do not take place during a military conflict, but in the gray zone.
Overall, our analysis corroborates the conclusion that hybrid threats have proliferated within the international security environment. States are engaged in a range of hybrid activities and are gearing up for competition in the gray zone. In the military domain, the increased prevalence of hybrid conflict is substantiated by rising trends in the use of proxy actors, the frequency and scale of military exercises near borders, and the number of aerial and maritime intrusions. External meddling in domestic politics has become more widespread. Economic coercion is becoming more common. Hybrid strategies also extend to the information and cyber domains, where the dissemination of false information and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure have increased considerably.
Geopolitical competition is currently reshaping the global economy, and economic power and instruments are increasingly used for political purposes. Simultaneously, the fast-changing and increasingly complex contemporary geopolitical context has shifted increasing attention to economic security. It is developments like these that illustrate that economics, politics, and geopolitics have become more interwoven. Hence, it is not surprising that economic security has been receiving increased attention from both European and Dutch policymakers. In the field of economic security, the results of our horizon scan give cause for concern. Even though some positive developments can also be witnessed, there are increasing concerns, in particular when it comes to trade tensions and economic espionage. Table 5 provides an overview of the different threat-related trends and developments in the field of economic security.
Conflicts in countries surrounding the Suez Canal and the influence of Russia and China in the region potentially affect trade routes. For example, unrest in the Horn of Africa could threaten navigation in the southern entrance to the Red Sea, thereby possibly affecting access to Egypt’s Suez Canal. Moreover, Egypt has been making diplomatic overtures to Moscow and Beijing, as the US’ involvement has diminished. Egypt and China have already signed deals worth $18 billion as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In addition, Egypt recently signed deals with Russia to establish a Russian industrial zone around the Suez Canal. Chinese and Russian influence could potentially endanger access to this important trade corridor.
Another potential threat originates from pirate attacks and armed robberies in West Africa. After a period of decline, the number of pirate attacks and armed robberies has recently been on the rise. West Africa has overtaken the Horn of Africa as Africa’s piracy hotspot. According to the International Maritime Bureau’s annual report, pirate attacks and armed robberies rose worldwide between 2017 and 2018, with a surge of attacks off West Africa, despite declining numbers in other parts of the world. Petro-piracy in particular is a growing risk off West Africa and can affect oil supplies to the EU.
China has become increasingly active with foreign direct investment in the EU, enhancing its political influence. Greece, Portugal, and Malta have already signed deals with China, in sectors ranging from energy to transportation, in addition to a significant Chinese presence in insurance, health, and financial services. Italy – the first G7 member and the third-largest EU economy – has signed deals worth €2.5 billion. That figure could potentially rise to €20 billion, since the two countries have pledged closer economic cooperation, particularly in the fields of connectivity, (energy) infrastructure, and trade. In its wake, several EU member states signed an agreement within the BRI framework. Even though these investments are relatively small, and projects may fail, the political significance may be great. In other countries, similar investments have led to the emergence of debt traps or divergent voting in international organizations. In the future, the EU will have to deal with China on other issues as well, such as export controls and defense cooperation in the sphere of stability missions.
With the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline at an advanced stage, the debate surrounding the commercial and geopolitical implications is heating up, as the EU is becoming more aware of the risks. The debate highlights tensions within the EU and NATO. Germany’s role as an advocate of Nord Stream 2 has been heavily criticized, by Poland, for example. The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Germany to halt the project. Proof of heightened geopolitical tensions can also be found in US policy, with preparations to sanction EU firms (co-)financing Nord Stream 2. This could potentially also hurt Dutch firms. Another source of debate is the Baltic region. In January, Russia launched a liquid natural gas (LNG) power plant in order to make its Kaliningrad exclave self-reliant if NATO members unplug the power grid. The exclave is at risk of becoming the stage for a new gas ‘Cold War’.
An area particularly prone to geopolitical tensions is the Arctic region, where both China and Russia are expanding their presence. China has announced that it will start building its first airport in the Arctic. Russia has given the state corporation Rosatom a leading role in the development of the Northern Sea Route. The company recently opened a base in Murmansk to monitor and regulate ship traffic. Russia is also renewing and reactivating Cold War military infrastructure in the Arctic. China and Russia are increasingly seeking cooperation in the region. China is seeking to integrate its ‘Polar Silk Road’ – a predominantly Sino-Russian partnership – into the greater BRI. A major component is the development of joint ventures with Russia in resource extraction, including fossil fuels and raw materials. China will likely gain more from their collaboration, as Russia’s ventures are too reliant on stable oil prices.
The energy sector has also become increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats. In addition, AI-based malware will likely usher in a new era of threats to the energy industry, allowing hostile actors to wreak havoc on a scale hitherto unknown. AI-driven malware can be employed with unprecedented accuracy and is very hard to stop.
Although China has been conducting espionage for years, it is currently ramping up its espionage activities. In particular, the number of corporate cyberattacks outside China has recently soared and costs have risen accordingly. The Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has called China “the biggest threat when it comes to economic espionage.” China is particularly interested in Dutch companies that operate in the high-tech, energy, maritime, and life sciences and health sectors. A particularly concerning development is that China’s Ministry for State Security (MSS) is working more closely with Chinese enterprises and uses cover organizations such as universities, trade associations, and think tanks. China has become more aggressive and seems to care less if it gets caught or if people go to jail. It also uses non-cyber means of espionage, such as recruiting employees to steal information or stealing specific technological inventions (for example, genetically modified rice seeds). These developments show how active China has become in the field of espionage.
Overall, it can be said that our economic prosperity – essentially dependent on preventing trade tensions, keeping trade routes open, ensuring the supply of energy and raw materials, and countering economic espionage – is under threat, not least from China. Moreover, these threats to free trade, access to energy and raw materials, and our competitive advantage in the fields of knowledge and technology, are expected to intensify over the coming years.
Over the past few years, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons have returned to the forefront of the international political agenda. In particular, nuclear weapons and the discussions surrounding the related arms control regimes have been the center of attention. Not surprisingly, the results of our horizon scan are not very reassuring when it comes to the current trends and developments regarding CBRN weapons. Most of the threat-related trends in this field show a negative dynamic, which means that the threat is expected to become even more severe in the coming years (see Table 6).
A key trend in the CBRN domain is the fact that all nuclear-armed states are investing heavily in the modernization of their nuclear arsenals as well as in developing new missile technologies. Some of them are producing, and maybe even testing, low-yield nuclear weapons. The production of these weapons is controversial, as several experts argue that, with their lower (political) threshold for use, they raise the escalation potential. Moreover, experts speak of a growing arms race between the great powers over hypersonic missiles. These missiles raise the escalation potential, due to the limited response time available to political and military actors when they are deployed, and because of the difficulty of distinguishing between nuclear-armed and conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles.
A second trend is that developments in biotechnology raise the risk of (terrorist) attacks with biological agents. Techniques such as Clustered Regulatory Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) allow for unprecedented precision in gene editing. While such techniques can be used to cure diseases, they can also be used to create new diseases or to modify existing ones.
A third trend that warrants mentioning here is the dual-use nature of new pharmaceutical applications, which makes future verification of arms control agreements and export control regulations more difficult.
Non-state actors have increased access to knowledge and technologies essential to the production of biological and chemical weapons. Controlling the spread of emerging technologies, such as additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and AI, which can be used to manufacture biological weapons, is difficult due to their dual-use nature. A similar trend can be witnessed in the field of chemical science. The lack of knowledge on the part of policymakers and the limited coverage of current regulatory regimes make it difficult to address the risks.
Recent trends highlight the development of new weapon systems that make the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons more diffuse. These more advanced systems make it difficult for states to determine whether an incoming weapon has a nuclear or conventional charge. This results in an increasingly blurred line between nuclear and conventional weapons, which could potentially lead to a nuclear war, as misperceptions may occur more easily. This risk is even more worrisome considering the entanglement of nuclear and conventional command and control (C2) systems.
Overall, our analysis of the trends and developments related to both arsenals of and policies regarding CBRN weapons warrants the conclusion that this particular issue will likely stay at the forefront of the international political agenda for years to come.
Terrorism has been on the international political agenda for years now. And while the nature of terrorism itself may not have changed, terrorists have proven to be quite inventive when it comes to their choice of methods for attack and for recruitment. This leads to the question of whether the character of terrorism is changing, by utilizing or weaponizing technology. To explore the ways in which technology impacts the threat, we have undertaken a horizon scan looking at trends in terrorism and technology (Table 7). Based upon our horizon scan, the most important trends and developments imply that the corresponding threats related to terrorism and technology have intensified. It should be noted, however, that these trends are often interlinked and cannot be seen separately. In the section below, we therefore specifically focus on the nexus between the two.
Faced with an increase in censorship by mainstream social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, extremists are looking for alternatives. IS, for example, has been diversifying its output channels, in part by spreading content through lesser known portals. A fragmentation of jihadist propaganda has been witnessed, which may make it more difficult to reach the target audience, but also harder to control.
Cryptocurrencies could prove an attractive way to finance (terrorist) attacks. Terrorists have a particular incentive to crowdfund with Bitcoin over other cryptocurrencies that have fewer users and a more cumbersome exchange process. However, Bitcoin still does not have much purchasing power, nor does it provide the necessary anonymity, as it requires connecting to a bank account. So, for now, cash remains king in the world of terror financing. Nevertheless, if cryptocurrencies become more anonymous, they might provide a valid – and hard-to-track – alternative.
As the connectedness of infrastructural systems increases further, so does the risk of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure (e.g., transport networks, energy grids, hospitals, etc.). For now, terrorists have limited internal capabilities to conduct the technologically complicated cyberattacks necessary to impact critical infrastructure. However, the Dark Web provides them with the option to buy readily available tools to conduct low-level cyberattacks themselves. The Dark Web even provides the opportunity to ‘buy attacks’, which are then conducted by professional hackers. These hackers are not necessarily sympathetic to a terrorist cause, but just in it for the money. IS sympathizers have already demonstrated their willingness to buy cyberattack tools and services from the digital underworld, which could potentially severely affect our national security.
A key pattern can be identified when looking at, for example, the use of social media, encryption technology, and drones over time: when a consumer technology becomes widely available, terrorists will look for ways to adapt it for their own purposes. AI will almost certainly end up fitting into this pattern. Experts warn about a variety of high-level threats, including “swarms of killer drones,” “self-driving vehicles carrying car bombs and conducting ramming attacks,” or “AI-enabled assassinations.” But AI also provides terrorist organizations with a plethora of more likely, low-level (non-lethal) means, including AI capabilities for intelligence purposes (e.g., AI-enabled social network mapping), deep fakes as a PSYOPS tool, or AI-based extortion.
Putin has stated that he believes the ‘winner’ of the AI arms race “will be ruler of the world.” As the most powerful states in the world engage in an AI arms race, small rogue states and terrorist actors can potentially profit from this interstate competition. Experimenting with machine learning technology and AI will not be the preserve of nation-states. Terrorists will be able to access advanced AI technologies through the open market or the black market and exploit these for nefarious purposes, as they already have done with end-to-end encryption, social media, virtual currencies, and unmanned aerial systems (drones).
One of the most concerning developments in the area of terrorism and technology is the increasing attractiveness of the use of drones. Increasingly, off-the-shelf drones are able to carry heavier payloads, fly and loiter for longer periods of time, venture farther from their controller, and possess more secure communications links. This has not escaped the attention of terrorist groups. Although drones have been used to carry explosives in the past few years in combat zones, the West has been spared such attacks. This, however, may not last. IS propaganda posters have already depicted drone attacks on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and in New York City. Protective measures against drone attacks are currently very limited, certainly in public spaces. Moreover, if terrorists succeed in staging an attack by using drones, the psychological impact on our sense of security will likely be significant.
Lastly, with technologies developing at an ever increasing speed, keeping up our understanding of the many ways in which these technologies might signify a threat is challenging. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission identified various red flags that had been noticed before the attack but were disregarded because of a failure of imagination – a failure to imagine that someone could get on a plane, turn that plane into a weapon, and fly it into a building. In recent years, we have seen multiple failures in imagination as analysts tried to discern what terrorists would do with emerging technologies, including cyber and AI. As technology is developing exponentially, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify and prepare for different potential threats, let alone to control and regulate the use of various new technologies.
Overall, new technologies and the increasing availability of these technologies to terrorists are expected to provide them with potential new methods, both to stage their attacks and to recruit and inspire followers. In particular, drones are becoming more powerful and complex, which makes them increasingly attractive for legitimate use, but potentially also for hostile acts. It is expected that off-the-shelf drones will be able to carry ever heavier payloads, fly and loiter for longer, venture farther afield from their controllers, and be able to do so via more secure communications links. Continuous monitoring is therefore needed to keep up with the potential threats posed by these rapidly developing technologies.
The trends and developments in the six fields of military competition, cyber security, hybrid conflict, economic security, CBRN weapons, and the nexus between terrorism and technology show a predominantly negative picture. Moreover, with regard to these six topics, most of the indicators for the next five years point to an increased threat.
Military competition is increasing. The security perceptions of major military powers are worsening. The use of military threats is rife in the exchanges between rival states across the globe. Global net defense expenditures have grown only marginally over the last ten years, but the defense budgets of certain major powers have increased significantly – even doubling, in the case of China. Funds dedicated to military R&D and the modernization of armed forces by harnessing technologies such as AI and unmanned systems are increasing across the board. Conflicts have diversified. While traditional interstate conflict remains rare, we have seen a clear accretion in the number of internationalized intrastate conflicts since the beginning of this century.
Cyber security has also intensified in recent years. The number of cyber-enabled espionage and computer network attack incidents has increased. Disinformation campaigns have become mainstream. States are boosting their cyber-military as well as cybersecurity budgets. Our analysis of the intentions, capabilities, and activities suggests that cyber conflict is unlikely to level off in the near future, with considerable risks of escalation.
Similarly, hybrid conflict has become more salient. Although by definition impossible to fully demarcate, the use of hybrid tactics is proliferating, with more frequent deployment of proxy actors across different geographical theaters, regular aerial and maritime territorial intrusions, attempts to exert influence over foreign democratic processes, and growing resort to economic coercion which has important cross-overs to economic security.
In the field of economic security, it is our economic prosperity that is under threat, not least from China. Moreover, free trade flows, guaranteed access to energy and raw materials, and maintaining our competitive advantage in the fields of knowledge and technology in light of economic espionage are all expected to remain under pressure over the coming years.
With reference to CBRN weapons, states are expected to continue to invest in both the modernization of their nuclear arsenals and in hypersonic missiles. At the same time, the lines between CBRN and conventional weapons will probably become increasingly blurred. Non-state actors could more easily gain access to CBRN weapons technology. It is developments like these that warrant the conclusion that this particular issue will probably stay at the forefront of the international political agenda for years to come.
Finally, with regard to terrorism, drones are expected to become more powerful and smarter, making them increasingly attractive for the perpetration of hostile acts. Off-the-shelf drones will probably be able to carry ever heavier payloads, fly and loiter for longer, venture farther afield from their controllers, and be able to do so via more secure communications links. It is these developments, coupled with the risk of proliferation to non-state actors, that are most worrying.
Significant developments are taking place in the collection of regimes that together constitute the international order regulating state interactions in particular domains. This chapter highlights the most important developments across the most important regimes for the six threat themes from the Dutch Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022.
