Policy must be shaped by science, Part 2


Front cover of the Clingendael Monitor 2017

This article is Part 2 in a series of articles in which I discuss the Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2017.

In the previous article, I discussed the absence of a consistent theoretical framework that should underpin International Relations theory (in general), and the ‘Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2017’ with the title ‘Multi-Order’.

In efforts to compensate for the absence for such a framework, a research method is used by Clingendael based on a ‘wisdom-of-the-crowds’ approach, by interviewing 2500 ‘experts’ worldwide.

The results are presented as ‘evidence-based research’; but of course the term ‘opinion-based research’ should have been more appropriate.

These interviews can never compensate for the absence of a theoretical framework, or the scientific method. ‘Opinions’ – even the opinions of 2500 ‘experts’ – are not the same as a scientific theory.

In this article, I discuss a number of quotes. These quotes are statements in the Clingendael Strategic Monitor. Each quote I discuss in a comment that follows. Eventually each comment comes (not surprisingly) down to the same point: the lack of a theory. Its is guesswork.

I also address some specifics discussed in the quote in question. In some cases – when appropriate – I relate the statement from the Clingendael Monitor to my research.

Out of practical considerations, I had to limit the number of statements I discuss in this article.


Quote (1) Nothing is wrong with the world; a lot is wrong with us.

Quote (1): “What is wrong with the world? Just twenty years ago, it was unthinkable that Russia would be asserting itself through sabre-rattling on Europe’s eastern border, that China would be one of the world’s largest economies, that jihadi terrorism would be one of the main security challenges facing the West and that the immediate ring of countries around Europe, rather than being the hoped-for ring of stability, would seem to have degenerated into a ring of fire. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs puts it, ‘a quarter of a century after the fall of the Wall, the hopes of that time have turned into the uncertainty of today’.”

Comment (1): Nothing is wrong with the world. And the events that are mentioned – or similar events – should not have come as surprise: Around 1991, when the Soviet-Union collapsed, the System resumed its ‘normal’ chaotic war dynamics, which are intrinsically unpredictable in nature. When the Soviet-Union collapsed the second exceptional period (1945-1991) came to an end. Contrary to the first exceptional period (1657-1763), when non-systemic war dynamics where ‘extreme’ and periodic in nature, the non-systemic war dynamics during the second exceptional period where highly subdued.


This figure shows the abnormal (non-chaotic) non-systemic war dynamics during the first exceptional period (1657-1763); during this period the war dynamics were periodic in nature, and consequently highly predictable (Data from Levy). These abnormal war dynamics can be attributed to the intense rivalry between Great Britain and France during this period. During the Cold War (1945-1991), the second exceptional period, the (abnormal) non-systemic war dynamics were highly subdued, as a consequence of the intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. It not only is remarkable that these regularities weren not observed earlier (certain scientific insights in the working of complex systems were not yet available), it is even more remarkable that they are now ignored.

In 1991 (until 2011), the System was in the low-connectivity regime of the fifth (first global) war cycle, when the average size of non-systemic war dynamics increased. Starting in 2011 (analysis shows), the average size of non-systemic wars started decreasing as a consequence of a network effect. Instead of tensions being released and issues between states being solved, tensions and unsolved issues started accumulating in the System. This process of accumulation is still ongoing. The high tensions levels result in more radical and volatile social dynamics, typical for high-connectivity regimes.


(2) Uncertainty is intrinsic to the System’s dynamics, and cannot be eliminated by a strategy, only by fundamentally changing the nature of the System.

Quote (2): “EU High Representative Federica Mogherini notes, uncertainty cannot be used as the basis for policy: ‘This is no time for uncertainty: our Union needs a Strategy. We need a shared vision, and common action’.”

Comment (2): Mogherini’s suggestion ‘This is no time for uncertainty: our Union needs a Strategy. We need a shared vision, and common action.’ does not make sense. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the System’s chaotic dynamics, and cannot be eliminated by a strategy; at best it can be made (to a limited degree) ‘manageable’.


(3) The Clingendael does not offer firm ground to stand on, as it states: Its ‘evidence’ cannot compensate for a lack of a scientific theory.

Quote (3): “The questions for the Clingendael Strategic Monitor, therefore, are: What is the strategic environment? What threats can be expected? And to what extent is the ‘world order’ changing? The updated Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2017 identifies the major trends based on a solid evidence-based and transparent method. In this way, despite all the uncertainty, the Monitor offers some firm ground to stand on.”

Comment (3): The evidence is not provided, as far as the method is transparent, it is not based on a scientific framework, but only on opinions of experts. Furthermore, opinions should not be presented as evidence. There is no ‘firm ground’ provided by the Clingendeal Monitor.


(4) The ‘Multi-Order’ is a vague idea that needs (much) more clarification.

