The European periphery sometimes appears to present an unending series of violent events and sudden upheavals. For policy-makers, this raises questions about what to expect in terms of trends in political violence, their impact on the international order, and how to tackle the underlying causes. In this paper, we analyze trends in political violence and corresponding threats that could possibly materialize in Europe and the Netherlands. The main conclusion is that political violence remains at substantial levels across the periphery, and this is likely to remain so.
Over the last decade, unrest in Europe’s periphery has risen to the top of the Dutch security agenda. Indeed, it was listed as the number one security issue in the recently adopted Integrated International Security Strategy (GBVS, in Dutch), highlighting a preventative approach. While the fallout from crises and wars of the past remained by and large confined to the conflict zones themselves, the conflicts that were set in motion in the MENA region in late 2010 reverberated across the Mediterranean, leading to waves of migrants, an increased threat (and materialization) of terrorism, and economic disruption. On Europe’s eastern flank, long-simmering tensions as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union led to armed conflict when Russia attacked and occupied part of Ukraine in 2014.
Insecurity in the periphery of Europe has profound consequences for the Netherlands. It affects our economic security, as the conflict in Ukraine produced ramifications for energy supplies to Europe from Russia. It affects our physical security, with the downing of flight MH-17 over Ukraine by a Russian-made missile serving as the most dramatic example. It affects our societal security, as the need to host refugees from Syria and flows of migrants to Europe requires communities across the country to adjust and adapt. This same development sees jihadists returning to Dutch soil, which could lead to an increase in ideological polarization. It affects our state security, in that the current standoff with Russia seems to lead to more malign intelligence-related activities on our territory. It affects our values-based patchwork of international relations, in that countries such as Egypt and some European allies are seeing the retrenchment of authoritarianism. And finally, it affects our geopolitical security, in that for instance our relationship with Turkey, a key NATO ally, has deteriorated in the wake of the political turmoil in the country since 2015.
The purpose of this paper is to understand the varieties and sources of political violence and how they evolve and potentially affect security in Europe and the Netherlands. The definition of political violence adopted here follows the definition of politics framed by Harold Lasswell, namely violence resulting from the issue of “who gets what, when and how.” By ‘political violence’ we mean the use of force in a harmful way perpetrated by a state or non-state actor for the sake of effecting changes in the distribution of power or resources within a given polity or community. Political violence can take place at different levels and can involve a variety of actors. Practically speaking, political violence comprises armed conflict waged by one country in another (e.g. Saudi Arabia in Yemen, or Russia in Ukraine); fighting within a country between state and non-state actors (e.g. Tuareg against the central government in Mali); violent protests, for instance by citizens in Tunisia; state repression, such as the Egyptian state security apparatus clamping down on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood; or attacks by elements of al-Qaeda against the Free Syrian Army inside Syria. These are all examples in which control over territory, population, and natural or economic resources is at stake, or where a battle of ideas is being waged.
Geographically speaking, this paper separates Europe’s periphery into four different regions: the Sahel, North Africa, the Middle East, and the post-Soviet space (see Figure 1). In the first section, trends in political violence are analyzed for each of these regions. A second section focuses on trends relating to the international order, and the extent to which basic norms and rules are being adhered to.
The threats emanating from Europe’s neighborhood are as numerous as they are varied. While no data point tells the same story, there is something salient to be said about the overall trends and the broader interconnection between the diverse threats or actual acts of violence. Here, Martin Luther King Jr’s words “violence begets violence” serve as a reminder of how the spillover effects of violence reverberate across communities, countries, and, in our hyper-globalized world, even continents. Two primary data sets, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT), each provide detailed coding for events across Europe’s periphery and inform the findings of this paper.
We discern four categories of political violence: state-based violence, non-state violence, one-sided violence, and protests. Overall, despite a slow decline last year in the number of distinct conflicts across the periphery of Europe relative to a peak in 2016, the 91 conflicts recorded in 2017 tower over equivalent annual figures from 1998 to 2013. Even with a relative decline from the 2016 figures, the total number of fatalities attributed to political violence in 2017 is still more than double that in 2013. From a low point in 2010, where UCDP records indicate 4,469 human casualties due to political violence across all four specified regions, the number for last year surged to 48,610.