The increase in military competition coincides with an overall weakening of arms control regimes. In particular, the norms and rules pertaining to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology control of associated delivery vehicles face erosion. Several international treaties, like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970, aim to mitigate the destabilizing effect of arms races through the introduction of standards and verification mechanisms. These treaties are supplemented by other international initiatives that contain confidence-building measures to constrain military competition, such as the Open Skies Treaty (OST) of 1992, the Vienna Document in 1990, and the Wassenaar Arrangement from 1995. Our analysis of the health of the international legal framework governing military competition finds that this framework faces significant erosion, with negative trends evident both in the degree to which states break the rules upon which it rests and in the infallibility of the norms that underpin those rules (see Table 8).
The past decade has seen an erosion of nuclear arms control regimes and the norms that underpin them. This regulatory framework can be understood as splitting between measures relating to nuclear non-proliferation and controls on the development and deployment of delivery vehicles (arms control). At the macro level, all of the relevant treaties exhibit a consistent downward trend in compliance. The result is an erosion of both the regulatory framework (the rules) and the normative framework (the norms) that underpin it. This can be partially attributed to the outdated nature of several of the key bilateral treaties within this domain, but also to the fact that military competition is driving the development of new nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles.
Several trends point toward an erosion of the rules underpinning the norm that states ought not to use or develop nuclear weapons. Technically speaking, the NPT has not been breached. However, the activities undertaken by Iran and North Korea in continuing the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear delivery vehicles, despite the fact that North Korea is not a signatory of the NPT, mark negative developments for the non-proliferation regime. Although trends in compliance with the rules of the NPT are therefore neutral ‘on paper’, they are, in effect, under pressure. Of equal concern are the developments with respect to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The INF’s dissolution has apparently created a domino effect, which now threatens the New START extension. Its potential future abandonment by the US and Russia – the world’s foremost nuclear powers – constitutes a strong indicator of the erosion facing the rules-based order enforcing nuclear arms control.
Furthermore, many of the relevant multilateral agreements are thin and limited. Limited because they do not cover nuclear weapons of non-signatories or their means of delivery; and thin because they lack verifiable compliance mechanisms. Treaties such as the New START were originally designed for a bipolar world. Today, China is developing and strengthening its nuclear arsenal, while Pakistan and India are updating their nuclear capabilities as key components of their strategic defensive posture.
The norm that states ought not to develop nuclear weapons is also eroded by the development of new technologies, including air-launched and boosted-glide weapons, second-generation multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capable missiles, nuclear-powered intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and low-yield and variable-yield nuclear weapons. The development of these technologies is not explicitly prohibited under the existing agreements, but often results in the introduction of dynamics that undermine the spirit of existing security structures. Hypersonic missiles travelling at speeds surpassing Mach 5 are much more difficult to track and shoot down using conventional air defense systems. They thus undermine states’ second-strike capabilities, a key tenet of the existing nuclear power balance. This highlights the need for more comprehensive regulations, not just on the quantity of nuclear stockpiles, but also on the delivery vehicles that accompany them. All of this yields a negative appraisal of the overarching norm that states ought not to use or develop nuclear weapons. This assessment is supported by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, which has observed a negative trend since 2010, warning that “it’s still two minutes to midnight.”
The regime regulating the non-proliferation of conventional arms also faces erosion. Rules included in this analysis are Article 36 (Protocol 1, Geneva Convention), the Open Skies Treaty (OST), the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and the Vienna Document. An analysis of developments affecting the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, the UN Register on Conventional Arms (UNROCA), and the Guiding Principles formulated by the 2018 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Legal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) is also included. Trends within these treaties show a consistent decrease in compliance, with the result being an erosion of the regulatory framework. The trend is neutral on the normative side. This is largely the result of the fact that states, despite their reluctance to observe the compliance verification mechanisms, tend to remain within the relevant international treaties.
With regard to adherence to and compliance with conventional arms regimes, we observe mixed developments. Over the past ten years we have seen a rise in formal adherence, i.e., signatures and ratifications of rules governing this behavior, as well as – in some areas – the expansion of certain treaties and regimes. This is balanced by two negative developments. First and foremost, the strained US-Russia relationship has undermined the integrity of trend-setting agreements such as the OST and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Second, virtually all treaties containing compliance measures, as opposed to mere formal adherence provisions, have exhibited significant deterioration. Take for instance the Arms Trade Treaty: although an increasing number of states pledges to adhere to the underlying rationale of the treaty, the number of submissions of the mandatory reports has plunged.
Nevertheless, there is no indication of declining adherence to the norm according to which control of the development, transfer, and use of conventional arms is desirable. There are two reasons for this. First, the individual regimes and documents explored in this analysis show meaningful efforts at incorporating new technologies. Despite the fact that the world’s great powers are often accused of stalling and manipulating negotiations, several positive developments offer some grounds for optimism. These include the ratification of the new Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles of 2016, the mere fact that discussions regarding the legality of LAWS are ongoing, and the MTCR’s possible future inclusion of slow-flying UAVs. Second, the vocal condemnation of deteriorations relating to the trust-building and verifications mechanisms speaks to the presence of an international community that continues to value the basic principle of the norm. Increases in adherence to the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation also contribute to the norm’s neutral appraisal, as they indicate that – although the rules are being complied with less consistently – states still place value in the notion that the trade in conventional arms should be regulated at the international level.
The norm that states ought not to engage in threatening behavior is codified in international law, namely Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which states that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The rules underpinning this norm have faced no significant decrease in compliance over the past ten years, but the norm itself has been eroded. The assessment of a stable rule is based on the fact that, while states frequently violate this norm by threatening one another, the volume and intensity of this threatening behavior have not increased significantly at the global/system level over the past decade. The norm is conceptualized as facing erosion largely because the advent of hybrid tactics has allowed states to actively pursue objectives which run contrary to it without infringing on it in the formal sense.
Our analysis has focused on the threat of force rather than on the actual use of force, and it relies on expert judgment, supplemented by ICEWS-derived data on the use of threats in interstate relations. The quantitative analysis does not indicate that the rate of non-compliance has increased significantly over time, but does highlight a number of peaks in threatening verbal behavior. These include the tit-for-tat exchange of threats between the US and North Korea, Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Erdogan in which he threatened to “destroy the Turkish economy” in October 2019, Vladimir Putin’s nuclear sabre rattling, back-and-forth coercive messages and armed activities between Washington and Tehran, and recurring military threats between Riyadh and Tehran.
Notwithstanding the lack of significant change within the rule, the norm associated with Article 2(4) is facing erosion because several important military powers have deployed military threats in a number of dangerous situations in recent years, thereby effectively changing the standards of the international discourse. This is further aggravated by the increased prevalence of gray zone operations. The latter negatively impact the norm, because they fall below the legal threshold of war. Hybrid tactics such as cyber measures or informational operations exploit the lack of definition of “use of force” in Article 2(4), which is often associated with a particular “threshold of violence.” The proliferation and normalization of hybrid tactics in state toolkits negatively impacts the norm, because these measures constitute a conscious effort to achieve objectives which are incompatible with the spirit of Article 2(4). State engagement in hybrid warfare and gray zone operations can thus generally be viewed as being indicative of a lack of subscription to the norm itself. Hence, the increasing presence of hybrid measures of coercion throughout the last ten years presents a negative trend in compliance with the norm discussed here.
Over the past decade, the rules pertaining to respect of territorial sovereignty have faced increasing erosion, whereas the norm has remained stable. That conclusion is based on a quantitative assessment of the number of state-on-state uses of violence, an examination of the legal opinions of relevant institutions, and the collection of a list of the actions and justifications employed by states whose activities may be seen as infringing on the intent of Article 2(4).
Our analysis of state-on-state violence-related events – instances in which one state has employed conventional force (aerial weapons, blockades, CBRN weapons, etc.) against another state – shows a quantitative increase. In combination with the tripling of the number of internationalized intrastate conflicts over the past decade, this corroborates the notion that the rule pertaining to the actions-based portion of Article 2(4) is facing significant erosion. This finding is not mirrored in trends pertaining to international institutions’ judgments, largely because of the nature of these institutions or their internal (political) deadlocks. An analysis of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) and United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) declarations shows no uptick in the occurrence of judgements and condemnations of unlawful state-on-state violence. The ICJ was predominantly solicited to resolve disputes related to border delineation, often regarding maritime access, while the UNSC, despite acknowledging certain “threats to peace,” has not once noted an outright breach of UN Charter Article 39 – and, by extension, Article 2(4) – with respect to territorial integrity.
An examination of states’ justification of noteworthy instances of interventionism indicates continued relevance of the norm. States continue to feel the need to justify their behavior, e.g., by citing legal precedents or by securing invitations from the host government. This is visible in, among others, Turkey’s invocation of the right to self-defense under the UN Charter as justification for its intervention in Syria (2019); the US-led coalition’s reference to resolution 2249 and its inclusion of an authorization to eradicate terrorism in Syria (2015); Saudi Arabia’s going to great lengths to demonstrate the legality of its intervention in Yemen by invitation in what amounts in its view to an international attack (Iran’s support of rebels, 2015); and Russia’s invocation of the right to self-determination and humanitarian intervention in both Ukraine (2014) and Georgia (2008), recalling the precedent set by NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. Similarly, Article 51 on the right to self-defense was invoked over the reporting period by a great number of entities appearing in Annex II, including Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Thailand, Sudan, South Sudan, Ukraine, India, and Pakistan. Conversely, no express contestation on the non-validity of the overarching norm can be observed among states. Albeit often depicted as deteriorating, our analysis therefore concludes that the norm of territorial sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations remains functional.
Overall, the conclusion seems warranted that the international regulatory framework of military competition is facing considerable setbacks, with an assortment of negative developments in the nature of compliance with the rules encapsulated in the regimes that make up this order, as well as in the infallibility of the norms that underpin those rules.
International attempts to regulate activities in cyberspace have seen varying degrees of success. In 1998, Russia was the first country to introduce a resolution on information and telecommunications technology in the context of international security to the United Nations General Assembly. Since 1998 the UN Secretary-General has submitted regular reports to the General Assembly on the views of member states on the issue. While it has become a settled principle that international law applies in cyberspace, it is sometimes unclear when and, more specifically, how existing international law is to be interpreted and applied.
Establishing finely delineated legal responsibilities for the various regimes in cyberspace is often not possible. Indeed, legal agreements have proven to be difficult and time-consuming given definitional and ideological differences. Efforts within the UN have therefore focused on the development of norms: voluntary, legally non-binding commitments that reflect a common standard of acceptable and prescribed behavior. These norms accompany and expand on existing legal understandings rather than attempting to craft new law, and are complemented by confidence-building measures: technical or practical measures that aim to enhance transparency, communication, and trust between actors. States’ divergent views have led to a widening of schisms in multilateral fora on how international rules should be interpreted in the context of cyberspace, at the same time as a number of core initiatives in the field of norm development have been taking root over the last couple of years.
The ability of governments to successfully manage the threat of major cyber conflict is hampered by the rapid development of digital technologies and the difficulties in attribution, but also by the dominant role of non-state actors, both as custodians and as disruptors. In cyberspace, governments represent only one of three stakeholder groups. There is also the private sector, which owns and runs most of its digital and physical assets, and civil society, which is largely responsible for coding and running the global Internet functions. The failure to make meaningful progress at the multilateral level has led non-state stakeholders to become more involved in developing rules of the road. Technological issues involved in regulating cyberspace are complex and the rapid pace of change calls for a more collaborative approach than ever before. Private institutions have therefore become engaged in developing policies that affect the markets and industries over which they preside, sometimes at their own initiative and sometimes in partnership with governments or civil society organizations. Similarly, academia and the technical community have contributed by substantiating policy with more concrete or practical guidelines and solutions.
In the context of this complex, multi-stakeholder environment, our analysis of the development of (rather than compliance with) norms and rules on the protection of critical Internet infrastructure reveals a number of positive trends pertaining to the development and adoption of norms and rules, especially with regard to the protection of the public core of the Internet, the protection of critical infrastructure, and the protection of electoral infrastructure (see Table 9).
The relative success that norms can have in creating common ground among stakeholders is illustrated by the protection of the public core of the Internet. Responses to threats against the core Internet protocols and functions require the cooperation of states, the private sector, and civil society groups, as the Internet is privately owned and the infrastructure underpinning it governed and maintained by a community made up of individuals and civil society groups. While the idea of protecting the core Internet functions has a longer history, the notion only recently became the subject of various norm proposals, most notably by the General Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) and the Internet Society’s Mutually Agreed Norms for Routing Security. The GCSC’s proposal has since been accepted and adopted by several institutions, as manifested in its inclusion in the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace and its adoption into law through the EU Cybersecurity Act. The development of both a norm and rules for this particular issue is therefore positive.
Another positive development is the degree to which state and non-state actors are taking measures to protect their critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure can be defined as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” Recent events concerning national power grids as well as the extent to which automated systems are integrated with each other have led to fears that these systems may be susceptible to offensive cyber operations. Various efforts at the multilateral, regional, and national levels have aimed to address the issue of critical infrastructure protection – amongst them the GGE Report of 2015, which repeatedly emphasized the need to protect critical infrastructure and their associated information systems from ICT threats. The United States Executive Order 13800 was aimed at improving the nation’s cyber posture and capabilities in the face of intensifying cybersecurity threats, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a report on improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity. The EU is undertaking its own efforts in this area, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has identified critical infrastructure protection as an important issue in its confidence-building measures as well as in other decisions. Here too, the norm and rules development shows a positive trend.
Civil society groups have extended the debate by focusing on elements of critical infrastructure that require specific attention, such as the technical infrastructure that supports elections and plebiscites. Nothing reflects genuine political sovereignty more than national participatory processes, such as elections. While the UN Charter sought to grant strong protections against undue external interference, those protective measures are challenged in the digital age. Voting system instruments and software may be vulnerable to attacks, while voter registration data is collected on a vast scale and published online. Elections and participatory processes should be carried out in accordance with national laws, but cyber operations originating from outside a state’s jurisdiction may necessitate a coordinated response. Norms such as these build upon and reaffirm international legal protections already afforded against external interference in the internal affairs of states, while calling for a commitment from governments as a modest first step toward effective multilateral cooperation. The success of the relevant norm put forward by the GCSC as well as a number of regional initiatives and national laws are evidence of general positive trends in the development of norms and rules in cyberspace.
The only norm that clearly shows a negative development is the case of ‘hack-backs’ or offensive cyber operations conducted by non-state actors. These non-state actors often justify their actions in the name of “self-defense,” claiming that governments do not have the means to adequately protect them against cyber threats. Because of the significant disruptive and damaging effects hack-backs might have, also for third parties, it may trigger complex international legal disputes and escalations. Yet, hack-backs are becoming more prevalent in practice, while widespread adoption of norms and rules prohibiting private-sector hack-backs is lacking. In some states, legislative initiatives to legalize hack-backs are circulated. Only recently have several proposals sought to curtail hack-backs – most notably the GCSC norm against offensive cyber operations by non-state actors, and the Paris Call on Trust and Security in Cyberspace.
Overall, the development of regimes encompassing norms and rules in cyberspace is early work in progress. The functioning of these regimes requires multi-stakeholder engagement and compliance. While our analysis showcases the development of various important norms in this field, which are adopted by a growing number of states, diverging views especially between the East (Russia, China) and the West (Europe, the US) pose a significant challenge to the further development of the regimes in this sphere. In order to move on from norm development to first adoption and then compliance, stakeholders need to stand behind the norms both in words and in actions. Only once viable pathways for carrying those norms forward are identified will it become possible to assess norm adherence.
Hybrid conflict poses a significant challenge to the international order because ‘hybrid’ actors deliberately seek to circumvent the constraints imposed on them by existing international law. This section examines four norms and their sometimes explicitly formulated rules regulating hybrid conflict activities, concerning the use of proxy actors and states’ responsibility for these proxy actors, political interference, economic coercion, and disinformation campaigns. Unsurprisingly, given the nature and salience of hybrid conflict strategies in today’s strategic environment, our analysis paints a disconcerting picture. Unlike the cyberspace section, which looked at norm development, this section considers actual compliance.
