Consortium Leader: Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
Consortium Member: The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)
Subcontractor: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Countering hybrid threats

Submitted by Inge on Wed, 10/27/2021 - 14:43

Steps for improving EU-NATO cooperation

In recent years the word ‘hybrid’ has dominated the debates on security and defence. Much has been written about hybrid peace, hybrid conflict and hybrid warfare. Cyber-attacks, disinformation and election interference: these are just three often cited examples of hybrid threats. Western countries are struggling with the question of how to respond to these threats, in particular as military responses alone are insufficient and inappropriate to deal with such challenges. A whole-of-government or even a whole-of-society approach is required, as hybrid threats are targeted at wider governmental infrastructure, at privately-owned entities and at citizens at large or at specific organisations.

Countering hybrid threats has also become a priority on the EU and NATO agendas as both organisations and their member states are confronted with ‘sub-threshold’ or ‘grey zone’ challenges. In 2016, when both organisations agreed on a list of topics for EU-NATO cooperation, countering hybrid threats was selected as one of the important fields of action. Correspondingly, in 2016 and 2017 the EU and NATO drafted at least 22 concrete proposals for enhancing cooperation in the area of countering hybrid threats. Since then, both organisations have issued six progress reports with an overall positive assessment of their cooperation, but it remains unclear what has actually been achieved. This begs the question which concrete results have the EU and NATO produced? This report will analyse the progress made so far and will provide – based on the analysis – ideas and suggestions for further improving EU-NATO cooperation in the area of countering hybrid threats.

Hybrid is one of the new buzzwords, but the question remains what constitutes ‘hybrid threats’. Chapter 2 provides an overview of some of the definitions used. In the subsequent chapter 3 the authors assess the results of EU-NATO cooperation in the field of countering hybrid threats, drawing from that analysis the reasons for ‘what works’ and ‘what does not work’ (or ‘does not work to the full extent’). Based on the outcome of what has been achieved, the fourth chapter points to the potential for ‘what could be further achieved’. Taking into account the (political) limitations of EU-NATO cooperation, this chapter also looks at the potential for alternative cooperation formats. The fifth and final chapter draws conclusions and provides recommendations for action to improve EU-NATO cooperation in countering hybrid threats.

The underlying methodology of this report consists of the combination of analysing the relevant literature and other written, publicly available sources, and conducting interviews with EU and NATO officials. Interviews were conducted in the time period June-August 2021, under the application of the Chatham House Rule.


Dick Zandee, Head of the Security Unit and Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Adája Stoetman, Junior Researcher at the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute


European defence: Specialisation by capability groups

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 13:18

In many professions specialisation is regarded as a virtue. In a hospital the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the nurse have specialised skills. Together they engage in teamwork to cure patients. Yet, when it comes to defence, specialisation has a negative connotation. Contrary to the hospital’s operating theatre, dependency on each other’s armed forces is regarded as a serious, if not unacceptable risk, as a country has to be able to defend itself without relying on capabilities to be provided by other states. In reality, however, interdependence is a fact: European countries have relied on the nuclear deterrent of the United States since the 1950s and with regard to conventional forces, no single European country can provide all necessary capabilities. The question is how European interdependence can be made more effective. The answer must partly lie in specialisation.

This policy brief addresses specialisation in security and defence from the perspective of the ‘Team Europe’ approach of distributing tasks and operating with varying coalitions of European countries in order to make the EU (and in this case also NATO) more effective. It presents a model of structuring European armed forces in specialised groups – an idea that has been proposed in a Clingendael report published earlier this year. First, the Policy Brief lays out the playing field by explaining the model of European capability groups. Next, several options for European capability groups will be proposed. It concludes with listing the implications for the Netherlands.


Dick Zandee, Head of the Security Unit and Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute


The EU’s Strategic Compass for security and defence

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 06/10/2021 - 11:23

The European Union (EU) is developing a Strategic Compass for security and defence, to be ready by March 2022. The first semester of 2021 is the phase of the ‘strategic dialogue’ with the member states and institutions of the EU, including the involvement of think tanks and other stakeholders. Commissioned by the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Clingendael Institute delivers its contribution to the strategic dialogue on the Strategic Compass by focussing on defining more precisely the military level of ambition of the EU and what it implies for capability development and the relationship with NATO.