Quote (4): “…… the Monitor concludes that the world order is moving into uncharted waters. Clingendael uses the term ‘Multi-Order’: a highly diverse system in which international cooperation takes place (or fails to do so) in totally different ways in separate areas. The state of international cooperation thus depends on the specific theme. Within the multi-order, Clingendael expects an ongoing rules-based system in which the level of cooperation varies, depending on the theme. The multi-order bears no resemblance to the 19th-century multipolar order, nor to the bipolar order of the Cold War, nor to the unipolar order of the 90s. There is no historical precedent. In short, the idea that the world and the EU in particular are mainly suffering the effects of a multipolar malaise that is leading to greater insecurity, more frequent conflict and a crumbling international order, is one that requires nuancing.”

Comment (4): Apart from the question what ‘uncharted waters’ are, it is not surprising that the international order will become increasingly obsolete and dysfunctional. It is a matter of time before the System (because of the accumulating tensions that cannot be released) becomes critical, and experiences a systemic crisis/war. What a multi-order is, is not clear. What an ‘ongoing rules-based system’ is, also is not clear. Research – based on data – shows that a more or less functional (rules-based) order always is in place, except for critical periods. Systemic wars are indicative for the critical condition of the System. During critical periods tensions that have accumulated in the System are used to design and implement an upgraded order, which again allows for a period of relative stability, and further growth and development. It is a matter of time before the System becomes critical again, and an upgraded international order is designed and implemented.


(5) Again: Clingendael’s method – based on opinions of experts – cannot compensate for a scientific theory: 2500 opinions – mostly wishful thinking – does not become science, because of their number.

Quote (5): “These two findings have been arrived at – by contrast with previous years – on the basis of the Structured Expert Approach, a Clingendael method developed in spring 2016 for the purposes of reliable and transparent expert forecasting (see Appendix 2). Clingendael regards experts as crucial, because a purely quantitative analysis has its limitations and Clingendael has very well-established experts both on its staff and in its network. However, it is clear that even the best experts are prone to prejudice and bias. The method is therefore designed to limit forecast bias.”

Comment (5): The weakness is evident in the inability of these experts and the method itself to make any significant predictions, or provide a consistent framework. The first quote of the Clingendael Monitor (‘What is wrong with the world?’) in fact makes implicitly – but exactly – the same point (see quote (1). These experts – including the 2500 experts that have participated in the Clingendael Expert Survey cannot compensate for the scientific method and lack of a consistent theoretical framework.


(6) Trends cannot be identified and made sense of in a short period of just ten years. The same short-term focus – the tendency of historians to focus on specific events – also explains why the five war cycles (1495-present), were not identified.

Quote (6): “This evidence-based Monitor is structured around the following question: ‘What have been the main developments regarding European security and international stability in the past ten years, and in what direction do the trends point up to 2021?’ In answering this question we focus on two sub-questions. These sub-questions were originally also central to the Future Policy Survey of the Dutch Ministry of Defence :(1) What threat assessment can be expected for the EU and its Member States in 2021?, and (2) In what direction will the rules-based order develop between now and 2021?”

Comment (6): A period of ten years is too short to make sense of trends. Also is not clear how ‘stability’ is defined. Does stability mean robustness, fragility, organisational stability or stability in the size distribution of states? It is also important to specify the level of the system the ‘stability’ concerns. During the unfolding of the finite-time singularity dynamic that was accompanied by four accelerating war cycles (1495-1945), which caused the collapse of the ‘European System‘ in 1939. The European System became increasingly unstable, over time, the organisational stability and the ‘permanence’ of the size distribution of states became more permanent, and the robustness and fragility of successive cycles increased. Yes there is much more to the term ‘stability’.


This figure shows the very regular patterns that can be identified in the war dynamics of the System during the period 1495-1945, when the war cycles are used as unit of analysis. ‘Lifespans’ determine the fragility of relatively stable periods, ‘Great Power status dynamics’ determine organisational stability, and ‘number of wars’ and ‘war frequency’ determine the robustness of relatively stable periods. So, what is meant with ‘stability’ in the Clingendael Monitor?

The ‘evidence based method’ is not about evidence but about opinions; ‘opinions based method’ would have been a better qualification for this method.


(7) The ‘regime’ of the war cycle and the number of degrees of freedom of the System determine the properties of non-systemic war dynamics.

Quote (7) (Chapter 1 with the Title ‘A return to geopolitics?’): “The problems facing the EU and the Netherlands are regularly summed up in terms of ‘power shifts’, ‘multipolarity’ and ‘the return of geopolitics’. It is certainly true that, broadly speaking, a transition appears to be occurring from a multilateral to a multipolar order (see also previous versions of the Clingendael Strategic Monitor). This characterisation is one of the most important strategic lenses through which international developments can be understood.”