States have been increasingly relying on proxy actors to do their bidding, within but also outside of armed conflicts around the world. States are accountable for their non-state actor partners according to customary international law, amongst others. Article 8 of the International Law Commission’s (ILC) Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001) states that “[t]he conduct of a person or group of persons shall be considered an act of a State under international law if the person or group of persons is in fact acting on the instructions of, or under the direction or control of, that State in carrying out the conduct.” It follows from this that states should be held responsible for the actions of their proxy actors, for instance when they violate international humanitarian law. This responsibility applies to actions both in the physical world and in cyberspace. The high threshold for determining what constitutes ‘control’, however, means that state responsibility is seldom established in practice. States are therefore seldom held to account. At the same time, actions conducted by proxy actors may trigger military and diplomatic repercussions outside the realm of international legal responsibility. With the greater prevalence of hybrid strategies and resulting heightened ambiguity, our assessment is that the norm of state accountability faces erosion.
While there is no explicitly codified norm in international law on non-interference in other states’ election processes, core principles of international law appear to prohibit such interference. Reference can be made to the principle of non-intervention and the notion of national sovereignty, as enshrined in the UN Charter, under Articles 2(4) and 2(7). These involve not only sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also the conduct of foreign affairs and the choice of internal governance system. It can therefore be argued that these principles also encompass the protection of critical electoral infrastructure. States should refrain from interfering in another state’s internal affairs. That includes campaigns to influence elections and the targeting of critical electoral infrastructure. Our assessment, however, is that external electoral interference has become more common in recent years. There have been instances of electoral interference in the US, in Western Europe, and in other regions around the world. While new international norms are being developed (see Table 10), the normative and regulative framework is facing erosion.
The use of propaganda and disinformation is regulated through various instruments, but most of these relate to conduct in war or to civil rights in domestic contexts. However, the principle of non-intervention, as discussed in the previous section, is at odds with such behavior. More recently, the Tallinn Manual specifically forbids the cyber-enabled manipulation of public opinion in elections, the alteration of online news services for the benefit of a particular political party, the spreading of false news, and the sabotage of a political party’s online services. While the overall norm of non-interference still exists, the greater prevalence and impact of disinformation campaigns shows that the norm is under pressure.
The norm of open, non-discriminatory trade is under threat, as will be discussed in greater depth in the section on free trade below. States are increasingly resorting to coercive economic measures to achieve their strategic objectives through targeted influence, and the exploitation of vulnerabilities and interdependencies. This is taking place despite the existence of a well-developed international trade regime that prohibits the use of discriminatory trade practices under normal circumstances in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its precursor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The violation of the principle of non-discrimination thus signifies a departure from the rules-based international liberal trading order. This is not to say that this trade regime is defunct, because for the most part states continue to adhere to the principle. Nevertheless, it does show that the norm of open, non-discriminatory trade has been negatively affected by the employment of economically coercive measures by states.
Overall, while recognizing that hybrid activities are designed to evade international law and avoid repercussions, our analysis corroborates the conclusion that the norms and rules that are part of the international regulatory framework relevant to hybrid conflict activities are under increasing pressure.
In the absence of global leadership, with the US apparently (and increasingly) losing in terms of relative power, the global norms and standards related to economic security are currently under pressure. This section discusses the most relevant developments that are affecting the international economic order and its functioning, in particular with reference to the free trade regime.
In addition to the potential economic effects of China’s BRI in European countries, such as potential debt traps, the BRI is also causing political discord within the EU. Thus, the BRI has been described as a deliberate tactic by Beijing to undermine EU unity. Even though major European countries are increasingly vocal in reaction to China’s unfair trade policies, investments, and unfulfilled reform promises, deals with the Chinese are still being signed (see chapter 2.4.2). The issue is dividing the EU. EU member states such as Germany and France have pushed for tougher screening criteria for Chinese investments, while other countries such as Greece and Portugal have adopted a more lenient approach. There is growing concern about foreign investors, notably state-owned enterprises, that take over European companies for strategic reasons. In light of this, the EU has adopted a new framework for screening FDI into the EU, which came into force in April 2019. It provides a means of detecting and addressing security risks that may be posed by foreign takeovers of critical assets, technologies, and infrastructures. France and Germany are leading the push for a common strategy to deal with competition from Chinese state-led firms. In March 2019, the European Commission presented a new strategic ten-point action plan, marking a new approach in which the EU is openly moving to protect itself better in its trade relations with China.
Another development is that China has become a standard-bearer in the field of technology. The resulting risk is that some fields, such as IT, may splinter into US and Chinese spheres of influence. The strategic rivalry between China and the US is rapidly evolving into an arms race for technological dominance. China is highly proactive in influencing global tech standards (from AI to hydropower) and exporting its own standards along the ‘Digital Silk Road’. European economies may find themselves increasingly dependent not just on US but also on Chinese digital technologies. This might also affect military operators, as they are increasingly dependent on technologies from the commercial sector (dual-use technologies). Also, Chinese companies are intensifying their influence in international standard-setting bodies. State-sponsored efforts to shape international standards have been ongoing since the country entered the WTO. A report by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) showed that China and the US are leading the global competition to dominate AI. Political trends in both countries imply that a growing divergence in IT systems and standards is likely.
Probably the most evident example of increasing tensions in the international economic system is the chronic crisis surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US, under President Trump, is blocking the appointment of new members of the WTO Appellate Body, the organization’s dispute settlement mechanism, thereby risking an existential crisis. On December 10, 2019, the Appellate Body became a lame duck, with only one active judge out of the required three. This effectively paralyzes WTO enforcement at a time of heightened global trade tensions. Some argue that without effective dispute resolution there is a risk that the WTO system will collapse. Meanwhile, states are turning toward plurilateralism. A telling example is the recent announcement by 76 member countries that they will start independent negotiations on e-commerce, because in their opinion the WTO lacks vigor. All this highlights the increasing pressure on the norms and rules within the framework of the WTO, and thus the need for reforms within the organization.
Overall, it can be concluded that China is taking a prominent place with regard to several developments in the international order, including the evolving trade war between the US and China, standards-setting within the field of technology, and the expansion of the BRI in European countries. Hence, economic security and prosperity will increasingly be dependent on Chinese economic policies, and more broadly on China’s stance toward and its activities in the international order.
The increasing pressure on the international order can also be observed in the field of CBRN weapons. In particular, this concerns pressure on the existing CBRN arms control treaties. Hence, the first important development identified in our horizon scan refers to the demise of existing CBRN arms control treaties.
Several experts are worried about the nuclear programs of Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the case of Saudi Arabia, experts are concerned that the civilian nuclear program might be a stepping stone toward the actual development of nuclear weapons. Experts assume that Saudi Arabia would want to develop these weapons in order to match the capacities of Iran. Concerns about Iran’s nuclear program pertain to the disintegration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has so far refrained from taking serious steps toward the direct development of nuclear weapons, but, since the withdrawal of the US, the country has diverged from the limits set under the JCPOA. If the problems around the JCPOA are not resolved, it is not impossible that Iran might take more serious action. Hence it can be said that states are decreasingly focused on working toward a world without CBRN weapons.
A second worrisome development is the fact that the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons is lowering. This can be seen in the changing political rhetoric on nuclear weapons, including implicit threats of using nuclear weapons and the perception that the use of nuclear weapons is an actual option available to states. Russia has warned of a crisis like the Cuba crisis of 1962 in response to possible NATO actions after the demise of the INF treaty. Likewise, the fact that the US Nuclear Posture Review 2018 allows for the use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear threats signals the idea that nuclear weapons can legitimately be used, even if a state is not attacked first with nuclear weapons. This severely violates the established and widely accepted international norms and rules that CBRN weapons should never be used. In addition, when states regard the use of nuclear weapons as legitimate, they indirectly violate the NPT, as they are not working toward a world without CBRN weapons.
The proliferation of CBRN technology is not limited to states. Developments in science and technology and the diffusion of knowledge make the access, use, and proliferation of CBRN technologies easier for non-state actors. This applies particularly to advances in the biological and chemical fields. Hence, efforts to prevent access of non-state actors to CBRN materials should intensify.
For several years, the United States and Russia have been accusing each other of violating the INF treaty. The accusations eventually culminated in the withdrawal of both parties from the treaty, leaving Europe exposed to potential renewed deployment of intermediate range ballistic and cruise missiles on Russian soil. As described in the section on military competition, the demise of the INF treaty seems to be a symptom of a wider trend, in which political actors are questioning and criticizing current arms control agreements. For example, in anticipation of the expiration of New START in 2021, important actors in the US government and military have expressed doubts about the chances that New START will be continued and are questioning whether the treaty even should be. They cite Russian violations of the INF treaty and the fact that various arms control treaties do not include states like China.
In addition, the withdrawal of the US from the ‘Iran Deal’, or JCPOA, has put the entire deal under extreme pressure. The US’ approach to Iran seems more focused on regime change than on restricting Iran’s nuclear program, leading to increased tensions in the region and increased risk of the deal falling apart completely.
Other cornerstones of the CBRN arms control architecture are under pressure as well. Many states are disappointed in the NPT because they consider that the disarmament efforts of the treaty have not been fulfilled. Furthermore, the cases of chemical weapons being used in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and Syria in the past few years are serious violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Experiments with lethal viruses appear to violate the Biological Convention and, last but not least, there are accusations (without convincing evidence so far) that Russia has been testing low-yield nuclear weapons in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). These examples demonstrate that the international arms control regime is under severe pressure, leading to potential questioning of its effectiveness. Trust issues regarding the multilateral system for CBRN weapons are therefore emerging.
Lastly, a persistent problem is the lack of an effective sanctions regime that condemns the use of CBRN weapons. In particular, the perceived impunity of the use of chemical weapons bears the risk of undermining the global norm against chemical weapons set by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The chemical weapons used in Syria, Malaysia, and the UK show that actors, both state and non-state, are not refraining from using this type of weapon. This is closely related to the fact that, so far, the perpetrators have faced few serious consequences. This perceived impunity may encourage other actors to use chemical weapons as well.
Overall, it can be concluded that the international non-proliferation framework is now under severe pressure, fueling serious concerns about the future of arms control itself. For the Dutch, being traditional stalwarts of the international legal order, this will be of immediate impact, not only from an international judicial perspective, but – and increasingly so – also from a national security perspective.
New and emerging technologies offer new opportunities, not only for terrorists but also for those fighting them. Thus, in contrast to the fields discussed above, our assessment regarding the international order in the field of counterterrorism is more favorable. Overall, most of the trends identified show a decreasing movement, whereby, for instance, both state and non-state actors are drafting new norms and rules, but also complying with the existing rules and norms. Underscoring this development is the December 2019 reduction of the threat level in the Netherlands, from level 4 to 3 (on a 1-5 scale).
The ongoing development in AI poses new security challenges, but also opens up an array of possibilities, for example in the field of counterterrorism. With the support of private companies, states are increasingly deploying – or looking into deploying – AI-based predictive software combined with Big Data analytics, aimed at surveillance, tracking, processing, identification, and ultimately disruption of potential terrorist behavior. Existing AI-based analytical applications are constantly being improved and refined. AI is also central to the newest moderation software deployed by tech companies aiming to rid their social media platforms of extremist content.
These new technologies have significantly enhanced states’ ability to counter terrorism and are expected to play an even more central role in our counterterrorism efforts. However, the use of new technologies such as facial recognition is putting pressure on human rights, both intentionally and unintentionally. The use of AI solutions may threaten freedom of expression, impact citizens’ right to privacy, drive inequality and discrimination, and provide repressive regimes with powerful tools to control their populations. These dilemmas are fueling intense policy debates on legislation, binding norms, and the governance of AI.
With respect to the role of private (tech) companies in this field, despite positive developments that can already be observed, there is room for improvement. Big tech companies are willing to make an effort but are reluctant to accept legal accountability for the removal of extremist content. In fact, big tech companies are extensively supporting lobbying efforts in attempts to influence or block potential regulation that would attribute responsibility for illegal content to them, in spite of public statements that they are open to government oversight.
A positive development in the field of terrorism and technology is the increasing level of cross-platform and cross-industry collaboration. The Christchurch attack of March 2019 has prompted tech companies, backed by governments, to launch the Christchurch Call to Action. This initiative focuses on cooperation and the sharing of best practices among tech industry rivals, across platforms and among nations to improve digital fingerprinting technologies, develop better oversight of post-attack live streaming, more effective moderating tools, and algorithms to promote redirection to counter narratives. With increasingly institutionalized initiatives such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, big tech companies are becoming ever more independent players in the fight against terrorism and online radicalization, while at the same time actively searching collaboration opportunities with governments and academia.
In a similar vein, realizing the cross-border nature of terrorist threats, international organizations like the EU and the UN are increasingly aware of the importance of easy access to crucial information on terrorist activity, movements, convictions, prosecutions, and investigations. For that purpose, these organizations are launching new and optimizing existing technical tools. Databases such as the Counter Terrorism Register and software such as Go Travel enable law enforcement agencies to easily access and share intelligence. The efficacy of sharing data across jurisdictions is still limited by privacy laws, and concerns remain about abuse of these data sharing and collaboration efforts by illiberal regimes.
The trends and developments in the international order present a negative picture with regard to the four themes of military competition, hybrid conflict, economic security, and CBRN weapons. For all four themes, the degree of cooperation in the international order is shifting toward increased contestation of the norms and rules of existing regimes. Trends and developments related to norm development in cyberspace and norm compliance on the terrorism-technology nexus are decidedly more positive. Here, we see the development of new norms in cyberspace and cooperation in international counterterrorism efforts. Our analysis warrants the following sub-conclusions.
First, our analysis finds that both norms and rules regulating various forms of military competition are facing significant erosion. The international regulatory framework has been facing considerable problems with a lack or reversal of progress in areas pertaining to nuclear and conventional arms control, and reduced state adherence to the norms and the rules upon which it rests.
International regulatory attempts to constrain states’ cyberspace activities have had some success, even though considerable divergence is emerging in multilateral fora on how international rules should be interpreted. While the ability of states to regulate this domain is hindered by rapid technological developments, an unwillingness to regulate e-tech companies for fear of hindering innovation, difficulties in attribution, and the important role of non-state actors, a number of core initiatives in the field of norm development have been taking root over the last couple of years. Within this multi-stakeholder setting, our analysis of the development of norms, rather than compliance with norms, paints a more positive picture than for the other domains.
In the hybrid domain, where compliance with norms was assessed, that picture is much more negative. Acknowledging that hybrid conflict activities are typically aimed at circumventing existing international law, our analysis supports the conclusion that states increasingly infringe upon existing international regulatory regimes relevant to hybrid conflict activities.
In the economic sphere, states’ policies are undermining the norms of a system dedicated to open, fair, and undistorted competition while they fail to live up to salient rules and regulations. Examples include the increasing number of protectionist policies adopted by states and the consistent weakening of the WTO as the salient organization to settle trade disputes.
With reference to CBRN weapons, states increasingly appear to ignore long-established and agreed-upon norms and rules that CBRN weapons should never be used, and moreover fail to work collectively toward a world without CBRN weapons.
Finally, the field of counterterrorism features a variety of promising trends involving greater cooperation between states and non-state, private actors in regulating the access to and use of new and emerging technologies.
To capture dynamics in a world that is in a state of flux, this chapter looks at trends and developments at multiple levels across different domains. Previous iterations of the Strategic Monitor introduced the term ‘geodynamics’ to capture a broader spectrum of trends and developments at multiple levels. The ‘geo-’ in geodynamics stands for the Greek word γῆ (gê), or Earth. Geodynamics takes a multi-perspective approach and analyzes dynamics at the level of the international system, of the state, and of individuals; and across the socio-economic, identity, connectedness, judicial, political, and security domains (see Figure 1).