The EU faces a wider set of challenges and threats than ever before. In the global power rivalry between China, Russia and the United States, it is ‘Europe’ that runs the danger of becoming irrelevant and the object of great power actions rather than being a global actor. The arc of instability around Europe is unlikely to turn into an arc of stability. The challenges posed by state and non-state actors – the latter in particular in the southern neighbourhood – require the EU to respond to external conflicts and crises, to support partners to provide security for their own population and to protect the Union and its citizens – the three strategic priorities for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as defined five years ago in the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence. While the EU has made progress in many areas – trade policies, partnerships, civilian crisis management – its military tools have remained weak as a result of a lack of political will and the absence of adequate military means.

The Strategic Compass offers the opportunity to close the gap between ‘too much rhetoric’ and ‘too little action’ that have characterised the EU’s security and defence efforts so far. In recent years, new instruments have been created to improve European defence cooperation – such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) – but these are what they are: without strategic direction instruments tend to become bureaucratic tools rather than the rails on which the train travels to its destination. In the Strategic Compass the EU has to define more precisely its military level of ambition and what it implies for capability development and partnerships. In short, the report tries to answer two questions: (1) what should the EU be able to do, and (2) what is needed to get there? The relationship with NATO has to be taken into account in answering these key questions.

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Dick Zandee (Head of Security Unit and Senior Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute)

Bob Deen (Senior Research Fellow, Coordinator Russia & Eastern Europe Centre, the Clingendael Institute)

Adája Stoetman (Junior Researcher, the Clingendael Institute)


European Strategic Autonomy in Security and Defence

Submitted by Inge on Fri, 12/04/2020 - 13:56

Now the going gets tough, it's time to get going. 

Based on the current situation some argue against European strategic autonomy, out of a fear that it could lead to an American withdrawal of its military support to the European continent. On the opposite side one can find proponents of a European Union with full strategic autonomy to play its part in the global competition with the great powers (China, Russia and the US), implying once again that the concept is wider than only being autonomous in security and defence.

The ‘against school’ seems to deny the increasing doubt about the US security guarantee to Europe and neglects the need for the EU to pursue its own strategic interests, backed up with military forces when required. The ‘pro school’ assumes too easily that the EU can overcome its disunity and that serious military shortfalls will be rectified within a couple of years.

Aiming for “a certain degree of autonomy” might be a way out, but this raises several questions such as: what degree of strategic autonomy, for what purposes and which related military capabilities are needed? Furthermore, are Europe and the EU synonyms?

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Dick Zandee (Head Security Unit/Senior Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute)

Bob Deen (Senior Research Fellow/Coordinator Russia and Eastern Europe Centre, the Clingendael Institute)

Kimberley Kruijver (Junior Researcher, the Clingendael Institute)

Adája Stoetman (Junior Researcher, the Clingendael Institute)


From Blurred Lines to Red Lines

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 10/05/2020 - 14:48

How Countermeasures and Norms Shape Hybrid Conflict

Conflicts between states have taken on new forms and hybrid operations play an increasingly important role in this volatile environment. Belligerent powers introduce a new model of conflict fought by proxy, across domains, and below the conventional war threshold to advance their foreign policy goals while limiting decisive responsiveness of their victim.   

Given these hybrid threats, how should Western states respond? Are there any tools available Western states have that can draw red lines into blurred lines of hybrid conflict? 

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This paper series argues that the West does have one powerful tool that can help shape hybrid threat actors. That tool is international norms. Norms set international expectations of acceptable state behavior – yardsticks which the international community can leverage when calling out unscrupulous states.  

But norms do not develop out of nothing. This report applies the norm lifecycle theory, which analyzes norm development from emergence to cascade and internalization, to five case studies to to better understand the real-life strategies, tools of influence, dilemmas, and trade-offs that empower state-led norm processes. The report not only considers how norms develop, but also what role they play within the counter-hybrid posture of a state, and how they, in conjunction with countermeasures, shape adversarial hybrid behavior. 