Of the whole periphery, the Middle East is the most chronically prone to political violence and conflict. It is a region that has traditionally been contested by many external as well as regional powers. However, until recently, the effects of its political conflicts largely remained confined to the region itself: even the devastating Iraq war that began in 2003 hardly posed a direct security threat to Europe and the Netherlands. This changed with the onset of the Arab revolutions (from 2011 onward). These led to an unprecedented burst of political violence, which in many ways endures today, and the security ramifications of which continually necessitate attention and resources. Levels of conflict remain higher today than at almost any point over the past twenty years, while the number of casualties is over four times the number recorded for any given year during the Iraq war (2003-11).
In 2017, there were 39 active conflicts across the region, predominantly due to state-based violence and non-state violence. These included the wars in Syria and the ongoing struggle against ISIS in pockets of Syria, but also militia fights in Iraq, for instance. All together they account for 33 of the total recorded conflicts. Although all three categories of violence show a marked decrease in the number of conflicts since 2016, non-state and one-sided conflicts were more deadly on average. For non-state and one-sided violence, the average number of fatalities per conflict increased by 88 and thirteen percent, respectively, between 2016 and 2017. Most of these casualties are the result of confrontations between non-state actors, including with Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and, to a lesser extent, clashes between Hezbollah and Tahrir al-Sham in Lebanon. Indeed, the escalation and increasing deadliness of non-state conflict is a trend that prevails throughout the European periphery.
For 2017, a downward trend in fatalities is recorded in relation to one-sided violence and state-based violence, while fatalities due to non-state violence have increased by 3,035 deaths from 2016 (See Figure 2). Nevertheless, the figures for state-based violence and one-sided violence still remain extremely high relative to 2011 figures. These casualty numbers are primarily due to the continuation of the war in Syria, which led to 33,044 fatalities in 2017 alone. The Lancet estimates that around 70 percent of all fatalities in Syria have been civilians. Events in Iraq, which were responsible for the deaths of 11,400 people in 2017, also contributed to the relatively high levels of state-based and one-sided violence recorded for the Middle East. While there were no conflicts attributable to non-state violence in Iraq, ISIS was highly active in and around Baghdad and Mosul, contributing to a high level of one-sided violence and resulting in the deaths of 1,189 civilians. In response, state violence was correspondingly high, due to the Iraqi forces’ counter-attacks on ISIS, leading to 9,951 fatalities.
In general, it appears that protests in this region are often met with violent reactions from the state. Meanwhile, terrorist and government opposition forces exploit this environment of chaos and disenchantment to fuel their own political messaging. Thus, non-state conflicts can flourish within power vacuums and in contexts where the masses feel that current systems of governance cannot deliver their basic needs. Considering these factors, the recent spike in protests during January 2018 — the highest level of protest reached since 2013 — could be emblematic of future volatility (Figure 3). This peak is predominantly due to large-scale anti-government protests across Iran. Although UCDP data for 2018 is yet to be published, the death toll of this one-sided violence is believed to stand at 21, with more than 450 people arrested.
In terms of understanding the structural causes of political violence in the region, much purchase has been given to the impact that so-called ‘youth bulges’ have had on the onset of instability in so many countries in the region. Indeed, research has concluded that many countries that experience such youth bulges are afflicted by “social unrest and violence.”
While the region as a whole is recently experiencing a mild downward trend, some countries appear to have ‘plateaued’ between 2006 and 2010 (Figure 4). Still, the overriding fact is that, proportionally speaking, the youth population in the Middle East is significantly higher than in Europe, with up to sixty percent of the population in the Arab world being under thirty, according to UNDP. It is significant, though, that a related factor, namely youth unemployment, also shows a declining trend, except in Iran and Turkey.
In regards to governance, there have been no marked upward or downward trends in the past decade (Figure 5). The exception is Turkey, where the Erdogan government started its slide towards more centralized control in the wake of the Gezi park protests in Istanbul in 2013. Explaining violence across the Middle East, Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group wrote that “[a] principal driver was a deeply felt sense of social injustice: the perception of conspicuous corruption by a kleptocracy; unresponsive and unaccountable governance (failing technocratic institutions); and an intrusive and arbitrary police state that controlled the issuance of various administrative licenses by demanding cooperation and imposed itself by meting out petty humiliations.” Hence, low levels of good governance provide a key spark for conflict, accounting for the fact that countries such as Lebanon, Iran, and Jordan experience occasional bouts of violence.