For each domain and each level, the central question is assessed on the basis of two indicators: whenever possible, one of these indicators is objective in nature and examines the actual state (of equality, freedom, security), while the other is subjective in nature and examines how this state is experienced or perceived by individuals. This makes for a total of 36 indicators for which data has been collected, collated, and combined from academic, NGO, and public institution data sources. Where possible, the period of measurement stretches from the beginning of this century to the most recent data point available. Progress is measured over the whole period and for the last two years for which there was data available.
A note of caution is in order for the interpretation of the results. The six central questions posed in this chapter are open not only to interpretation but potentially also to ideology: notions such as ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ are not without ideological baggage. They are also aggregated, combining a range of sub-themes and underlying indicators. As a result, indicators to measure important geodynamic developments with global coverage are not as commonly established and data are not as frequently collected and updated as in more established and focused disciplines. Therefore, in putting together this overview, we faced difficult choices in the selection of indicators to shed light on broader developments, and we are aware that other indicators with as much or potentially even more relevance or explaining power were left out. Also, especially for some of the subjective indicators, information is relatively outdated. If this was the case, we have sought to update, corroborate, and triangulate the observed trends based on complementary literature. The geodynamics approach and the measurements of associated indicators will continue to be developed as part of building up the strategic anticipation function in the context of the strategic monitor.
Developments in the socio-economic domain comprise a fair amount of positive but also some negative developments. Overall, human development remains decidedly positive. More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. The Global Human Development Index has increased by about 27% since the 1990s. This has been accompanied by an increase in perceived financial satisfaction over the longer term, with some fluctuation in recent years. In the World Values Survey, people responded predominately positively to the question of whether they were satisfied with the financial situation of their household, although this trend has stagnated over the last two years. More people believe that working hard enables them to advance. At the global level, policy debates about the retrenching role of the state notwithstanding, governments have been investing a growing share of their annual budgets in social protection and human development. Following a slump after the 2008 Financial Crisis, there has been a marked increase in the degree to which governments invest in healthcare and education, both of which are known drivers of human welfare. From 2000 to 2016, global spending on healthcare increased by an average 6% in low- and middle-income countries and 4% in high-income countries.
However, inequalities in income and wealth, which have been and continue to be hotly debated, have both increased according to various measurements, most importantly in measurements that look at the degree of wealth held by the ‘one percent’. The global average of national Gini (income inequality) coefficients saw a slight decrease in the last two decades based on traditional Gini assessments used by the World Bank and the IMF. However, various other measurements suggest that inequality has been increasing. According to data from Oxfam and the World Inequality Lab, measurements relating to both income and wealth inequality within states indicate a rise in inequality. In the share of income held by the wealthiest 10%, except for Russia, no region has recorded a very steep increase over the past decades. Small increases in income inequality nevertheless appear everywhere except in the Middle East and Brazil. Europe continues to be a relative beacon of equality. 
Interestingly, inequality between states as measured in GDP per capita has decreased, indicating a smaller gap between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ states. At the same time, as borne out by the Gini coefficient, global inequality still stands at 0.64 out of 1 (with 1 being complete inequality: all resources are held by one actor), indicating that high levels of inequality at the system level persist. For comparison, the most non-egalitarian countries in the world, South Africa and Namibia, have lower Gini scores (0.63 and 0.59 respectively) than the international level.
At the system level, global wealth is also lopsidedly distributed to a greater degree than before. In 2009, 380 billionaires held as much wealth as the poorest 50% of society that year – and by 2017 as few as 48 billionaires held this much. The world’s wealthiest individuals, i.e., those holding over $100,000 in assets, make up less than 10% of the world’s population but possess 84% of global wealth. Individuals worth more than $30 million, a group which represents a mere 0.003% of the world population, command a staggering 11.3% of global wealth. This points to another trend which is not visible in traditional Gini income measures: the income share of the middle four deciles, particularly in the developed world, has fallen by two percentage points on average. This hollowing out of the middle class has important ramifications for developments in the identity, political, and judicial domains, fueling disenfranchisement and in-group, out-group dynamics.
The overall answer to the central question of whether the world has become more prosperous and equitable is therefore paradoxical. Yes, the world has become more prosperous as a whole, and the world’s poor have also seen significant improvements. But inequality within states has worsened due to a variety of measures, and while inequality between states has decreased, overall levels leave ample room for improvement.
Levels of connectedness between states, societies, and individuals are increasing according to various measurements. But these increases do not necessarily translate into increasing levels of interpersonal trust. The ICT revolution of the past twenty-five years is a principal driver behind increased connectedness. The share of the world population using the Internet continues to increase, with currently over half of the world population connected to the Internet. The spread of the Internet marks a milestone in the history of social technologies. It has contributed not only to an exponential increase in the cross-border exchange of information, but also to the flow of goods and services as well as people. As such, it is a key enabler of a connected world, harnessing both promises and pitfalls.
Individuals have access to more – and more varied – sources of information, with the amount of information sources accessed on average nearly doubling between 2005 and 2014 according to the World Values Survey. Informational connectedness is accelerating the spread of news and facilitating new forms of knowledge production and collaboration. At the same time, ICT also plays a part in dislodging individuals from their physical environment, substituting social embeddedness for virtual interactions in an online environment. These technologies thus reinforce the ‘bowling alone’ effect through their distorting effect on civic engagement and subsequently on the social fabrics that shape society. In addition, several trends point toward the development of information consumption in largely separated media ecosystems, facilitating the development of online ‘echo chambers’, which can contribute to ‘social bubbles’ structured around narrow preferences in norms and values, driving societal isolation and polarization. The news on this count is therefore mixed.
At the international and the system level, connectedness has increased since the beginning of this century. The KOF Globalization Index from the Swiss Economic Institute, which measures globalization along a wide range of economic, social, and political dimensions, records growth in globalization of just under 20% between 2000 and 2017. Alongside that development, states are investing more in their diplomatic reach worldwide, and diplomatic representation worldwide has increased. At the system level, the scope and size of interstate relations in the economic, political, security domain have also increased considerably according to the Formal Bilateral Influence Capacity Index (FBICI) of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. State interactions, meanwhile, are paradoxically declining in relative terms, although we admit that the measurement is far from perfect.  Our analysis based on GDELT data and corroborated by ICEWS data shows a decline in the number of international diplomatic events relative to the total number of international events of roughly 9%.
Overall, these observations reflect an increase in diplomatic representations as well as in the degree of connectedness of the world at large. At the same time, stagnating or decreasing growth is present in the level of international exchanges, the pace of globalization, world diplomatic interactions, and individuals’ trust in their peers. Yes, the world has become more connected, although growth has been slowing, and it has not necessarily brought the world closer together.
Trends within the identity domain are largely negative, with some exceptions. Trends in this domain reveal an increase in identity-driven politics in Western Europe, North America, and Latin America. Populist parties have received a larger share of the vote in national elections, while political leaders more frequently deploy populist rhetoric. The magnitude of populist discourse is captured in the Global Populism Database and ranges from 0 (not populist) to 2 (very populist). Since 2000, the average score for Western European populist discourse climbed most markedly from 0.18 to 0.45. Although soon to be overtaken by Western Europe, the world’s most populist region up until now was Latin America, with countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia ranking among the most populist governments in the world. Similarly, the average European populist vote has increased from 13.5% in 2000 to 24% in 2019. It reflects a broader trend in which in-group/out-group dynamics have become more prevalent in politics. This tendency is not limited to the Western world but is also prevalent in other parts of the world including South Asia (e.g., India) and South East Asia (e.g., the Philippines and Myanmar).
At the state level, states have implemented a greater number of religious restrictions. Social hostilities involving religion have increased too. Our measurement relies on data from PEW Research Center, which only runs from 2007 to 2016 and reveals a negative trend for that period. The latest data indicates increases since then, showing that 52 governments impose “high “or “very high” levels of religious restrictions on their populations – a rise from forty countries in 2007. Alongside that trend, social hostilities involving religion reveal a more nuanced picture but are negative on balance. Substantial increases are reported in hostilities related to religious norms, with less marked increases in harassment by individuals and social groups and religious violence by organized groups. While high in the Middle East over the entire period between 2007 and 2017, social hostilities related to religious norms have increased most sharply in North and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe. Europe saw the steepest increase in religious social hostilities, mainly because key EU countries, such as Germany, France, or Italy, rank among the top increasers in terms of violence related to religious norms in 2017. 
At the individual level, both the level of inclusiveness and trust in out-groups have declined since the turn of the century. The Inclusiveness Index measures acceptance of out-groups and levels of discrimination in both official/institutional and unofficial contexts, taking into account race, gender, religion, and disability, and including an analysis of discriminatory laws, representation of minorities in parliament, the number of refugees a country has accepted, etc. Western countries continue to lead in overall inclusiveness. There are slight drops in inclusiveness in Europe and Asia. Latin America and the Caribbean have become more inclusive, albeit starting from lower baseline scores. Awareness of gender and racial inequalities, facilitated by social media and triggering increased social awareness and mobilization, has contributed to positive changes in several countries. The MeToo movement, for example, continues to galvanize international attention and is effecting real changes in norms regarding gender relations.
Increased awareness of social issues has, however, not always translated into increases in inclusiveness in the wider society. In some cases, it coexists with decreases in out-group trust. At the individual level, trust in strangers decreased between 2005 and the latest available data from 2014. Evidence from the General Social Survey project tends to support the notion that individuals approach others with a fair amount of distrust. In 2018, only 21% of the people surveyed agreed that people can generally be trusted, as opposed to 42% who disagreed. Although the question of why trust in out-groups has declined is a complex one, it may be at least partially attributed to the social impacts associated with modernization and globalization. Overall, the answer to the question of whether the world has become more inclusionary boils down to a qualified no.
In the last two decades, the world at large has become more democratic when measured in terms of the number of people living in democracies and the actual number of democracies, but warnings about the health of democracy certainly seem warranted, based on various measurements presented in this section.
According to the Polity IV regime dataset, and contrary to conventional wisdom, a greater number of countries have transitioned to democracies, which constitute a majority of nations worldwide. In 2000, 75 countries (52%) were governed democratically, 84 (57%) in 2010, and 90 countries (60%) in 2018. Additionally, the proportion of the global population living under democracy increased in absolute terms from 3.4 billion (57%) at the turn of the century to 4.3 billion (58%) in 2018. The number of states ‘stuck in the middle’, also referred to as anocracies, shows few changes, with 40 anocracies (28%) in 2000 and 39 (26%) in 2018. However, the share of the population living under anocratic government rose from 715 million (12%) in 2000 to 1.3 billion (17%) in 2018.
Foundational liberal norms of democratic regimes are under significant strain, with global levels of freedom declining, which will be discussed in more depth in the judicial section. Political scientists speak of “liberal democracy’s crisis of confidence,” reporting an increasing openness to non-democratic forms of governance (alongside still considerable levels of support for democracy). Others warn of a global “democratic deconsolidation,” with falling support for important democratic norms.
Our measurements of individual support for democracies, using World Values Survey data and national voter turnout data, certainly lend some credence to these dire predictions. We find a decrease in the number of people expressing a desire to live in a democracy from 2005 to 2014. Global average voter turnout decreased from 68% to 61% between 2000 and 2018. Not only are individuals generally rating democracy less positively as a system; many of those who live under it are increasingly perceiving it as dysfunctional. Data from a 2018 Pew Research survey shows that 51% of respondents are dissatisfied with the way democracy works in their countries. This worrying trend reflects commonly held ideas of a ‘hollowing out’ of democracy at the state level, stemming from dissatisfaction with the system’s functioning. It may reflect a qualitative reduction of democracy that is not captured by a higher-level measurement such as Polity IV. There are notable regional differences that do not necessarily correlate with actual levels of democracy. Eastern European citizens, for instance, perceive their governments to be significantly less democratic than they often are. The negative nature of subjective measurements at the individual and state levels is partially tempered by the emergence of a (relatively) large number of pro-democracy movements in (among others) Algeria, Bolivia, Lebanon, Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Iraq, Spain, Sudan, and Russia, but it is present within the data nonetheless. Finally, although an imperfect measurement at best, voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) display a slight decline in disagreement between states between 2000 and 2018 of about 5%. This shows that at the system level states are able to reach consensus on a number of policy dossiers.
Overall, the answer to the question of whether the world has become more democratic is mixed, and on balance negative. Despite overall growth in the number of democracies, quite a few indicators are flashing yellow or red. The results of this analysis therefore paint a picture of a democratic world order under significant strain.
Results in the judicial domain are relatively positive at the state level, but less so at the individual and system levels. Freedom House reported declines in political rights and civil liberties for the thirteenth consecutive year, occurring in not free, partly free, and free countries, including in consolidated democracies. On the civil liberties index, 66 countries improved their score between 2000 and 2005, while 10 worsened. Between 2005 and 2018, this ratio was reversed, with 48 worsening and 15 improving. At the same time, several regions, most importantly Eastern Europe, show positive progress, with Poland and Hungary being exceptions to this rule. These developments certainly provide greater context for the democratic trends discussed earlier, and are an additional cause for concern. Alongside these developments, the degree to which individuals perceive their peers as acting fairly in daily life remains more or less stable over time. Interestingly, more corrupt countries score significantly lower in perceived fairness than countries where corruption is less prevalent.
At the level of states, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) shows a slight but positive increase in the levels of confidence in the functioning of national legal systems as expressed in expert assessments and business opinion surveys. Positive developments are reported in countries in Eastern Europe (again with Hungary and Poland as an example of the opposite trend) and negative developments in the Middle East. The transparency and independence of the rule of law exercised at the state level has also seen moderate improvements over the past decades based on data from the V-DEM’s Rule of Law Index, which considers factors such as independence of the judiciary, transparency of laws, predictability of legal enforcement, access to justice, and governmental officials’ compliance with the law.
Most Western states tend to have strong rule of law records and have remained more or less stable in the upper ranges. Other regions trail far behind the West, with Africa and the MENA region scoring particularly low and Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Pacific in the mid-ranges. Eastern Europe has average rule of law scores that are closer to those in Latin America than in western European states. Rule of law correlates significantly both with democratic regime type (as measured by Polity IV) and with civil liberties (as measured by Freedom House), because liberal democratic states by definition have stronger legislative and judicial institutions which are independent of the executive. There are a number of important exceptions, however, with the rule of law being rigorously enforced in a small number of illiberal authoritarian states such as the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait, as well as the anocratic Singapore, all nations that are wealthy and/or highly integrated into global markets.
There is no authoritative dataset that systematically measures human rights violations. According to a composite index measurement combining several human rights indicators, governments’ records in respecting and protecting human rights have been improving in almost all regions except the MENA over the past two decades. At the same time, human rights protection organizations have reported increases in human rights violations by governments. In recent years, the world has seen blatant human rights violations in wars, such as those in Syria and Yemen, as well as domestically, for example in China and Egypt. While this is a complex issue, research underlying the composite index suggests that over time human rights protections have improved, but so have the standards in measurements used to assess progress.
A final worrying trend to report at the system level is the fact that illiberal states continue to increase their international influence. Data from Freedom House and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures show that illiberal states are gaining in political, economic, and military influence. The emerging international order is shaped by this process, partly replacing the Western-led liberal democratic model. Illiberal states such as China are extending their geopolitical influence through projects such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and of course the Belt and Road Initiative. Other autocratic regimes similarly reject the Western order, succinctly captured by Vladimir Putin’s assertion in the summer of 2019 that liberalism is “obsolete.” While the rise in illiberal states’ influence shows a slight stagnation toward the end of the data in 2016, the trend reflects their centrality within the international system and their growing ability to shape international norms and rules.