As many norm entrepreneurs often seem to underestimate, the pursuit of countermeasures may lead to unintended second-order normative effects that undermine their long-term strategic interests. For instance, overt cyber pre-deployment in adversary systems can introduce a norm of mutually assured debilitated, while overt offensive cyberspace operations in response to disinformation can weaponize information in the same ways as Russia. This scenario is explored in-depth in the second case study of this report dealing with Russian disinformation campaigns. 

This report also explores four other case studies on Russian, Chinese, and ISIS hybrid conflict actions. The case studies are published individually as a paper series and compiled in a full report with complete overview of the theoretical underpinnings of norm development and the key insights that emerge from the analysis, as well as the concluding remarks and policy recommendations. The policy recommendations explore ways for the Netherlands and its partners to help promote and enforce norms of restraint beyond classic like-minded groups of states while being cognizant of unintended consequences.  

Please find an overview of the separate case studies below: 

Case Study 1: Protecting Electoral Infrastructure from Russian cyber operations

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Case Study 2: Responding to Russian Disinformation in Peacetime

Download Case Study | Download Factsheet

Case Study 3: Countering ISIS Propaganda in Conflict Theatres

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Case Study 4: Responding to Chinese Economic Espionage

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Case Study 5: Upholding Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

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Louk Faesen, Tim Sweijs, Alexander Klimburg, Conor MacNamara and Michael Mazarr (HCSS)


De Impact van Covid-19 op Europese Veiligheid

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 08/24/2020 - 16:28

Wat zijn de gevolgen van Covid-19 voor de Europese veiligheid? Hoe zal de coronacrisis de internationale machtsverhoudingen veranderen? Welk spoor trekt de virusuitbraak door bestaande bondgenootschappen? Welke lering kunnen we trekken uit de gevolgen van pandemieën uit het verleden? En wat zijn de belangrijkste te verwachten veiligheidsdynamieken voor de komende vijf jaar?

Covid-19 is in de eerste plaats een versneller van al langer zichtbare veiligheidstrends in en aan de randen van Europa op het gebied van democratie, goed bestuur en mensenrechten, sociale veiligheid, politieke stabiliteit, interstatelijke competitie en geopolitieke rivaliteit.

Het beteugelen van het virus vereist maatregelen zonder precedent en zal uiteindelijk grote sociale en politieke gevolgen hebben, ook voor Nederland. De coronacrisis kan in de toekomst leiden tot erosie van democratische normen en principes, het vergroten van de maatschappelijke polarisatie en het destabiliseren van kwetsbare landen aan de randen van het Europese continent. Bovendien gooit de pandemie olie op het vuur van interstatelijke competitie.

Hoe kan Nederland deze aanzienlijke gevolgen het hoofd bieden? Onze notitie benadrukt de volgende aandachtspunten voor het Nederlands buitenland- en veiligheidsbeleid:

  • Nederland moet zich internationaal blijven inzetten voor democratische normen, goed bestuur en de bescherming van mensenrechten, speerpunten van het Nederlands beleid;
  • Het voorkomen van verdere escalatie van maatschappelijke onrust en politieke instabiliteit in en aan de randen van Europa vergen Nederlandse inspanningen en inzet op het gebied van conflictpreventie, conflictstabilisatie en conflictindamming;
  • De mondiale weerbaarheid tegen een volgende pandemie zal versterkt moeten worden. Deze weerbaarheid stoelt op voldoende reactiecapaciteit van de zorg; op R&D-capaciteit om vaccins te ontwikkelen én te produceren; en op het verbeteren van internationale early warning capaciteiten.

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Tim Sweijs (Director of Research, HCSS)

Femke Remmits (HCSS)

Hugo van Manen (HCSS)

Frank Bekkers (Director of the Security Program, HCSS)


Covid-19 en het multilaterale veiligheidsbestel

Submitted by Inge on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:23

Het multilaterale stelsel kampt al geruime tijd met de nodige kwalen, lang voordat Covid-19 haar intrede deed. Het voor de veiligheid en voorspoed van Nederland zo belangrijke internationale bestel van normen en instituties is wel vaker in het gedrang geweest, maar de druk is de afgelopen jaren flink toegenomen. Dit komt met name door de houding van drie geopolitieke sleutelspelers: de Verenigde Staten, China en Rusland. De harde America first benadering van de VS onder president Trump, dat zich steeds vaker terugtrekt uit multilaterale samenwerkingsverbanden en verdragen, versterkt een lange termijn trend waarin Washington steeds minder leiderschap wil dan wel kan tonen. Een steeds assertiever China onder leiding van Xi Jinping probeert het multilaterale bestel naar Chinees model opnieuw in te richten, terwijl Rusland met name op veiligheids- en mensenrechtengebied al jarenlang blokkades opwerpt. Tenslotte groeit de publieke scepsis over globalisering in het algemeen, waardoor het draagvlak voor multilateralisme afneemt.