Comment (7): I argue that “a transition appears to be occurring from a multilateral to a multipolar order”, is not “one of the most important strategic lenses”, as the authors suggest (also is not explained why this should be the case). No relationship exists between these (type of) qualifications/proporties, and the war dynamics of the System. My research shows that it is much more important to distinguish between (1) the low- and high connectivity regimes of war cycles, and (2) the number of degrees of freedom in the System. The number of degrees of freedom determines the ‘type’ (chaotic or abnormal) of non-systemic war dynamics. The number of other Great Powers that are taken into consideration in war decisions (yes/no to ‘go to war’) determines the number of degrees of freedom of the System. Normally, except during both exceptional periods, the number of degrees of freedom of the System (n) > 2. When n > 2 war dynamics are chaotic in nature, and for that reason intrinsically unpredictable, but – at the same time – also more contained. In case only two degrees of freedom exist (n = 2) the non-systemic war dynamics are more extreme and periodic in nature (as was the case during the first exceptional period (1657-1763), or subdued (as was the case during the second exceptional period (1945-1991), except for the Korean War (1950-1953).I will not further comment on the speculative analysis of the authors in the remaining part of chapter 1. I refer to my study.


(8) Rivalries between states will intensify.

Quote (8) (Chapter 2 with the title: The European threat assessment): “The European Global Strategy and the security agenda of the Netherlands offer a broad interpretation of security. Not only states, but a group of individuals, or communities, or even the world as a whole may be threatened by disruption, socioeconomic insecurity or destruction. A risk assessment of ten security issues – conducted by ten experts and set out in the thematic contributions – forms the basis of this analysis. For each theme, the assessment identifies the current threat to European security values (2016) and the developments that can be expected up to 2021. In other words, the forecasting period is five years, based on ten-year trend analyses (2006-2016). To determine whether there is a larger (or smaller) threat, five fundamental European interests are distinguished (see the box on Risk assessment for an explanation).”

Comment (8): The same critique applies as is discussed in previous comments: A lack of a scientific method and a theoretical framework make this ‘assessment’ just a summary of opinions. The wisdom of the crowds was also not able to predict the unavoidability of (for example) the First World War (the third systemic war, 1914-1918), and is (for that reason?) still regarded ‘an accident’, which is – as I explain in my research not the case). I do not discuss the threat assessment presented in the Clingendael Monitor. The Clingendael Monitor is already outdated regarding the threats of states and their rivalries. These rivalries will further intensify: tensions and unsolved issues will increasingly reinforce each other in the coming years, causing the System to become critical. Issues concerning non-state actors will increasingly involve states, and vice versa. Table 1 (page 10, with the title Quantitative threat assessment 2012) is of limited use: The assessment lacks a consistent framework, and opinions cannot compensate for science (Yes, again this explanation).


(9) The world order is definitely crumbling – before our eyes – and not as the Clingendael  Monitor states that this ‘is simply not true’. Also a statement that is not based on facts, and a scientific theory.

Quote (9) (Chapter 3 with the title: The multi-order): “Jochem Wiers, special professor of Dutch foreign policy at the University of Groningen and former head of the Strategy Advisory Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lists four themes for the coming years for a strategic agenda for Dutch foreign policy. One of these themes is the rules-based system: the organisation of a safe, sustainable and fair world, with validity not just in ‘the West’ but also extending to developing countries and non-state actors. The interest in the rules-based order is partly accounted for by the supposed return of geopolitics. The emergence of new players, it is expected, will put fundamental pressure on the rules-based order. The Clingendael Institute analyses reveal a different picture. It is certainly true that there are situations in which international relations are growing less harmonious and the world order (including the rules-based order) is coming under pressure. It is also fair to say that in these cases problems are often encountered as a result of more assertive action by the great powers. Yet it is simply not true that the world order is merely crumbling away. Clingendael’s analyses show continuing cooperation in many areas. Moreover, in many areas the rules-based order turns out to be fairly stable, although there are worrying trends.”

Comment (9): This – “it is simply not true that the world order is merely crumbling away” –   is quite a daring statement – opinion – of Clingendael, and is wrong: The current international order – the United Nations, the first international order at a global scale of the System that was implemented by means of the Second World War (the fourth systemic war, 1939-1945) – is obsolete, increasingly dysfunctional, and about to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions; a process that was/is ‘natural’ to all preceding international orders. The privileged Great Powers in the current international order have acquired these privileges because of their power and influence during the Second World War (although France was not a significant player, it could not be ignored because of its colonies and central position in Europe, ‘too big to ignore’). The power and influence of Great Britain and France, and their privileges are now long overdue. The European Union – and some of its states (Great Britain) – are also crumbling, as well as a number of states in the Middle East and Africa. The territorial integrity of states is no longer respected; the System becomes more dislodged. The tensions that now accumulate in the System, are responsible for this process (and vice versa): They cannot be released by means of non-systemic wars in this phase (high connectivity regime) of the international order, and undermine the international order’s functionality. The authors are obviously not aware, that intense cooperation was also used as an ‘argument’ in the years preceding the First World War, a large-scale war was not considered likely because of ‘intense cooperation’, and war would not make sense. How (predictably) wrong they were.

To be continued.