Looking ahead, the prospects for political violence to decrease are looking slim. At present, HCSS calculations estimate that the highest risks of continued violence in the here-discussed part of the world are in Iraq, Syria, and parts of Turkey close to the Syrian border, all of which have a chance of seventy percent or more to witness political violence in the coming year. Even though the number of fatalities is declining in the war in Syria, there is no sustainable solution or acceptable peace settlement in sight. Furthermore, if the Kurds manage to hold on to their territory (Rojava), the Turks defend their enclave (Afrin), and Russian and Iranian forces remain on the ground (with the latter perhaps provoking Israel), Syria may have only completed the first part of its war, with the second part becoming a true proxy conflict between the remaining factions and their external supporters. In addition, while ISIS has now largely been routed, it can still resurge, including in Iraq, where a final political compromise still looks fragile. Moreover, the Kurdish question in Iraq has not been resolved yet. Finally, the reverberations of the conflict in Syria continue to be felt in Lebanon and Jordan from time to time, meaning that political violence — mostly at lower levels in the shape of protests — is likely to spill over into these countries.
Despite the optimism generated in North Africa during the Arab Spring, the seven years since that event have been plagued with instability, terrorism, hostile regimes, and large-scale migration. In terms of governance, only Tunisia has seen a transition to democracy, with Egypt returning to an autocracy, Morocco and Algeria maintaining their autocratic governments, and Libya deteriorating before our eyes. UCDP data shows a normalization of violence in the region since the Arab Spring, serving as a reminder of how terrorist organizations can prosper in the context of fragmented states.
Data for North Africa illustrates a sharp decrease in the number of fatalities attributed to state-based violence from a peak in 2016. Despite this recent decline, state-based violence still accounts for the largest number of deaths in the region (865 fatalities). Conflicts in Egypt (between the Egyptian government and ISIS) and Libya (between the Libyan government and opposition forces, and the Libyan government and ISIS) constitute the majority of these deaths. In fact, all of North Africa’s non-state violence in 2017 can be attributed to various militias within Libya fighting for control within a power vacuum.
Similarly to the Middle East, non-state and one-sided conflicts in North Africa for the year 2017 were more deadly on average when compared to 2016 figures. Trends in fatalities due to non-state violence show an increase of 22 percent (Figure 6). The six distinct conflicts between Libya’s warring militias resulted in 578 deaths, a 63 percent increase in the average fatality numbers of the same conflicts from 2016.
Most critically, fatalities due to armed groups (including government forces) attacking civilians is currently at an all-time high for the region. In 2016, the average number of civilians killed per one-sided conflict in North Africa was 24. For 2017 this figure stands at 134, showing somber trends in the proclivity of organizations and states to specifically target civilians. Thus, even considering recent declines in fatalities linked to state-based violence, the levels of political violence in North Africa show a stark increase from 2013. With 311 civilian casualties, the ISIS attack on a Sinai mosque in Egypt on 24 November was by far the largest one-sided deadly event in the region for 2017.
While current rates of protests in North Africa do not seem high relative to the peak of the Arab Spring, demonstrations have remained prevalent and more are expected to erupt as economic conditions worsen (Figure 7). Anger at government austerity measures, lack of employment opportunities, and the inability of everyday people to afford the basics of life are some of the themes causing protests in North Africa so far this year.
In North Africa, the onset of political violence has often been explained in terms of increasing food prices and a lack of prospects for adolescents and young graduates. Studies show that in low-income countries, increases in food prices lead to more instances of riots, anti-government demonstrations, and civil war. Serving as both a cause and an effect of conflict, food prices in North Africa have been steadily climbing, having continued to rise throughout the years of the Arab revolutions (Figure 8). It is significant in this respect that prices have been most stable overall in Morocco, the one country where cuts in bread subsidies have been kept to a minimum.
Another factor often taken into account when explaining political violence in North Africa is youth unemployment. Countries in the region had declining unemployment rates until about 2006–2010, after which they increased (Figure 9). Tunisia and Egypt were hit especially hard, with rates going up by about ten to fifteen percent over the course of a year. In the absence of an economic system that is capable of absorbing new generations into the workforce, youths in North Africa are susceptible to finding purpose and income through extralegal activities, further destabilizing the region and creating the conditions for continuation of the conflict cycle.
With the exception of Tunisia, the governments of North Africa appear at the bottom of the rankings in terms of governance (see Figure 10). Most governments in this region are anocracies (mixed-regime) and correspondingly show persistent volatility. Due to the lack of centralized authority in mixed-regime governments, a plurality of power structures, such as terrorist networks and organized crime syndicates, proliferates. With two competing governments in Tripoli and Tubruk, Libya is a prime example of this phenomenon. As a result, Libya has become a hotspot for weapons proliferation, drug trade, and people-smuggling operations, with a geopolitical position that connects the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Sahel region, the Middle East, and Europe. Indeed, Libya has become the main point of departure for African migrants to Europe, as the route once heavily controlled by Gaddafi is now able to operate unabated.
