Speech minister Blok at the Berliner Sicherheits Konferenz
Ladies and gentlemen,
To Stan Beeman, the world is an orderly place. He works for the FBI in the middle of the Cold War, and his job is to keep the US safe. Safe from the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
His neighbors Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, and their two kids, form a seemingly model middle-class family. By day, the Jennings run a successful travel agency, but by night… they have an entirely different line of work. They are spies. They carry out covert operations for the other side. To them, too, the world is simple. The main threat is the US, and their job is to make sure the Soviet Union prevails.
It’s a dangerous but simple world, with good guys and bad guys. Both sides are prepared to do what it takes to ensure their ideology triumphs.
Some of you might have guessed: this is the imaginary world of The Americans, a Netflix series set in the eighties during Reagan’s presidency. And yes, it is fictionalized. But behind the suspense, the intrigue and the complications of this hit series’ scenario, the security situation is a familiar one. In a way, this was my world when I was a kid, a teenager and a student. And for many of you – it was your world too. Back then, we had two blocs. It was obvious who the enemy was. The rules were clear, and so was the goal.
Let’s fast forward to today. Security has become so much more complex. Divisions that were once clear, have disappeared.
What came in its place, is an unpredictable and multipolar world, where security challenges are complex and manifold. Where threats don’t just come from states. Because there are other players – non-state actors – that also pose a risk. It is no longer sufficient to focus our defence on land, at sea and in the air. For now there’s also this new and exciting dimension to concern ourselves with: cyberspace.
Leaving our modern, open and technologically advanced societies vulnerable on a new front. And raising complex new questions about attribution and proportionality.
With rapid changes in technology and connectivity have come new challenges and forms of foreign interference - in politics, in elections, in religion, and in the economy. We hear about automated accounts, malicious cyber campaigns, disinformation and election meddling. Open societies are faced with the important task of finding the right balance in order to keep citizens free and safe.
And there are new economic challenges, such as industrial espionage, involuntary knowledge transfer and lack of respect for intellectual property rights. Economic dependency can lead to political fragility.
Quite a challenging picture. Anything but the clear world of Stan Beeman.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now the title of this conference is: ‘European Security and Defense: remaining Transatlantic, acting more European.’ To some, these might seem two opposing terms – we either focus on the trans-Atlantic ties OR we invest in our European security cooperation. But that, like the divide in Stan Beemans world, is too simplistic in 2018.
It is not a question of ‘’either, or’’. We need both. The security challenges of today require both a strong NATO and a self-assured European Union. Working closely together – in complementarity - to maintain a safe and secure Europe.
This safe and secure Europe is by no means a given. A new understanding and awareness of security in Europe is required. That is quite a challenge, because we need to adapt. To new circumstances and realities.
I see five dilemmas in this context. Dilemmas that politicians, diplomats and soldiers are confronted with in their efforts to keep their countries and citizens safe.
1) My first area of concern is that of the intersection of technological advances and warfare. The question is: When it is possible to increasingly let technology take control, how do we remember our humanity?
The tools of modern-day and future warfare are not just tanks and airplanes.
They now include drones, cyberoperations and increasingly autonomous weapon systems. The latter are capable of selecting and attacking a target with limited or no human intervention. Their use raises complex questions. About attribution. About proportionality, the principle of distinction, and precautionary measures. Especially when it relates to the use of nuclear weapons.
What I would like to say about this subject is this: weapon systems should always be under meaningful human control. We should never endow machines with the discretion and power to end human life without sufficient levels of human control. Or, to paraphrase the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: we must remember our humanity. In conflict situations, international humanitarian law applies. Current international law is sufficient, but we do need to fine-tune issues like proportionality and intent.
2) The second area of concern I would like to mention:
In times of great digital possibilities, but also potential digital disruption, how do we organize liberty, law, and trust?
Cyberspace technology is an exciting domain, enabling endless possibilities. At the same time, its malicious use poses a major threat. The key question here is how we should respond, and I know this will be a topic later in the conference. After the recent attribution of a number of malicious cyber operations, the European Council adopted strong conclusions that should help us coordinate our response.
Technology is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. And we need to be in control of its use.
In the Science Fiction Novel Neuromancer, author William Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace, said something about modern technologies which is still very true today:
‘Cyberspace is not good or bad. Modern techniques are morally neutral. Until we apply them.’
I am a liberal politician so I think it’s important to stress the virtue of liberty. Thanks to freedom, the Internet was able to develop.
Into a network with unprecedented levels of information, platforms and discussion. To an open society, the free flow of information is not a threat.
Of course, we do not want the internet to develop into a jungle by night, a free for all where might makes right and the strongest prevail. We need rules of the road – also in cyberspace.
Given the pace of development and impact of new technologies, some call for new treaties. But the problem is not the lack of treaties. International law equally applies to rights and liberties off-line and on-line. My point being: to promote digital stability and to protect online freedom, we should not fall into the trap of drafting new treaties. We need to fine-tune existing international law, through international debate with all involved: the tech sector, NGOs, academia. And then act upon it. We should not hesitate to tackle violations or the misuse of cyber freedom from whichever side.