Overall, to the question of whether the world has become more just, there is, unsurprisingly, not a straightforward answer, because of different and often contradictory developments taking place at the individual, state, and system levels. The picture that emerges from our analysis is not positive for the state of freedom in the world: in the domestic arena, freedom has been declining for over a decade; in the international arena, illiberal values are becoming more dominant.
The past few decades have seen a worrying overall increase in insecurity across a range of dimensions and at multiple levels. Far from representing a global trend, however, a few flashpoints and highly violent conflicts have significantly driven up global fatality numbers according to data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Since the lowest point in 2010, the number of violent state-based conflicts has risen from 30 to 52. Similarly, the number of one-sided conflicts steadily increased over the past decade, reaching a record of 35 conflicts last year – a substantial increase from 21 conflicts ten years ago. Although fluctuating between years, the number of non-state conflicts increased most significantly, from 28 conflicts in 2010 to 78 violent incidents in 2018. Together with this, the number of conflict-related deaths increased from 30,867 in 2010 to a peak of 143,409 in 2014. The past two years saw a 27% decrease in global death tolls, with 106,557 in 2016, 95,500 in 2017, and 77,392 in 2018, which nevertheless remain far (150%) above pre-2010 levels. Particularly the MENA region as a whole, and the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, and Syria in particular, contributed to this trend. Recent years have seen a reduction in absolute levels of violence in the region, even if the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains abhorrent, Libya features persistent fighting between warring factions, and the war in Syria has not fully ended yet. Renewed popular unrest in this unstable region and the looming threat of the conflict trap (60% of the conflicts from the early 2000s relapsed in the following five years) do not necessarily bode well for future trends in conflict fatalities.
Meanwhile, willingness to fight, as registered by World Values Survey data, has remained stable at an overall level, although there are clear variations. Approximately 70% of the respondents answered affirmatively when asked whether they would be willing to fight for their country if war broke out. Above all, citizens of high-income countries are decidedly less willing to fight (62%) than those residing in countries with lower income (80%). Research suggests that an abundance of life opportunities reduces individuals’ willingness to die for their country.  A related argument posits that people are less likely to sacrifice their life once they have obtained a certain material and social status. Readiness to fight for one’s country is lowest in Western Europe (25%) and highest in the MENA region (83%).
At the interstate level, our analysis of the use of military threats did not find any increase at the global level, as reported in chapter 2.1 on military competition. But a number of high-profile threats by political leaders of the dominant military powers are a cause of concern, and overall levels of military assertive rhetoric have even increased slightly. While global military spending has remained stable at around 2.3% of GDP since the 2000s, absolute levels of military spending have increased by 13.2% over the past decade and now amount to $1.78 trillion in total. With the number of active conflicts increasing at the system level, the global level of peacefulness has decreased by 3.8% since 2008, according to the Global Peace Index (GPI). The level of peacefulness in the world has declined in eight of the last twelve years. Regionally, Europe continues to be the most peaceful region in the world, with 22 out of 36 European countries ranking higher on the GPI index this year than they did previously. Due to its numerous intra- and interstate conflicts, the MENA ranks as the least peaceful region globally.
Overall, when measured over the entire period, the world has not become more secure. Our analysis records higher numbers of conflicts and conflict fatalities and declining levels of peace over the past two decades. While military expenditures as a percentage of GDP have remained similar, absolute levels have been increasing, especially in the case of major military powers. There are some positive developments in recent years, particularly in the reduction of conflict fatalities over the past two years, but the situation in key conflict hotspots is no reason for excessive optimism. The answer to the question of whether the world has become more secure is therefore negative.
As is to be expected in a world with over seven billion inhabitants living across seven continents, with different cultures and societies at very different levels of socio-economic development, our analysis, even at the system level, presents a kaleidoscopic picture. Yet at this very macro level, our analysis warrants the following conclusions.
First, the global population as a whole has become more prosperous. Progress has certainly not been limited to the rich: the world’s poor continue to see significant improvements in living standards. Although inequality between states has been decreasing globally because of the Rise of the Rest, levels of inequality within states have worsened according to various measures. The overall level of global inequality is still higher than the level of inequality of countries with the highest levels of domestic inequality.
Second, and unsurprisingly, the world continues to become more connected, both physically and virtually. Various measurements show increases at the level of individuals, states and the system as a whole for, among others, informational connectedness, trade, diplomatic, and social interaction. Stagnating growth is nevertheless recorded in the level of globalization, while trust among individuals in fellow citizens has decreased over the entire period. Although the world has become more connected, increased connectivity has not necessarily brought the world closer together.
Third, the world has not become more inclusionary, although that claim warrants some caveats. Alongside a marked surge in identity-driven politics in both developing and consolidated democracies, measurements of inclusiveness show a negative trend. This is despite more recent increased awareness of gender and racial issues. States have been curbing religious freedoms, and social hostilities over religion have increased over the entire period. Taking into account the lack of up-to-date, granular data on in-group/out-group dynamics, the prevalence of exclusionary dynamics at different levels is a cause of concern.
Fourth, despite overall growth in both the number of democracies and the absolute number of citizens living in democracies, democracy as an institution is under attack. Democracy is no longer considered to be a regime type of choice by many. Frequently heard warnings about the health of democracy seem justified based on growing openness to other forms of governance, falling support for democratic norms, and lower national voter turnout. Yet the pro-democracy movements from Bolivia to Algeria and from Russia to Hong Kong do show that democracy continues to appeal to many.
Fifth, the picture in the closely associated realm of justice is also multilayered. Freedom understood in terms of civil rights has been declining for over a decade now, in both free and unfree countries. Human rights are under pressure, with horrific human rights violations occurring in a wide range of countries. Recent research nevertheless suggests that human rights protections have also steadily improved over time. The rule of law, meanwhile, has strengthened over the past decades, although many states started from very low baselines. A disquieting development is the fact that illiberal states have been gaining in political, economic, and military influence, which is likely to translate into their growing ability to shape international norms and rules.
Finally, when measured over the past two decades, the world has not become more peaceful and secure overall. The world has seen a growing number of conflicts and conflict fatalities combined with declining levels of peace over the past two decades. On a positive note, the past two years saw a reduction in the number of conflict fatalities, but the medium-term outlook for conflict zones does not provide solid grounds for excessive optimism.
In the context of shifts in global power distribution, the position of the Netherlands is shifting too. The US’ “abdication of global leadership”, in combination with China’s rapid ascent to great power status, puts a strain on the international community’s ability to find consensus on a range of pressing international dossiers. These include climate change action (e.g., the Paris Climate Agreement), nuclear counter-proliferation efforts (Iran and the now de facto defunct JCPOA),  arms control (e.g., the dissolution of the INF Treaty), free trade (the series of trade disputes between the US and China but also with the EU),  the wars in the Middle East (the US’ sudden partial withdrawal from Syria, the roles of Russia and Iran, and the conflict between the US and Iran). In this environment, middle powers, either alone or in coalitions with other middle powers, continue to work on global dossiers to achieve their foreign policy objectives, as we already described in last year’s report.
Navigating this changing global environment requires first and foremost a keen understanding of changes in Dutch foreign relations. The Dutch Foreign Relations Index (DFRI), developed by HCSS, captures the relationship between the Netherlands and other countries over time through a quantitative measurement of a limited set of important dimensions in international relations. The DFRI differentiates between relevance (“how important is this country for the Netherlands and the international sphere?”) and compatibility (“to what extent does this country share similar values and goals to the Netherlands?”). The two dimensions thus align neatly with two key tenets of Dutch foreign policy: interests and values. The DFRI operationalizes these dimensions through four key domains of international politics: political, military, economic, and judicial, and collects data for all these measurements for the period between 1996 and the present. Combining interests and values provides a multidimensional picture of the Dutch position vis-à-vis other countries. This can subsequently help in identifying potential partners as well as potential adversaries in the pursuit of Dutch foreign policy objectives.
The DFRI is also a useful instrument in the further development of a longer-term Dutch government vision of foreign policy. The Dutch government coalition agreement of October 2017 delineated a set of foreign policy goals for the next four years. The agreement expressed the coalition’s intention to pursue “a realistic foreign policy that serves both Dutch interests and the international rule-based order.” It proposed a security strategy that integrates national and international security challenges, a strategy that was published in 2018. It pledged to work through international organizations such as the EU, NATO, and the UN. It sought to focus on neighboring EU countries and Europe’s “ring of instability.” It committed to increasing the defense budget, strengthening the Dutch armed forces and establishing closer military partnerships with “like-minded countries.” The coalition’s plans foreshadowed important decisions about the countries with which the Netherlands is actively seeking closer or less close relationships. New directions will be set in the drafting of the updated integrated security strategy and the Defense Vision, both scheduled for 2020, and the next coalition agreement after the 2021 elections.
A word of caution is in order: like any other index, the DFRI provides a first high-level overview in this particular case of the state of Dutch foreign relations, based on a select number of indicators for which data have been collected, collated, and combined. The selection and combination of these indicators are described and explained in a longer method document (see also Table 20). The DFRI considers dyadic relations, which means that it looks at relations between the Netherlands and third countries. It does not consider the position of the Netherlands in the global web of international relations, which would mean also taking into account the relations of the Netherlands in the context of the bilateral relations of other countries. The latter would provide greater context and depth to an analysis of its position, particularly in a multi-order world. Furthermore, this chapter provides only a concise and straightforward description of the results of the index. Further triangulation and contextualization of these results based on the analysis of secondary sources and qualitative in-depth assessment would be beyond the scope of this year’s report. This will happen in the Strategic Monitor 2020-2021, in which a standalone research project will be devoted to the state of Dutch foreign relations and the role of the Netherlands in the global web of foreign relations. Readers of this chapter should therefore not overinterpret the results reported here and should note that further analysis and contextualization will take place on the basis of these first high-level results in next year’s report.
Measurement of a state’s influence within the global system.
Foreign Bilateral Influence Capacity Index
Pardee Center for International Futures: The Global Influence Index
Measurement of the degree to which the Netherlands and country X share membership in international organizations, exchange diplomatic missions, and express similar foreign policy preferences.
Shared membership of IGOs, Diplomatic Representation & United Nations General Assembly Voting Behavior
Pardee Center of International Futures: Political Bandwidth & United Nations General Assembly Voting Data
Measurement of a state’s military coercive capabilities.
Share of global power
Pardee Center for International Futures: Global Power Index
Measurement of the depth and intensity of military alignment and cooperation
Shared alliances, shared Centers of Excellence within NATO or other (non-EU) multilateral military cooperation platform (e.g., MNFP), as well as instances of training or procurement outside of NATO or EU frameworks.
NATO/EU & CoE websites. Notes to Parliament from the Dutch Minister of Defense (2012-2019)
Measurement of a state’s importance to the Dutch economy.
Bilateral import and export volume with the Netherlands
Measurement of the similarity in the way in which the Netherlands and country X value the principles of free trade.
Regulatory regimes concerning domestic business, labor, and monetary regulation, as well as trade, investment, and finance regulations
Selected measures from the Economic Freedom Index
Measurement of a state’s ability to influence international norms and norm-making processes.
(same as political relevance)
Measurement of distance between the degree to which the Netherlands and country X subscribe to liberal democratic principles.
Level of electoral democracy and effective checks and balances on executive power
V-DEM Liberal Democracy Index
Mapping countries on the relevance and compatibility dimensions yields five different clusters of countries (see Figure 2): anchors, associates, prospects, contradictors, and disruptors.
The most fundamental of these we call anchors. Anchor states from the Dutch perspective are neighboring states, regional economic powerhouses, and the world’s largest military power. These states are both highly relevant for and highly compatible with the Netherlands. They are important states for a mixture of political, military, and economic reasons, and share largely similar worldviews. These states (the US, Germany, France, the UK, and Belgium in 2018) constitute important countries in the dimensions measured by the DFRI. Most of these countries are important international actors, comprising three UNSC members and four of the ten largest economies of the world. Belgium’s presence is explained through its proximity, and the close cooperation between the Netherlands and Belgium along a number of important dimensions, including the economic and military dimension. For now, the question remains whether Brexit will drastically affect the relevance and compatibility of the United Kingdom, although it will inevitably have an economic impact and will change the dynamics within the European Union.
The second cluster of associates comprises liberal states that are either European Union member states or fall under the US security umbrella, with low to medium degrees of relevance scores on the DFRI. The associate category includes the Scandinavian countries, transitioned (eastern) European states, southern European states (Italy, Spain and Portugal), Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada, and two East Asian states: South Korea and Japan. Many of the associates possess very high potential relevance and could well become anchors if relations were to deepen. Considering the sizes of their economies, ties with states such as Canada, Japan, and South Korea could be strengthened, which would propel them into the anchor category. Despite the negative developments on the liberal democratic front in recent years, Hungary and Poland are still part of the associates group. Turkey, however, has moved further away.
The third cluster, prospects, consists of states that, with the exception of some (Russia and India in particular), have varying degrees of relevance as measured by the indicators in the DFRI, while their values systems do not necessarily align with those of the Netherlands. This category contains the largest number of states. It includes Western-aligned but highly authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were in the contradictor category until recently on the basis of their DFRI scores, but it also features non-European democratic states such as Israel. This category contains important non-Western states, such as Russia, which is very nearly a disruptor, although its relevance score in the DFRI decreased after the oil price crash and the introduction of sanctions by the EU in 2014. It also includes many emerging powers such as India and Brazil. While they may not be first choices for close partnerships, these states may certainly be amenable to cooperation in specific dossiers that are relevant to Dutch foreign policies, especially in the higher compatibility range of this category. In certain geographic regions where Dutch anchors or associates have limited influence, such cooperation may be particularly useful, for instance in the Indian Ocean theater, in which India’s role could be important in the ensuing rivalry between the US and China.
The cluster we label contradictors contains states which are at the far extreme of the economic, political, and judicial spectrum relative to the Netherlands. Contradictors include internationally isolated countries such as Iran and Venezuela, and/or the world’s harshest dictatorships, such as North Korea and Turkmenistan. These states are economically and politically illiberal. Because of this they also include many lesser developed states, including in Africa. Contradictors’ outright incompatibility with the Netherlands, their frequent status as international pariahs, and often underdeveloped economy, also mean that many of these states are ranked lower in terms of relevance.
Fifth, and finally, is the disruptor category, which involves highly relevant countries whose value systems are at the same time very different from the Netherlands. These states have sufficient global influence to shape significant international regimes, yet their values diverge from Dutch values in the areas of democracy and human rights, the role of governments in the regulation of economies, and the international rule of law. This does not mean that these states should be avoided. On the contrary, they may even require additional outreach efforts. In 2018, the only state in this category was the steadily rising China. While Russia continues to be a high foreign policy priority (with comparatively much higher scores than other contradictors), China is both more dissimilar to the Netherlands and more powerful than Russia. Its rise has been marked by economic as well as military strength, but its closer integration in the global economy has not led to an assimilation of Western liberal ideas and values. While this does not necessarily conflict, a high reliance on a very different type of state is a liability that the Netherlands has started to actively engage with – for example, through the discussion on Chinese companies’ contribution to 5G infrastructure – and will undoubtedly do so in the years to come.
There are clear geographic clusters of country types (see Figure 3). The anchors and associates clusters are European or Anglo-Saxon countries, complemented by South Korea and Japan. The only NATO countries not in this category are Montenegro, a recent addition, and Turkey, whose illiberal domestic developments as well as its international antagonism to its Atlantic partners has been cause of concern for a number of years now. The prospects, the largest group, are dispersed globally. The contradictors consist of the highly illiberal, authoritarian states, the majority of which are on the African continent. The sole disruptor is China.