Overall, despite a recent reduction in fatalities caused by state-based violence, government forces remain highly active in asserting control through force. The HCSS New Political Violence Monitor identifies Libya, Egypt, and Algeria as key countries to monitor closely (See Figure 18). Driven by a power vacuum in Libya and socio-economic tensions in the region, non-state violence will continue to prevail in the region, with civilians either becoming direct victims of violence, or being affected by the economic and social issues that this violence creates. Libya is set to continue on a path of self-destruction and serve as a “big supermarket” for weapons, drugs, and people (for instance through human trafficking, slavery, and people-smuggling).
The Sahel region is rife with systemic corruption, terrorist organizations, rebellious insurgencies, and illegal trafficking. As a result, political violence is high. Increasingly, this instability is spreading regionally, with non-state groups taking advantage of porous borders in the area to carry out attacks, smuggle weapons, traffic people, and recruit new fighters. The effects of these activities are highly contagious, as illustrated by alarming spillover effects in North Africa, and they have significant implications for European security.
The Sahel is the only region in Europe’s periphery where the number of distinct conflicts is increasing. While fatality figures in relation to political violence show a downward trend, mostly due to reductions in one-sided violence and state-based violence, fatalities due to non-state violence show an increase of 48 percent since 2016 (Figure 11). This is linked to an increasing number of diverse actors and groups committing political violence in the region. Most of this activity occurs in Mali, where 2017 saw the arrival of ISIS, Dozos, the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), and al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). The onslaughts of these groups, along with the well-established Al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), resulted in new non-state, state-based, and one-sided conflicts in Mali and, correspondingly, more fatalities. These terrorist organizations are heavily reliant on foreign funding, with AQIM, for example, sourcing tens of millions of dollars from unofficial ransoms paid by European governments.
Sudan experienced the largest number of fatalities during the genocidal conflict in Darfur, while it was also waging war against the South, which would become independent in 2011. The country is heavily afflicted by violence from non-state groups. In contrast to Mali, this is primarily caused by conflicts between ethnic groups and communities over resources, land, and water. Still, in comparison to 2015 and 2016, Sudan saw a relative improvement in the number of conflicts and fatalities in 2017.
Relatively low levels of protests in the Sahel region are a sign of heavy violence from the state against protesters, rather than a sign of societal cohesion. Across the Sahel, those who dare to protest peacefully against food prices, living conditions, slavery, or their governments are usually met with violence, arrests, and prison sentences. The brutality of police forces in this region and a ‘zero tolerance’ judicial policy towards “disturbing public order” serve as effective deterrents to the mobilization of social movements. Thus, relatively low levels of protest are to be expected (Figure 12). The peak seen in 2015 was largely due to protests in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania against Charlie Hebdo's satirical depiction of the prophet Muhammad. These protests were especially violent in Niger, with at least five civilians killed by armed protesters who burned churches and attacked French-linked organizations and businesses.
A multitude of factors contribute to the persistence and complexity of violence in the Sahel region. Here, we explore the role of demography, food prices, and governance. The Sahel is among the world’s regions with the largest demographic cohorts of people under thirty — about seventy percent, according to World Bank research. As a result, the cohort of people aged 15–29 is about seven percent bigger in the Sahel region than it is in more developed nations. This demographic factor, in combination with poor governance and a weak economy, can exacerbate conflict, as it often results in widespread unemployment and disaffected youth who seek social and economic gains through extralegal means. In turn, non-state groups can recruit fighters more easily by providing economic, social, and ideological incentives. Current population trends in the Sahel show that there is little to no evolution in trends, and that population growth will continue unabated for some decades to come (Figure 13).
The nexus between climate change, drought, and food security is often considered relevant in understanding (in)security in the Sahel region. Recent research shows that in the past century, the Sahara desert has expanded by no less than ten percent, and until the 1990s, the Sahel suffered twenty years of severe drought. These developments also percolated into the evolution of food prices, which have climbed relatively modestly since 2010, with the exception of Mauritania (See Figure 14).
However, while some reports suggest that the chances of political violence increase as food production cannot keep pace with population growth, institutional factors are not to be discounted in explaining political violence in this region. A British research institute found that while “[d]roughts can potentially help escalate conflicts, […] empirical evidence from the Sahel suggests that the root causes of land disputes are more historical and political than climate driven.” While UCDP only measures the ‘direct deaths’ from conflict, large portions of the massive conflict death tolls in the Sahel region can be attributed to additional ‘indirect’ deaths, whereby malnutrition and disease are indirectly linked to violence through forced displacement. In this sense, drought, climate change, and food prices can take as much, if not more, of a toll on civilians fleeing conflict than the violence itself.