De auteurs

Bob Deen (Senior Research Fellow bij Instituut Clingendael)

Adája Stoetman (Junior Researcher bij Instituut Clingendael)

Sico van der Meer (Research Fellow bij Instituut Clingendael)


De Geopolitieke Gevolgen van de Coronacrisis

Submitted by Inge on Tue, 06/16/2020 - 10:06

In een nieuwe notitie gaat Rob de Wijk in op de geopolitieke effecten van Covid-19, de gevolgen voor de veiligheid en hoe Nederland hierop kan reageren.

Momenteel vallen drie crises samen: de uitbraak van Covid-19, een recessie zonder weerga en een geopolitieke paradigmaverandering, terwijl de Brexit en klimaatverandering ook aandacht vragen. Deze perfect storm in combinatie met het opkomend populisme stelt beleidsmakers zodanig op de proef dat het de vraag is of de nationale politieke systemen en daarmee internationale organisaties als de EU en de NAVO dit aankunnen.

Als dat niet het geval is, kunnen de economische veiligheid, de territoriale integriteit en de maatschappelijke en politieke stabiliteit van Nederland in gevaar komen. Een beleidsomslag zonder precedent is noodzakelijk. Nederland staat daarbij voor een keuze: het multilateralisme versterken en werken aan de verdieping van de Europese samenwerking, met alle pijnlijke politieke keuzes van dien, of toestaan dat de EU teruggaat naar een vrijhandelszone of implodeert.

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Covid-19: De geopolitieke gevolgen voor de EU

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 06/08/2020 - 13:31

Bij het aantreden van de Europese Commissie in november 2019 sprak voorzitster Ursula von der Leyen over de noodzaak van een geopolitiek optredende Europese Unie in een veranderende wereld. De uitbraak van de Covid-19 crisis in Europa, begin maart dit jaar, onderstreepte volgens Von der Leyen “the need for Europe to be stronger, more united and more strategic in the way it thinks, acts and speaks.” De veranderende wereld met de opkomst van China, een assertief Rusland en een minder betrokken en minder invloedrijke Verenigde Staten dwingt de EU om in de internationale arena van de machtspolitiek een eigen rol op te eisen. Minder duidelijk is hoe een geopolitiek optredende EU gestalte moet krijgen. Deze notitie beoogt hiertoe aanzetten te geven. Daarbij komen achtereenvolgens aan de orde: de mogelijke gevolgen van de Covid-19 crisis op geo-economisch gebied en het buitenlands-, veiligheids- en defensiebeleid van de EU. De notitie sluit af met een opsomming van de implicaties voor Nederland.

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De auteurs

Dick Zandee (Hoofd Security Unit, Instituut Clingendael)

Kimberley Kruijver (Junior Researcher - Security Unit, Instituut Clingendael)


The future of Arctic security 

Submitted by Inge on Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:55

The Arctic environment is changing rapidly due to climate change. Despite continued cooperation between the Arctic states and other countries, the risk of the region becoming a playground for great power competition is increasing. Current trends point to a further geopolitisation of the area, multiplied by the melting of ice. Increasingly, Russia, China and the United States will compete in the Arctic in the context of the global power game. Moscow is stepping up its military activities and securitisation is increasingly characterising the American Arctic policy. Beijing is increasing its financial- economic investment in the region, which serves its long-term agenda of becoming a global superpower. The US administration has already started to respond, both by accusing Russia and China of their geopolitical activities as well as by stepping up its own involvement in the region. As a result, Arctic security is more prominently on the agenda than ever before.

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The authors

Dick Zandee (Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Security Unit at the Clingendael Institute).

Kimberley Kruijver (Junior Researcher at the Clingendael Institute)

Adája Stoetman (Junior Researcher at the Clingendael Institute)