Over the last twenty years, Dutch relations with other countries have improved according to the DFRI. One could even say that from the perspective of Dutch foreign relations the Netherlands finds itself in a fortuitous position. The Netherlands is surrounded by anchors and associates. The total number of associates has doubled to 30 since 1996. There are also fewer dissimilar states, as the number of contradictors has fallen by fifth to 39. Importantly, these countries are now almost exclusively located in Africa. Many of the countries in the European neighborhood, in the Middle East, and in the former Soviet sphere have become more likely partners – prospects – for the future. A few populous Asian nations such as Vietnam and Indonesia have gone through similar developments. Both in these theaters and elsewhere, opportunities for cooperation have appeared for the Netherlands.
The roles of North America, Europe, and Asia have changed in recent decades, with the former stagnating in importance and the latter two growing in relevance. It should come as little surprise that North America and Europe are the most compatible regions in the world. Europe’s relevance to the Netherlands is only increasing. This is despite the fact that the 2008 economic crisis and the 2014 decline in trade appear to have affected mainly the relevance of this region, while leaving others largely unscathed.
In relative terms, Europe remains at the core of Dutch foreign relations, but the US and Canada are ceding ground to emerging powers, notably China. Europe’s share of overall relevance remains stable at around half. The relevance of the UK, France, and Italy decreased while that of Belgium, but especially Germany, increased. China’s rise is spectacular, more than doubling its share of relevance due to growth in economic, political, and military relevance. Vietnam is also a notable riser, as its relevance has nearly quintupled, making it now comparable to European states such as Portugal or Greece. Prospects that have grown significantly in military and political relevance are Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but Russia has also become more relevant. Turkey poses a complicated case, as its significant rise in relevance is matched, as we will see, by a significant decrease in compatibility. Despite these dynamics, the dominant partners of old, the US and Germany, remain just that, although the dominance of the US has decreased significantly over the past decade (see Figure 4 and Figure 5).
The total number of countries decreasing in relevance, as well as the degree by which they decreased, is far lower than the countries that increased (see Figure 6 and Figure 7). This is due to the fact that relevance (with the exception of military relevance) is not a zero-sum game and particularly the total level of economic relevance – Dutch bilateral trade – rose overall in the period under review. It is no surprise, then, that the most dramatic decreases are in military and political relevance.
Almost all of the top declining countries are close allies of the Netherlands. This is a reflection of the globally changing balance of power. The rise of powers such as China on the military front has led to a relative reduction in military and political relevance for many of the world’s traditional powerbrokers, such as the US, the UK, and France. The international status quo, of which the Netherlands has traditionally been a firm supporter, has been upset by the rise of new powers, and the Dutch allies are less relevant because of this development.
This trend is further underlined by the relative decline of NATO’s military relevance. Until 2013, the states in NATO together possessed more military power than all other states in the world combined as measured by the military relevance indicator of the DFRI, which is based on the Global Power Index of the Pardee Center for International Futures. This was despite the fact that in terms of number of countries, NATO was outnumbered 10 to 1 in 1995 and 5 to 1 in 2018. NATO’s dominance has declined steadily throughout this period, however, and increasingly so since 2008. First surpassed in 2013, NATO states together now account for less than half of the world’s military power. The era of NATO’s unassailable military superiority is over and continues to face a downward trend. Aside from a slight rise in Poland and Turkey, no NATO country has risen in military relevance since 2007. As this measure is indexed as a zero-sum game, this can largely be explained by the rise of previously lesser military powers. These include Arab states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but also India and China. China is single-handedly responsible for a large portion of the rise of non-NATO countries, as its power doubled between 2003 and 2018. The US alone still possesses a quarter of global military power, with China at less than one-sixth. Contrary to the US, however, China’s relative power is increasing.
The top twenty of countries whose value systems are most aligned with the Netherlands consists only of European and North American states (see Figure 8). This should come as no surprise because of close and longstanding ties with the states in regions with strongly institutionalized forms of cooperation. The trend that emerges from this list is remarkably stable. Nearly all nations have near-perfect scores in terms of judicial, economic, and political similarity with the Netherlands, showing that it is firmly integrated in a regional system of like-minded states.
Unlike the relevance dimension, the highest increases in compatibility with the Netherlands are found among existing allies and democratizing non-Western states (see Figure 9). One group is made up of European states with which military coordination has increased in recent years, in the context of the EU, NATO, or through bilateral cooperation. Another group consists of prospects or even contradictor states that have been going through a process of economic and political liberalization and, albeit sometimes very checkered, improvements in the protection of their human rights record. Most notable in this group are Tunisia, Myanmar, and Gambia. Increases in the political compatibility domain indicate that states are sharing a greater number of overlapping memberships in international organizations and are more in agreement with Dutch foreign policy objectives. It is clear that this political compatibility does not necessarily align with judicial compatibility, as examples such as the UAE and Qatar demonstrate. Increases in political compatibility therefore represent an opportunity for increased functional cooperation on international political issues.
At the other end of the spectrum, we encounter well-known contradictors, such as Venezuela, which has gone through a process of even greater inimical alignment and economic deliberalization (see Figure 10). In general, many Latin American nations have become less similar to the Netherlands, indicating that several countries in this region have moved away from liberal political and economic values and from international political alignment.
Turkey and Hungary emerge as problematic allies. Economically they have moved closer to the Netherlands. These states have raised their military compatibility scores over time as measured by the DFRI through increased NATO and EU military cooperation, even if there are significant problems in these relationships as well, with Turkey positioning itself as an independent political and military actor in the context of the Middle East and the relationship with Russia. Judicially these states have gone through a process of democratic backsliding or even outright authoritarianism, leading to huge decreases in terms of judicial compatibility. These developments pose a clear problem for Dutch relations with these countries.
In the context of the changing global distribution of power, Dutch relations with other states have changed quite substantially, along both the interests and the values spectra, as measured by the DFRI. The descriptive analysis of the DFRI offered in this chapter, which will be triangulated and corroborated with a review of secondary sources in next year’s monitor, yields the following insights:
First and foremost, the Netherlands finds itself in a relatively fortunate position. It can count on close allies and partners in its immediate geographic surroundings. Moreover, the number of associates has increased considerably, while the number of contradictors has decreased, suggesting that there are more potential partners for the Netherlands while it faces fewer outright opponents.
Second, despite ongoing turbulence in the EU and the impact of Brexit, Europe is increasingly the most relevant region for the Netherlands. The US nevertheless remains the most important country in Dutch foreign relations, together with Germany. The US’ position is undermined by the relative decline of its political and military influence in world politics. When taken collectively, the relevance of Europe dwarfs all competitors, stressing the vital importance of the EU internal market and its potential strength as a geopolitical bloc.
Third, China’s stellar ascent economically, militarily, and politically, in combination with low compatibility in terms of shared values, underscores once again that China presents both an opportunity and a risk. China is across the board a force to be reckoned with in the design of future Dutch foreign policy.
Fourth, several states have increased in both relevance and compatibility. These prospects, such as Mexico, South Africa, and Israel, can be valuable partners for the Netherlands to collaborate with in shaping international regulation on important themes.
Finally, engaging with prospects and associate states that are becoming more relevant but that are moving away in terms of compatibility poses relevant dilemmas, which require careful assessment on a case-by-case – or state-by-state – basis. Especially judicially, a number of states are drifting away along the liberal democratic values spectrum. The balance between relevance and compatibility should always be taken into account in determining which relationships to invest in and from which to disengage. With states like Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Turkey, the strength of the existing relationship with the Netherlands is such that it can potentially be leveraged to reverse this process. The EU especially offers mechanisms to this end. With states that are less embedded in such partnerships, the compartmentalization of partnerships might be an option. If a state is (increasingly) far removed from the Netherlands along the judicial dimension, but closer in terms of economic similarity, partnerships focusing exclusively on economic affairs might be a possibility. Examples of such increasingly relevant autocratic states abound, with cases in point being the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The decision on whether to pragmatically engage with these countries is both politically and morally fraught with difficulties. Such compartmentalization, however, may be more difficult when it comes to the security domain. Overall, even if Dutch anchor states remain dominant in absolute terms, none experienced an increase in relative relevance in the past decade, while many prospect states increased remarkably. If the decline of Dutch traditional allies persists, the Netherlands may have to consider future ‘coalitions of the willing’, including countries that would as yet still be considered strange bedfellows.
Decisions in international relations are shaped by the security and threat perceptions of the actors. These, in turn, are influenced by a range of factors: geography, history, culture, etc. Cognitive biases also play an important role in shaping these perceptions. Recognition of such biases can help decision-makers to establish a more balanced view of their environment and of the potential threats to national security. This chapter first analyzes the role cognitive biases play in shaping security perceptions. It then examines how the six threat categories from chapter 2 are perceived in a set of 38 security documents published in other countries, what additional threats are identified in these documents, and how trends in the international order are evaluated, so as to identify potential ‘gaps’ in the Dutch security perceptions.
Gaps between the reality of security and the human perception of it are not uncommon. This divergence is the result of intuitively made trade-offs. Humans are not very good at making security risk trade-offs. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, conducted research on people’s estimates regarding the principal causes of death, after which he compared the results to statistics on the matter. One of the outcomes was that people thought hurricanes were bigger killers than asthma, even though asthma caused twenty times as many deaths as hurricanes did. This is only one of many examples that show that people’s intuitive risk estimates are inadequate.
According to Schneier, several aspects of the security trade-off might be calculated wrongly: the severity of the risk, the probability of the risk, the magnitude of the costs, how effective a particular countermeasure is at mitigating the risk, and how well disparate risks and costs can be compared. The more human perception deviates from reality in any of these aspects, the more the perceived trade-off deviates from the actual trade-off. These miscalculations have a lot to do with biases that are inherent in the human brain. Some of those biases and how they might affect our feeling of security are explained below. These biases can also partly explain the different perceptions countries have with regard to security threats, as demonstrated by the comparative study in chapter 6. Because countries are led by people, and cognitive biases are inherent in the human brain, this naturally affects decisions that eventually evolve into national security policy and strategy.
One of the most common biases is the ‘availability heuristic’. Daniel Kahneman defines this as the process of judging frequency by “the ease with which instances come to mind.” The biases that Kahneman describes give a good explanation for the discrepancy between actual and perceived security. It explains, for example, why people are more afraid to fly immediately after a plane crash occurred and why people get insurance right after major disasters. The examples remain vividly in people’s memories for some time. In addition, it can explain why people are disproportionately afraid of terrorist attacks (as compared to much more common ways to die): the examples are all over the news and frequently repeated. Consequently, people have a lot of examples fresh in their memories and therefore perceive the chance of terrorist attacks as much higher than it actually is. This bias also causes the overestimation of rare events: rare events attract a disproportionate level of attention, and the few instances that actually occur are all over the news. The regime type of states can be of central importance with respect to this bias. For example, in democracies, the existence of a free press, greater policy debates, institutional checks and balances, and the fact that more actors are involved in the decision-making process, raises the chances that particular tides of information can correct for cognitive biases.
Another common bias of the human mind is known as the ‘negativity bias’. This negativity bias is seen as a fundamental principle of human cognition, in which negative factors have a greater impact than positive factors across a wide range of psychological phenomena. Psychologists believe that the dominance of bad over good emerged as an adaptive trait to avoid lethal dangers in human evolutionary history. However, nowadays it could have some side effects that we should be aware of. For instance, this negativity bias could have an impact on the ‘threat sensitivity’ of states: how states identify opportunities and dangers prior to conflict. High threat sensitivity means a heightened reaction to negative information indicating potential dangers compared to positive information suggesting opportunities.
A bias that at first glance seems to contradict the negativity bias is the ‘positivity bias’: overconfidence about own capacity, abilities, overestimating own control over events, over-optimism about future prospects. However, this bias could actually coexist with the negativity bias, because the biases apply to different contexts. People privilege negative information about the external environment and other actors, but positive information about themselves. The coexistence of these biases can raise the odds of conflict. Decision-makers simultaneously exaggerate the severity of threats and are overconfident about their own capacity to deal with the situation, a potential recipe for disaster.
The effect of the negativity bias could be even stronger if it is combined with the so-called ‘halo effect’: the tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person or situation (or country), including things you have not observed. We can see this kind of effect, for example, with regard to Russia: everything that Russia says or does nowadays is viewed from our negative perception of it. An act or statement that would be just fine or viewed neutrally if it came from Germany is viewed negatively and received with suspicion when it comes from Russia. The same halo effect, both positive and negative, can be observed with US President Trump. Most people, especially in America itself, either dislike everything he says or does or love it and will defend him no matter what. There seems to be little room for a balanced view in which positive, negative, and neutral statements can be judged on their merits.
Another common area in which the feeling of security is at odds with the reality is the perception of the severity of a certain risk. According to utility theory, which assumes that actors are fully rational and make trade-offs based on a calculation of relative gains and losses, people tend to choose alternatives with the same probability. However, the outcomes of experiments contradict the basic assumptions of utility theory. When faced with a gain, the majority of people prefer a sure gain over a risky gain. But when faced with a loss, the majority of people prefer a risky loss over a certain loss. This difference can be explained by prospect theory, which, in contrast to utility theory, acknowledges that people have subjective values toward gains and losses.
The fact that people act in this way can be attributed to the framing effect. As experiments show, people make different trade-offs when something is presented as a gain as opposed to a loss. The choices people make are affected by how the alternatives are framed. When a trade-off is framed in terms of a ‘gain’, people tend to be risk-averse, whereas when trade-offs are framed as a ‘loss’, people tend to be risk-seeking. This also applies to countries, because countries are led by people.  Nowadays we see a trend whereby certain countries no longer view world economics or globalization as a win-win situation, but rather as a zero-sum game. Countries that see the world through a zero-sum game lens are likely to take more risk to avoid a bigger loss over what they view as a certain loss. America’s protectionist measures, for example, can partly be explained on this basis.
In conclusion, biases affect decisions that eventually evolve into a country’s national security policy and strategy. Policymakers should take the different perceptions of other countries into account, but also be aware of their own possible biases.
Are we immune to biases in our own analyses and assessments? That would seem unlikely. The authors are not only human, but also Dutch and/or embedded in Dutch society and culture. We tend to build upon data and judgments from sources that are for the most part close to our ‘comfort zone’ (e.g., in terms of language, accessibility, and understanding based on cultural proximity). Because the Strategic Monitor aspires to inform the Netherlands’ foreign and security policy, we use existing structures from that policy as a reference. The clearest example of this is that the structure of chapter 0 reflects the six most urgent security threats from the Dutch Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022. In order to counterbalance some of these tendencies, we have looked at 38 individual documents sourced from eleven countries and six world-renowned think tanks and/or intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) (see Table 21).