Overall, trends of political violence in the Sahel region show little hope of positive developments. According to the HCSS New Political Violence Monitor, Sudan and Mali are particularly vulnerable. Fueled by young people who have few economic prospects, are slipping into poverty, and are unable to freely demonstrate, conflict spurred by non-state actors will continue to prevail in the region. The absence of strong borders and effective government, paired with a culture of corruption, heightens the propensity of violence to spread across countries and infect other fragile states.
Political violence in the post-Soviet space has been relatively limited compared to the other regions surveyed here. However, it escalated dramatically in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Before that time, various countries in the region had already witnessed sizeable protests, including Russia (2009, 2011–13, and 2017–18), Ukraine (2013), Belarus (2011, 2017), Armenia (2013), Georgia (2011, 2012) and Azerbaijan (2011). In addition, limited armed confrontations took place between Russia and Georgia in 2008, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2014.
In terms of fatalities, the conflict in Ukraine proved to be as deadly in 2014 as the conflict in Libya has been on an annual basis. 2017 UCDP data for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine show no deaths related to non-state or one-sided violence (Figure 15). Nonetheless, the region is far more unstable than in 2013, primarily because of the situation in Ukraine where fatalities due to state-based violence rose by 61 percent between 2016 and 2017. State-based violence within Russia is attributed to small-scale offensives between government forces and rebels in the Caucasus (primarily Dagestan),  who began pledging allegiance to ISIS in late 2014.
The reduction in fatalities that occurred after 2014 does not mean that the conflict in Ukraine is drawing to a close. Instead, following a fierce offensive near Debaltseve in June 2015 and a failed Russian attempt to capture Mariupol, the war has evolved towards a ‘frozen conflict’. However, the fighting continued and has cost the lives of 135 people in 2017.
The rate of protests in general shows a higher frequency but at lower intensity than in the Middle East (Figure 16). Apart from the protests in Kiev in 2013 (Euromaidan), which cost the lives of 130 people, most large-scale protests had no or only few casualties. Some were successful in their aim to oust sitting government leaders. Examples are the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution, which led to the resignation of President Sargsyan, and protests in Moldova in 2015 which had then Prime Minister Gaburici ousted. Other protests did not succeed, for instance against Georgian President Saakashvili in 2009, against Russian President Putin in 2011 and 2018, against Belarus President Lukashenko in 2017, or against Azeri President Ilham Aliyev back in 2011.
Historical and ideological legacies, geopolitical motives, and ethnic disputes are invariably referred to as root causes to explain tensions within and between the former Soviet republics. In regards to Russia, a recession that started in 2008, compounded by declining oil prices since around 2012, has led to intermittent protests, some of which turned violent. Overall, youth unemployment in Russia has gradually decreased since President Putin came to power, with fifteen percent recorded today, set against around twenty percent back in 2000. In contrast, it has sharply risen in Georgia — peaking in 2009 — and in Armenia, where it shot up between 2007 and 2009.
The quality of governance in the region continues to be relatively low. The highest-ranked country, Georgia, only comes in at 52nd worldwide. At the same time, there have been no meaningful upward or downward trends that could explain outbreaks of violence or conflict. In all, it can be concluded that the root causes of political violence in the post-Soviet space are qualitatively different from those around the Mediterranean, and that conflict dynamics in this part of the world are better explained by institutional factors and (mismanaged) historical grievances.
Looking forward, the post-Soviet space will continue to be characterized by protest activity as well as low-intensity fighting in eastern Ukraine and in the Caucasus. The declining economic fortunes of Russia could perhaps even lead to a reduction of Moscow’s military activity in the region and beyond. In the next twelve months, the areas with the highest risk of experiencing political violence are Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region, Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and the Russian autonomous republics of North Ossetia and Dagestan, of which the latter two contend with Islamic radicalism (see Figure 18). Hence, non-state violence could witness an increase in the near future.