3) The third question/issue: how do we remain innovative without becoming overly vulnerable?
European countries top the rankings of the world’s most innovative economies. Being technologically advanced brings enormous economic benefits. But it can also be politically dangerous. Just imagine what would happen if we experienced simultaneous attacks and hacks on ports, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. Or if nuclear command and control systems are hacked? A sense of urgency is sometimes lacking at the political level. Why don’t we have European regulation to counteract digital threats? To protect our vital European infrastructure? While we do have effective anti-cartel legislation in place to protect our economic interests. There is no room for naivety here. Hacks, like the ones on British hospitals, are in and of themselves unacceptable. But equally worrisome: acts like these will encourage others. When countries and non-state entities are allowed to get away with malicious acts, sooner or later, others will follow their lead. Ca encourage les autres.
4) My fourth point is this: How do we – Europeans and Americans – strengthen our alliance within NATO?
NATO turns 70 next year. It has been absolutely vital to Europe’s security. Its mandate has evolved greatly over time. To some, NATO might seem à la recherche de la mission perdue. But not to me. It’s necessary for European countries to increase their defence spending. No doubt. The Dutch are doing just that. This year, Europe has taken several important steps that show that it is taking security concerns seriously and is both willing and able to take on more responsibility. The EU has launched Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). And has selected a range of projects that will foster the development of new defence capabilities. Small, pragmatic steps, but over time, with large positive impact, for example on military mobility. In my view, it is through initiatives like these that the EU can add value: for me, no faraway visions of a European army, but concrete steps on the ground. This is how we build a safer Europe.
That doesn’t mean we can build this safer Europe alone. It isn’t realistic to expect that Europe could or should defend itself without the US. Europe is a relatively small territory. The European-American cooperation remains essential for effective deterrence.
It would be a grave mistake to suppose we can go it alone, without the US. Instead, European initiatives need to reinforce the alliance we have with the US, and strengthen NATO to be fit for purpose to respond to the security challenges of the following 70 years.
In other words: we need both a strong NATO and a self-assured European Union that work closely together – in complementarity. Improving European military mobility is an excellent example of how this can be done in practice. And the Netherlands is heavily involved in this. I am sure the discussions over the next two days of this conference will foster many more of such examples.
5) And now, one final issue. A million Dutch nationals live abroad. That’s about the same number as the population of our capital, Amsterdam. For my government it goes without saying: we don’t interfere in their lives. But it would be naïve to suppose that all governments think the same way. In many parts of Europe, there are countries with significant bicultural communities. And we all know that there are different levels of interference. For example, foreign governments reaching out to the diaspora when there are elections. Forced taxation. Foreign financing of mosques and of other houses of worship.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I said, these are all urgent questions. I don’t have all the answers. But I am convinced of the urgent need to address all of these challenges and that starts with the need for all of us, in particular our citizens, to realize that times have changed.
Peace and security are achievements that we mustn’t take for granted. We must safeguard them, preserve and protect them. I think we can all agree: ensuring the security of our people should be our highest priority. In fact, it’s the raison d’être of the State. But no country can do this alone. For this we must work together.
The extensive bilateral military cooperation between Germany and the Netherlands is an excellent example. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Minister von der Leyen for her guidance and support over the last years; there is still more potential to further strengthen our cooperation. Tomorrow morning, my esteemed colleague Barbara Visser will also talk about this.
We also need to be both brave and realistic. We need to find the courage to invest in security, and resist the erosion of regulation. Let’s invest more in intelligence, in building trust among allies, in increasing the capacity of our intelligence and security. And yes, this means: more European cooperation. I know – that isn’t always easy, and criticism on more EU cooperation has to be taken seriously. Steps forward are often followed by setbacks. The countries of Europe differ in many ways: in size, population, geography. They also differ in the way they perceive threats, and this is motivated by history. But I’m convinced that enhanced European Security Awareness is the only way forward.
The new security context demands a Europe that is better equipped to protect its own interests. A Europe that continues to invest in its ongoing alliance with the US. A stronger Europe FOR a stronger transatlantic cooperation. An ambitious, yet pragmatic Europe, focusing on concrete progress on the ground. We Europeans need to invest more in our own military power and economic leverage and be willing to use them. Our security is our number 1 priority. In a rapidly changing security environment, we need to stay alert. And therefore, we need to work together. Both in Europe and within NATO.
So, what do we need?
- For starters, we need to invest in the resilience of our modern societies.
By regulating cyber-technology. It is important for the new European Commission to propose a new security agenda. This should include sanctions against those who conduct malicious cyber operations. And legislation to guarantee and protect vital European infrastructure. This should include more rigorous implementation and supervision of arms exports for all European partners. We could work towards a European Peer Review (modelled along the line of the Peer Review in the Human Rights Council). And consider appointing a new Commissioner for Cybersecurity.
So changes to regulation and supervision are both desired and required.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The world depicted in The Americans, the world of Stan Beeman and Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, that world doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the world is now a safer place. You and I are aware of this – which is why we’re here at this conference. It’s our job to make sure the public, our citizens, are aware of it as well. Not by sowing fear. But by impressing on them that protecting our political and economic freedom requires cooperation, vigilance and new investment.