2016 Defence White Paper
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
North of 26 degrees south and the security of Australia: views from The Strategist
Worldwide Threat Assessment
US National Intelligence Council
Global Trends: Paradox of Progress
China's National Defense in the New Era
Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University
Time and Tendency in the Changing World Situation
Russian National Security Strategy
Center for Strategic Research
Theses on Russia's Foreign Policy and Global Positioning (2017-2024)
Israel Defense Forces Strategy Document
Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change
Ministry of Defence: Annual Report 2017-2018
Strategic Foresight Group
Big Questions of Our Time: The World Speaks
Defense of Japan 2018
The Japan Institute of International Affairs
A New Security Strategy for Addressing the Challenges in the Turbulent International Order
Government's Defense Report
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
The Changing Global Order and its Implications for the EU
Centre for Strategic Futures
Foresight: 10th Anniversary Issue
Future Outlook: 100 Trends for 2050
The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research
United Arab Emirates Society in the Twenty-first Century: Issues and Challenges in a Changing World
Peru 2030: Riesgos y Oportunidades
Why and How Latin America should think about the Future
Munich Security Conference
Munich Security Report 2019
World Economic Forum
Global Risks Report 2019
Strategic Trends 2019
European Council on Foreign Relations
Strategic Sovereignty: Multiple Documents
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe
Each country’s security perspective was analyzed on the basis of two documents, one published by state institutions and one published by a local think tank. Each country’s documents were analyzed on the basis of a standardized rubric which aimed to extract a longlist of identified threats – and countries’ perceptions of those threats – in order to identify potential blind spots in the Dutch threat perception. The analysis allows not only for a comparative review of how the Dutch allies and adversaries perceive threats outlined in the Dutch Integrated Foreign and Security Strategy 2018-2022 and in the Dutch National Security Strategy of 2019, but also for the identification of blind spots and opportunities. Think tank articles were analyzed largely with the goal of establishing each country’s approach toward conducting strategic foresight. The objective of the exercise was to answer the following research questions:
The next sections address these questions.
First, the threat of military confrontation is identified by Finland, India, Israel, Japan, Russia, the US, and China. The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) and the Munich Security Conference (MSC) additionally pay lip service to the notion of a growing threat of an eruption of interstate armed conflict. Among all these actors, the most commonly held view – shared by the Netherlands – manifests itself in the perception that an increase in interstate competition increases the risk of a military competition. China, the US, Japan, and Russia place emphasis on their competitors’ efforts at military modernization, pointing to increasing defense budgets and the unveiling of cutting-edge (conventional) weapons systems as signs of aggression. India, Israel, and Japan all view interstate competition through the lens of either a) the regional dynamics on which it is based, or b) the regional insecurity it is likely to exacerbate, thus departing from the Dutch perspective. Outside of the ESPAS and the MSC, no think tanks share (or explicitly formulate) the Dutch view that the international legal order faces erosion.
Second, the UAE, Singapore, Finland, Japan, Israel, the US, and Australia explicitly elaborate on the threats posed by malicious actors’ activities in cyberspace, as do the ESPAS, the MSC, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the World Economic Forum (WEF). The UAE, Finland, Japan, the CSIS, the WEF, Israel, the US, and Australia all emphasize systems’ interdependencies in critical infrastructure as a factor serving to heighten their societies’ vulnerability to cyberattacks. In further alignment with the Netherlands, the UAE, Japan, the WEF, Israel, and the US subscribe to the notion that the cyber domain’s penetration of virtually all spheres of life creates further vulnerabilities and/or vectors for cyberattacks. The sentiment that cyber- and/or IT-related innovations are likely to upset existing power dynamics (whether military or otherwise) constitutes a marked departure from the Dutch view on cyber threats. Whereas the Netherlands perceives cyber threats almost exclusively through the lens of cyberattacks (i.e., the threatening use case), several actors – the UAE, the ESPAS, Japan, the CSIS, and the WEF – view the cyber domain as one which is likely to form the backdrop of a new wave of interstate competition.
Third, the vast majority of countries that identify hybrid conflict and/or gray zone operations as a threat at least pay lip service to the phenomenon of unwanted foreign influences, and discuss these also in relation to economic security. Finland, the US, Japan, the UAE, the ESPAS, the CSIS, and the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) all touch upon influence campaigns as a threat. Common within this subset of countries is a focus on a) new technologies, and b) vulnerabilities brought about by societal openness – both factors which the Netherlands outlines explicitly. The Dutch perception that hybrid tactics increasingly take the form of – and infringe upon – the country’s vital economic processes is only sparsely shared. Finland identifies the disruption of critical supply chains as a threat deriving from the increasing assertiveness of its Russian neighbor, but focuses most prominently on energy-related supply chains. India and the UAE pay lip service to the notion that cyber tools play a role in unwanted technology transfers, but do not explicitly tie the phenomenon to hybrid conflict. Another clear divergence manifests itself in the intended use of hybrid tactics as an offensive tool. European countries and entities (the Netherlands, Finland, the ESPAS, and the ECFR) perceive the offensive use of hybrid tactics as reflecting not only an increase in great power competition, but also a concentrated effort on behalf of perpetrating actors to erode their societies’ ability to react to foreign developments. The US, China, and Russia universally perceive the offensive use of hybrid threats as being geared predominantly toward fostering influence internationally, as well as being geared toward inflicting physical and/or economic damage on the domestic front.
Fourth, CBRN weapons are explicitly identified as a threat by India, Israel, Japan, the US, and the UAE. Within this country sample, three of the Dutch observations regarding the threat posed by CBRN weapons are widely shared, namely a) interstate competition’s role in incentivizing a so-called race to the bottom, b) the likely destabilizing impact of technological developments, and c) the threats posed by non-state actors. Whereas, as it relates to interstate competition, the theme surrounding technological developments centers almost entirely around nuclear weapons, its interaction with the threat posed by non-state actors derives from the access to CBRN weapons these developments are likely to give them. The Japanese and UAE perspectives are preoccupied most prominently with chemical and biological weapons, contending that new technologies and access to information and/or blueprints over the Internet have significantly reduced the threshold of access for non-state actors.
Finally, Dutch perceptions regarding terrorism are widely shared by the countries included in this study. Singapore, India, Finland, Japan, the UAE, Israel, the US, Russia, Australia, and China identify – and give a central position to – terrorism within their national security strategies. In a marked departure from the Dutch perspective, India, the UAE, Israel, the US, Russia, and China identify terrorism as a phenomenon which is (at least partially) dependent on – and derives from – state support, thus politicizing it as an issue and overtly linking it to hybrid warfare and foreign interference. While the Netherlands identifies right-wing extremism as being generally less impactful than its Islamist counterpart, the ESPAS, the MSC and the US present right-wing extremism as posing a threat that equals (or even surpasses) the threat posed by Islamic extremism.
The threats identified by the Netherlands, topical and/or relevant as they are, do not constitute a comprehensive list. Our report identifies a total of 31 distinct threats, which have been sorted into eight clusters to facilitate further analysis (see Table 22).
Biotechnology – Space militarization – Technological innovation – Military technological innovation
Gray zone operations
Cyber domain – Counterintelligence – Economic coercion – Hybrid warfare – Influence operations – Proxies – Energy security
Climate change - Energy production & consumption - Environmental threats
Human security & development
Demographics - Human security - Large-scale migration - Public health - Urbanization
Societal & national identity
Quality of Life - National Identity & Societal Threats
Great Power Politics - International Instability - Inter & Intra State Conflict - Regional Instability - WMD Proliferation
Violent non-state actors
Public Order - International Criminal Organizations - Terrorism
Economic & financial
Trade System - Economic and Financial Stability
Dutch threat perceptions are largely represented in the ‘violent non-state actors’, ‘economic & financial’, ‘gray zone operations’, ‘international instability’, and, to a lesser degree, ‘technology-related’ threat clusters. This means that ‘climate risks’, ‘human security & development’, and ‘social and national identity’ constitute threat clusters which are underrepresented within the Dutch threat perception framework.
Zooming in on specific threats, several threats – even within the previously outlined threat clusters – do not recur clearly in the Dutch threat perception. Biotechnologies are touched upon within the context of terrorist threats, but not within the context of state competition. Space militarization is not explicitly mentioned. Neither proxies nor energy security are explicitly referred to in the context of the Dutch understanding of hybrid threats. Large-scale migration is touched upon as a threat to Dutch domestic stability, but is not tied to (contributing) threats such as those outlined under the ‘climate risks’, ‘human security & development’, and ‘societal and national identity’ threat clusters. In concrete terms, this means that biotechnologies, space militarization, state use of proxies, energy security (through a hybrid lens), climate change, energy production & consumption, environmental threats, demographics, urbanization, and national identity & societal crises constitute threats which may warrant incorporation into the Dutch threat perception framework.
First, biosecurity is identified as a threat by the CSIS, Japan, Russia, Singapore, the US, the WEF, and ETH Zurich. These actors posit that advancements in the field of synthetic biology will allow the design and construction of new “biological parts, devices, and systems and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes.” Explicit links are made to a heightening of the threat posed by CBRN weapons, which is correlated most directly with terrorist threats. Dual-use technologies (i.e., CRISPR) are singled out as drivers of the increased (perceived) threat level.
Second, militarization of space is identified as a threat by Australia, China, Finland, India, and Japan. These systems are viewed as offering advanced surveillance opportunities and are generally expected to become of relevance within the next twenty years.
Third, energy security and energy consumption and production are identified as threat categories by Finland, India, Russia, and the UAE. Energy security is typically quoted as a threat which derives from identifying countries’ high degree of dependence on other countries or on international supply chains, meaning that the threat’s identification is endemically tied to the fear of a disruption. Energy security is also viewed as being negatively impacted by radicalization (India). The most commonly cited ‘solution’ to this threat manifests itself in a reduction of domestic energy consumption.
Fourth, climate change and environmental threats are identified as threat categories by Australia, the CSIS, the ESPAS, the ECFR, Finland, India, Japan, Peru, Russia, the UAE, the US, the WEF, and ETH Zurich. Climate change is generally understood as a threat which contributes to migration flows and/or to an increase in the initiation rate of intrastate conflicts. It is also linked to threats to physical and economic safety (see wildfires, flash floods, loss of biodiversity, etc.), as well as to political polarization. Environmental threats tie into climate change and are most commonly associated with food shortages and ecosystem failure. The disruption of supply chains is also tied explicitly to negative impacts on human security and quality of life.
Fifth, demographics are identified as a threat by Australia, the CSIS, China, the ESPAS, India, Peru, Russia, Singapore, the UAE, the WEF, and ETH Zurich. Demographics constitute a complicated threat category, often tied to urbanization and to interstate competition. Particularly when combined with a sizable young population and a relatively low level of development, urbanization as a phenomenon is tied by several countries to the initiation of intrastate conflicts, in no small part because a low level of development is associated with countries’ failure to provide the public services necessary to secure an adequate quality of life in urban environments. Demographic growth is also identified by several countries as a driver of competitors’ activities in the international arena.
Finally, identity and social crises are identified as a threat by the CSIS, Singapore, the UAE, Russia, and the WEF. These crises are generally described as deriving from ethnic, religious, and/or political fault lines in society, and are associated with (among others) an increase in the risk posed by terrorism and heightened vulnerability to misinformation campaigns.
The assessments included in this study identify the intensification of interstate competition and technological developments as key factors shaping the international order. Although the international order is universally identified as eroding, perceptions regarding its nature are split between ‘status quo’, ‘anti-status quo’, and ‘bystander’ descriptions of the order. Status quo descriptions – offered by assessments published in Australia, Finland, Japan, Peru, the US, and the Netherlands – universally perceive the maintenance of the rules-based international order as a priority. They identify the combination of interstate competition within the military, economic, and diplomatic domains, combined with the erosion of international adherence to democracy, as undermining it. Anti-status quo assessments, as published in China and Russia, also posit that the existing international order has come under siege as a result of interstate competition, but they point to the US’ infringements of international agreements as evidence of its continuing decline. Finally, bystander assessments such as those from India, the UAE, and – to a lesser degree – Singapore, outline the notion that an international power shift toward the Asia-Pacific region will require the forging of new partnerships in the near future, a sentiment shared by China and Russia.
Aside from the effects of international competition, several actors identify new technologies as driving a paradigm shift in the nature of the international system. Most prominently, assessments from India, Japan, Peru, the US, and the UAE identify the dangers current technologies pose to democracy, the role they play in eroding support for the rules-based order among its most committed defenders, as well as in empowering malicious non-state actors to overcome asymmetries in conventional capabilities and to operate outside the bounds of the rules-based international order. Also of relevance is the emphasis on the advent of new technologies, the inequality of their distribution, and their concentration within private-sector actors, which is likely to result in a diffusion of power away from states and in the emergence of entirely new governance models.
The analysis of the documents revealed an overwhelming focus on threats. Nonetheless, a number of opportunities were also posited. Most of these could be qualified as ‘silver linings in the clouds’: overall negative developments that can also possibly trigger positive outcomes. Multiple assessments argue that various existential crises (e.g., rampant Euroscepticism, climate change, great power competition, etc.) offer room for the radical restructuring of existing institutions and/or interstate relations. In the face of eroding global institutional regimes, attention is drawn to the ability of regional institutions to address international problems. In addition, many assessments emphasize that the disruptive effects of new technologies can at least be partially offset by the potential opportunities they can engender, observing that they will boost economic growth, facilitate the development of increasingly robust public services, and contribute to the mitigation of negative externalities associated with income inequality.
The analysis offered in this chapter warrants three important overarching conclusions. First, awareness of cognitive biases that shape our security perceptions is of vital importance for a balanced view of our security environment. Second, a number of international security documents not only appraise the threats prevalent in Dutch security and foreign policy discourse differently, but also give greater weight to additional threats, including the impacts of climate change and the exploitation and militarization of space. Third, most of these documents pay very little attention to the other side of the security coin: opportunities. In our view, it therefore merits recommendation to take all three of these conclusions into consideration in the design of next year’s strategic anticipation activities in the framework of the Strategic Monitor. Moreover, we suggest also including the results of a survey conducted among the Dutch population regarding our own, national security perceptions (the Clingendael Barometer).
The tenets of the international order continue to shift. The worldviews of the major global powers conflict, their value systems diverge, and their incentive structures are misaligned. The result is an intensification of interstate competition in recent years. Verbal assertiveness, with threats being part and parcel of diplomatic discourse, is complemented by actual assertive behavior in important areas of international relations. States openly contest the terms of international trade and are actively jockeying to reap the fruits of the algorithmic revolution. Their competition over protocols and standards for next-generation technologies is both about the protection of national security and about economic dominance over the nascent fourth industrial revolution. It is also emblematic of the stakes involved in the rivalry between the US and China – with Europe largely sidelined – over technological supremacy, in which political, economic, and national security considerations are increasingly intertwined.
This increased global competition goes hand in hand with a persistent erosion of significant aspects of the existing architecture of the international order, ranging from the demise of arms control regimes, such as the INF Treaty, to the hamstringing of the WTO’s court of appeal by the US, as a key component of the liberal trading order. While many of the day-to-day discussions put the onus on US President Trump, it is clear that the erosion stems from more structural developments. The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty takes place against the backdrop of a multipolar world and the limited scope of the Treaty, excluding China with its growing arsenal of medium-range missiles. In a similar vein, ‘America First’ is not the cause but a tell-tale symptom of the erosion of the liberal trading order. The underlying trend concerns the effects of hyper globalization on domestic distributions of income and wealth in the West from the 1980s onwards in the context of declining competitiveness of labor-intensive industrial sectors. These deleterious effects in turn eroded the domestic base that undergirded the support for the liberal market order, not only in the US but in Europe as well.
It is important to recognize that it is the combination of national and international vectors that converge to undermine various bastions of the existing international order, both from within and from without, both bottom-up and top-down. Our analysis of global geodynamics yields a kaleidoscopic picture. The world population has become more prosperous, but inequality has also increased by different measures. Although the world as a whole continues to become more connected, increased connectivity has not necessarily brought people closer together. Societies worldwide have not become more inclusionary, due to a marked increase in identity-driven politics, higher levels of religious restrictiveness, and increases in social hostilities. At the same time, the rule of law has been strengthened and, despite the structural human rights violations in a number of countries, human rights protection regimes are improving over time. But despite the growth and spread of democracy over the past two decades, democracy as an institution and especially individual freedoms are under prolonged attack. Civil and political rights have been declining for over a decade now, in both free and unfree countries. At the same time, illiberal governments have undeniably been gaining more influence in the regulation of global affairs. Finally, over the past two decades, the world has become less peaceful and secure because of a growing number of conflicts and conflict fatalities.