This paper has analyzed trends in political violence by examining conflict and protest data over time, along with data for four relevant structural factors which drive conflict. The primary conclusion highlighted by this study is that current levels of political violence in the European periphery will remain high but stable, at least for the coming few years. More specifically, non-state groups will continue to prevail in committing violent acts towards states, civilians, and other non-state groups. In response, it is highly likely that state-based campaigns against these groups will continue to violently enforce stability and reinforce their control. Although most casualties of political violence in the regions surveyed are the result of state-based violence, non-state violence is increasing both in terms of the number of conflicts and the lethality of violence. Indeed, even when the frequency of conflicts declines, fatalities generally remain stable as confrontations become more deadly on average. Despite reductions in the civilian death toll since 2015, elevated trends in the fatality rates of non-combatants are set to endure, meaning everyday people will continue to fall victim to violence perpetrated by both state and non-state actors.
Some general conclusions can be drawn concerning the root causes of political violence. While youth as a percentage of the overall population in the MENA region will remain high for the foreseeable future — and higher than in most other parts of the world — there are some slow downward trends visible, particularly in North Africa. Secondly, youth unemployment, which is closely related to demographic developments, is especially worrisome in North Africa and the Middle East. Levels of dissatisfaction and persisting high levels of unemployment in most areas in the periphery of Europe can provide added ammunition for terrorist groups such as ISIS to recruit adherents and to survive. This is particularly a risk in parts of Libya and Mali, but also in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, food prices continue to rise in every region and, once again, we find that trends in North Africa and Middle East are of the biggest concern. Finally, the quality of governance remains deficient across the periphery and has seen little improvement, albeit with some limited exceptions in the post-Soviet space. Despite a few recent positive developments in relation to levels of violence in the Sahel region and the Middle East (particularly with regard to the conflict in Syria), there is little prospect that situations of grave instability such as in Libya and Syria, or in Ukraine, will improve anytime soon. A country such as Tunisia could also experience a relapse.
What are the consequences of these trends for Europe? The key finding is that for the foreseeable future, Europe will see persisting instability on its doorstep. On average, levels of political violence have increased over the past ten years in every region examined here. The trends in political violence also underscore that in all regions except the Sahel, state-based actors predominate in lethal and protest-related events. At the same time, in all regions except in eastern Europe, the number of conflicts involving non-state actors has also increased over the past five to ten years, despite the past two years exhibiting a small downward trend in the Middle East and North Africa. This longer-term trend could point to the fact that state authority (‘sovereignty’) will continue to be challenged across Europe’s periphery. The countries with ab all-but-certain risk of continued violence in the coming year include Syria, Iraq, Mali, and Libya.
These developments have various societal, economic, territorial, physical, and ethical consequences, as they affect the security outlook for Europe and the Netherlands in the coming five years. Firstly, from the point of view of societal security, the continuation of instability in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Sahel region will likely sustain a flow of migrants to Europe in the coming five years, even if the numbers seen in 2018 are dramatically lower than what they were in 2015. In turn, these trends are set to continue to impact social cohesion in Europe and the Netherlands, with the possibility for protests, increased friction between social groups, and sustained support for parties on the fringes of the political spectrum.
As Europe’s 3D and border security initiatives are pushed further south across the Sahara, it is likely that the demand for aid allocation, as well as funding for peace and security operations, will increase. These selfsame developments will also put more pressure on the territorial boundaries of the Netherlands and Europe due to flows of refugees fleeing political violence in the periphery, and territorial tensions in the post-Soviet space between Ukraine and Russia.
Thirdly, trends of political violence in the periphery will likely impact physical security. The resilience of non-state groups and persisting environments of instability mean that terrorist organizations will continue to (attempt to) carry out attacks in and around Europe. Despite ISIS’ recent territorial losses, both their ideology and their number of combatants remain strong. As a consequence, we can expect losses of human life, especially in view of the fact that during 2017, there were thirty-nine non-state conflicts in the European periphery and a surge of new groups forming from the splinters of more established ones. Physical security in the Netherlands specifically may also be impacted through military engagement in conflict or through peacekeeping operations, as we have seen in Mali.
Finally, conflicts in the periphery also continue to challenge our values-based diplomacy. Grave human rights violations regularly occur on a large scale, and the indication that this will continue or worsen challenges to the international law and norms that the Netherlands actively and purposefully supports.
The Netherlands is not an island and our fate is inextricably entwined with that of Europe. Accordingly, it should be reiterated that the security threats outlined above assume that a threat to Europe is also a threat to the Netherlands, and vice versa. Hence, even if the actual impact and/or probability of these various threats to materialize may be low for the Netherlands itself, the fact that they are more likely in other parts of Europe — and especially in those part in proximity of conflict zones — means that they concern the Netherlands just as much in terms of readiness and ability to provide for safety and security.