At the same time, illiberal governments have undeniably been gaining more influence in the regulation of global affairs. Their waxing influence derives from stronger involvement in existing institutions (e.g., China in the United Nations Security Council), from the establishment of new institutions and initiatives (e.g., China and the Asian Development Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative), and from a much more proactive diplomacy based on a larger foreign military footprint than before (e.g., Russia, Turkey, and Iran in the Middle East and beyond). This coincides with the US vacillating between engagement and disengagement, to the detriment of longstanding partnerships in various regions, including the Middle East and Europe.
In this context, compliance and cooperation are giving way to violation and confrontation across important political, economic, and security regimes. Rules are systematically violated, while underlying norms are incrementally hollowed out. This shift is consistent with observations in previous editions of the Strategic Monitor, but is now even more pronounced. The factors driving these developments, both at the national and the international level, are structural in nature, and are not likely to suddenly lose strength or change direction any time soon. A further erosion and adaptation of the regimes underpinning the order should be expected. The outlook for the international order is therefore that this macro-trend is not likely to change in the next few years.
Despite this negative outlook, it is equally important to note that there are certainly areas in which international cooperation persists, albeit more often in the context of voluntary and non-binding initiatives of coalitions of the able and the willing, comprised of national and local governments, and increasingly in partnership with non-state actors. Such coalitions take on transnational challenges, ranging from addressing the effects of climate change to designing regulations to deal with cyber risks. The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace received support from a mixed coalition, including 75 states, 26 public authorities and local governments, 340 international and civil society organizations, and 624 corporations. It epitomizes another aspect of the global redistribution of power alongside the geographical reorientation, namely power diffusion from states to various types of non-state actors.
These shifts all take place in an era of rapid technological change. The past few years have seen considerable advances both in computing (processing) power and in algorithms that are progressively being integrated in and implemented across a wide range of industries. Although Moore’s Law combined with advances in machine learning does not translate into exponential rates of change in the real world, it is undeniably driving the pace of economic, political, societal, and military processes. Rapid technological development offers opportunities to make the world a better place, among others by enhancing food production, finding better cures for diseases, and in time perhaps even reducing our ecological footprint.
But it also generates a whole host of new challenges to political and societal cohesion, economic equality, national security, and fundamental human rights. These present policymakers with important questions such as: how to deal with digital divides, winner-takes-all dynamics, and concomitant growing wedges in income and wealth; how to address comprehensive forms of data collection by public but also private actors and how to protect privacy; how to shield democratic discourses from being manipulated for commercial or political gain; and how to ensure the integrity and security of critical infrastructures in the context of globally integrated vendor and supply chain markets. The headlines of 2019 are indicative of a range of important challenges that our polities are starting to grapple with in a new context.
These challenges also manifest themselves in the trends and developments analyzed within the six main threat themes. Our multi-component assessment of the threats associated with military competition, cyber security, hybrid conflict, economic security, CBRN weapons, and the nexus between terrorism and technology paints a predominantly negative picture. Here too there is an alignment of various vectors that amplify threats across these themes. The intentions, capabilities, and activities of the principal actors clearly point to a deterioration of the security environment. Increasing interstate competition over power, security, and prosperity features considerable strategic experimentation and innovation, both in traditional military and economic domains and in the cyber domain. Opportunities offered by technological advances are actively sought and exploited. Resurgent and emerging powers increasingly deploy hybrid tactics targeting both virtual and physical assets. Even if their purpose is to gain incremental advantages while staying below the threshold of war, the risk of escalation is real. Some authors have observed that major war is far from obsolete, whereas others assert that it is “less unlikely.”
But even absent escalation, interstate competition is having important implications for the nature of threats, the vulnerability of our societies to contemporary threats, and the type of reaction this is engendering among state actors. Conceptually speaking, these implications involve the further fusion of the internal-external security nexus, with the global affecting the local and vice versa. Borders, physical or otherwise, do not shield against the dangers posed by external forces. This leads to what military strategists refer to as strategic compression, or the compression of time and geographical distance. Threat actors can act over longer distances in shorter amounts of time. It also implies the spillover of threats from one domain to another, with multidomain threats becoming the rule rather than the exception. In addressing these contemporary threats, national governments are assuming more responsibilities and expanding their roles. They do so by trying to augment their reach and extend their control. Various states are bringing critical infrastructures, including the Internet, under national control, while they re-evaluate the use of global manufacturing supply chains for critical technologies. This can be expected to put a dent in globalization and is likely to affect the shape of economic and security regimes that will be part of the emerging order. States are also building in multidomain capabilities, further developing and refining whole-of-government approaches, both on the defensive and on the offensive side. With the nature of the security environment evolving, state exploration of new concepts and strategies concerning how to address threats and harness opportunities has only just begun. As these exploratory efforts gain more flesh and substance in the years to come, they will be important factors in shaping the rules of the international order.
Do the developments described here signify the full demise of the existing international order, or do they merely represent a perhaps overdue renovation of regimes within that order that are no longer fit for purpose? We would argue that the developments suggest a little bit of both: some elements in the existing international order are revised and brought in sync with the global distribution of power; other elements are redesigned from scratch. This leaves the shape of the emerging international order still uncertain but not entirely unclear. Based on our analysis, on our reading of the writing on the wall, the following observations pertaining to the international order over the next five years seem justified.
First, interstate relations are likely to feature more outright forms of competition in the economic, military, but also the ideological realm. Expect more explicit expressions of self-interest to be accompanied by more explicit policies directed at asserting self-interest. Note that interstate competition does not preclude interstate cooperation, nor does it necessarily imply interstate conflict.
For the dominant power, the US, that competition straddles all domains but begins and ends with military competition, a way of thinking largely alien to European leaders and populations. A still dominant stream in US thinking propagates military preeminence, which envisions the US being able to militarily dominate any other power, including China. This is more than mere Beltway talk. Official strategies have been formulated and budgets allocated in support of that goal, and the Pentagon is gearing up for long-term rivalry with China. Europe does not really feature in that vision, other than that it should be able to defend itself against Russia in a conflict in the European theater, freeing up American resources to fight and win in the Indo-Pacific theater.
Expect, alongside a strategy of military preeminence, elements of economic retrenchment and protectionism to become part of US policies. Declining levels of competitiveness of traditional industries and greater competition in emerging industries are likely to lead the US to implement more protectionist policies irrespective of the occupant of the White House. The nature as well as the extent of that retrenchment is uncertain. It may transpire gradually and in a consultative and collaborative way within a multilateral framework, or it may follow a more abrupt, assertive, and unilateralist course as pursued by the current administration. How this will eventually play out also depends on the responses of the two other economic powerhouses, China and the EU, but expect these latter two actors not to sit idly by. Confronted with US protectionism, they are likely to pursue reciprocal strategies.
The dynamics of US-Sino rivalry will be different from those between the US and the Soviet Union in the Cold War and will take place across multiple domains. In the Cold War, the principal competition was between two blocs of states with very little economic interlinkages between them. Many states in the periphery were left largely on the sidelines in terms of economic and political integration within these blocs. The current system is characterized by vastly deeper economic integration not just in terms of bilateral trade but also in terms of integrated global supply chain networks and foreign direct investment both between the two most important powers, China and the US, and between a larger number of states and groups of states such as the EU in that system. Interdependence can contribute to stability by creating mutual interests, but it can also contribute to spillover effects which fuel negative spiral dynamics. Expect state actors to actively pursue issue linkage strategies which will force others to confront real trade-offs between colliding interests. Two dangers that lurk are first, in the economic domain, the widespread implementation of beggar-thy-neighbor policies which will drive an economic race to the bottom; and second, economic uncoupling into different blocs around the US and China, which will remove incentives to constrain competition in other domains, most importantly the military domain.
Out of the current context, expect for the foreseeable future looser alliances in the context of an overall looser hierarchy within the system. The Cold War was characterized by a bipolar hierarchy with clear leadership, relatively tight alliance systems, especially in the core, and clear avenues for coordination within and between these blocs. In the emerging system, some alliance relationships may tighten (for instance the Japan-US alliance), but a more general trend points toward to the loosening of alliance relations, understood both in a formal sense (e.g., US and Turkey vis-à-vis NATO, for instance) and in a more informal sense, with states not wanting to be forced into one bloc or another. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s public demand not to be “pressured to take sides” at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2019 exemplifies the latter. Looseness of alliances can be a source of instability because of the uncertainty and unpredictability it injects into the order, but if it prevents the polarization of the states in the system in two blocs along rigid ideological lines with no cross-cutting cleavages, it can act as a strongly stabilizing force.
On the ideological front, expect increasing recognition of the fact that liberal democratic states and illiberal states have different value systems. It will become accepted that these differences cannot be ignored, condemned, or wished away, as used to be the dominant response especially in the West. Recognition implies neither moral justification nor acceptance, but stems from acknowledging that these value systems are different and must be dealt with. This recognition results from two factors. First, the majority of the generation of current political leadership in the West, having had multiple wake-up calls, are now more or less accustomed to the ‘new normal’. Putting this differently, the notion has been brought home that other leaders really see things differently and are not likely to come around to a Western way of thinking. Second, parts of Western populations are not as dismissive of such value systems as the majorities in their societies are, meaning that illiberal world views are not dismissed right off the bat and will receive an audience through globally operating traditional and modern (social) media, and therefore be part of societal discourses.
What does this mean for the international order, or the collection of regimes that together constitute the international order? Our projection is that the reinvigoration of the liberal order, under renewed leadership of the US, is not likely to take place. A change in leadership in the US (and whether US policies will be characterized by restraint, retrenchment, or collaboration) will certainly have an impact on the liberal scope of the international order. However, the structural nature of international and domestic developments described in this study is likely to drive the international order’s further adaptation in line with new concerns and demands by leading protagonists. The order is therefore likely to become less liberal in nature and less global in scope, as it will be more fragmented. To some degree, the international liberal order will therefore become thinner in breadth and scope, certainly compared to the expectations and aspirations of political thinkers and leaders of the 1990s and the 2000s.
The types of coordination arrangements between states that are likely to become dominant are as yet uncertain. At this stage, it is too early to say whether a contemporary Concert of Great Powers will emerge as the centrally coordinating mechanism, similar to the post-1815 period on the European continent, or whether changing, ad hoc constellations of great and middle powers – depending on the issue area – will be more salient. Meanwhile, the formation of new international organizations and the refurbishment of existing ones that will come to play a role in coordinating mechanisms is a possibility.
Two countervailing forces are nevertheless worth considering. First, the international order as such is starting from a much higher baseline compared to previous eras when orders became dislodged, for instance in the 1910s and 1930s. There is a much thicker patchwork of treaties and agreements covering a vastly broader spectrum of activities and involving a much more diverse array of participants, both in terms of the number of states and in terms of the number of private actors. Modern means of communication and transportation will continue to facilitate coordination and collaboration that underpin the regimes that make up the order. Vested (establishment) interests, both public and private, will continue to argue for international coordination and collaboration. So even if the liberal nature of aspects of the order diminish, international regulation coordinated between states that have assumed greater roles in the regulation of their societies than in the past is expected to persist across a range of international dossiers over the next few years.
Second, despite ideological differences and competing interests, the pressure to act on various key international dossiers – e.g., climate change or nuclear weapon proliferation – may become so intense that global political leaders will see themselves forced to act. Enabled by technological means and spurred on by their citizens and responsible corporations, the urgency of the challenges may help them overcome the problems typically associated with collective action. Granted, it is not certain that this will in fact happen, but especially if confronted with the immediately visible impact of such challenges it would not be the first time that political leaders manage to figure out solutions that serve the common global good.
What does this outlook mean for the Netherlands? Policy recommendations fall outside the scope of the Strategic Monitor, but a few observations are in order to bridge the gap between the high-level findings uncovered in research exercises such as this and insights that are more directly actionable for policymakers, at least those that are tasked with longer-term and strategic foreign and security policymaking.
Our high-level analysis of the Dutch position vis-à-vis other countries based on the DFRI suggests first and foremost that the Netherlands finds itself in a fortuitous position, with an assortment of close allies and partners in geographic proximity that are tightly integrated in joint economic, political, and security coordination arrangements. In terms of values, many countries have moved closer to the Netherlands, indicating that the Netherlands faces fewer outright opponents and more potential partners. Despite ongoing turbulence in the EU, Europe continues to grow in relevance. The US remains the most important country, although it has become less important in relative terms, with Germany as a close second. While these countries continue to be dominant in Dutch foreign relations, emerging powers have become increasingly relevant as measured along economic, political, and military dimensions over the past ten years. This is a sign of the changing international context in which the Netherlands operates. Especially China’s rapid economic, military, and political ascent, combined with the fact that it is not aligned with Dutch core values, highlights that China presents opportunities as well as risks in the design of future Dutch foreign policies. In addition, a number of middle powers have increased both in relevance and in compatibility, which means that the Netherlands has a range of potential partners to collaborate with in shaping international regimes and regulations in this changing context.
In light of increasing competition in the context of a decaying order, lopsided dependence on single actors across multiple fields is potentially dangerous. This is the case in a direct sense, because it reduces the Netherlands’ room for maneuver due to risks associated with issue linkage, but also in a more indirect sense, because it leads to polarization, not just within blocs but also across blocs, which in turn is not conducive to stability in the overall system. Put in more concrete terms, military dependency on an increasingly protectionist US may mean that the Netherlands sees itself forced to make economic choices that are not in its direct interest. If that happens repeatedly, it will contribute to the polarization of blocs, not just in the economic but also in the military domain, in a global context. Investing in greater strategic autonomy, not just militarily but also economically and politically, creates greater maneuvering room, which in turn contributes not only to the security and prosperity of the Netherlands but also to the stability of the system at large.
The growing relevance of European countries, and the regulatory power of the European Union across important economic and sociopolitical domains, means that strong collaboration within Europe will be indispensable. This should be approached certainly not as an end in itself, but rather as an instrument that can be used to protect Dutch interests. At the same time, the changing context and the adaptation of the existing order require greater investment in bilateral relationships to build and strengthen partnerships that can help achieve Dutch core interests, both inside and outside of multilateral frameworks.
In selecting partnerships and making strategic choices, it is vital to have a clear understanding both of the vulnerabilities to which the Netherlands is exposed and the opportunities the Netherlands can leverage. How these interests can be served in a world that is closely integrated along many different dimensions is neither trivial nor simple. Deliberations and decisions concerning such choices should not only be reached on the basis of qualitative argument, but should be informed by granular and where possible empirical assessments. Cost and benefit assessments should take into account not just direct but also indirect effects. Whereas these types of assessments are fairly mainstream in general Dutch policymaking, with the research of statistical agencies playing a central role in decision-making on important policy matters, there is ample opportunity for improvement in this realm. ‘The empirical turn’ in foreign and security policy decision-making should still be firmly guided by normative convictions but should exploit level-headed assessments of how policies affect Dutch interests.
The changing context not only requires new partnerships based on such assessments, but also requires concept development and experimentation with new policy concepts to keep up with the evolving foreign policy environment. The pioneering of flow security concepts and connectivity strategies are two visible examples of some of the initiatives that Western public actors have been cautiously developing in this respect, but in a changing context concept development and experimentation deserves much greater priority than it is currently given.
Finally, the changing international context does not mean that we should ignore or under-appreciate our own values. It rather means the opposite. Increasing rivalry between values systems in the world requires that we also make more explicit what we stand for, and which way of life we want to protect and develop, and that where possible we actively use our values as an instrument of power and influence.
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