Speech by Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at Amsterdam Drone Week, 6 December 2019
It’s a pleasure to be here today for Amsterdam Drone Week.
For those of you who are able to stay here in Amsterdam over the weekend, and would like to see something typically Dutch… here’s a tip for you.
Why not head to the Van Gogh Museum and take a look at one of the painter’s most famous works:
The Potato Eaters.
The title provides a good description of what you’ll see:
A farmer’s family eating potatoes by the pale light of an oil lamp.
Very Dutch, indeed. In the Netherlands, we love our potatoes!
And just as Dutch as the potato eaters, are the Dutch potato growers.
A farmer ploughing his potato fields. Add some clogs, and this picture of pure Dutch nostalgia is complete!
Yet if Van Gogh had lived in the near future, his paintings might have looked a bit different.
Just imagine him using course brush strokes and earthy colours to depict a farmer seated at his desk before the break of day.
And, a drone, high up in sky. Its eagle eyes inspecting the crops, effortlessly detecting clumps of thistles against the backdrop of a starry night.
There’s a good chance that this scene will prompt feelings of nostalgia among future generations in the Netherlands.
There’s a lot of experimenting going on right now with precision agriculture. And that’s great news.
Because drones can contribute to a better world. Not only by making agricultural processes more efficient, but also by enabling farmers to cut down on pesticides.
The drone as a means to make the world a better place.
That’s not pie in the sky.
Already, drones are saving lives around the world:
• After the Nepal earthquake, the floods in Sierra Leone and the hurricanes in the Philippines, the Red Cross drone team came to the rescue.
• In Australia, drones are used to spot crocodiles and warn swimmers.
• In remote parts of Rwanda and Ghana, they are delivering medicines. A startup claims to have carried out more than 20,000 medical deliveries already!
• And, as also announced this week, soon drones will be transporting blood products and medicines between blood banks and hospitals, soaring above daily traffic jams.
The future sounds quite promising:
A world with fewer forest fires, for example.
A world where help arrives on time.
And how about a world where the pizza you ordered descends from the sky...
But I don't have to tell you about the endless possibilities that drones offer.
After all, it’s a future that you yourselves are – literally – building.
It reminds me of that famous quote by Steve Jobs:
The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
Today I want to appeal to that specific gift of yours for thinking outside the box.
To be precise, I’d like you to use it to brainstorm with me about solutions to an urgent and complex issue.
I want you to use those solutions to change the world.
Let me explain.
Now, I am a little less crazy myself. Yet as a realist, I see that drones can make the world both a better place and a more dangerous one.
A force for good or a means of destruction.
They sound like polar opposites. But in fact there’s just a fine line between them:
• The search-and-rescue drone team that scours rooms for survivors can be deployed just as easily as a swarm of killer bees in search of innocent victims.
• The Florence Nightingale that brings medicines can likewise be a vicious improvised flying explosive device bringing death and destruction.
• And the eagle eyes looking for thistles can be deployed just as easily to gather intelligence on UN peacekeepers.
My question to you, as drone manufacturers, is this: How can we jointly ensure a safe world in which drones are used as a force for good instead of evil?
The threat posed by drones is imminent. We’ve already had several wake-up calls.
Over the last few years, researchers have documented the deployment of a wide range of commercially available drones against military and civilian targets in various conflict regions, such as the Middle East and North Africa.
For example, in Saudi Arabia drones were recently used to attack an oil refinery and an oilfield. Oil prices plummeted, and the impact was felt the world over.
These incidents have far-reaching consequences. But more worrying still, they could be the prelude to more trouble.
So it’s vital that we act swiftly in response to these wake-up calls.
Security in the context of drones is a complex issue.
Perhaps the following example best summarises the challenge we face:
Last year, one single drone managed to shut down London’s second largest airport, Gatwick.
Some 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights were affected.
To me, the enormous disparity between cause and effect shows that we’re still unable to respond appropriately and effectively to the misuse of drones and the threat they pose to safety and security.
Drones are easy to purchase or to manufacture in a makeshift factory.
And while they’re easy to operate, they’re very difficult to intercept and to track.
The ideal device for people with malicious intent!
All kinds of actors can buy or build drones and arm them with a new category of weapons, such as airborne IEDs.
And then there’s also the issue of anonymity. It’s not always clear who controls the drone and what their intentions are. We still don’t know who was responsible for the chaos at Gatwick airport!
We’re taking great pains to enhance the security of military drones.
Earlier this year, in Berlin, our German counterparts hosted the international conference on Rethinking Arms Control.
Here, we started a new process of thinking about how to control new technologies.
And, as part of a small group of six countries, the Netherlands has been developing international standards for the use of and trade in armed drones.
But drone security ‒ especially when it concerns off-the-shelf systems for civil use ‒ remains partially unexplored territory.
New European rules for commercial drones will solve part of the problem.
That’s why the Netherlands supports the national implementation of this legislation, which will entail compulsory registration for commercial drones. The regulation also stipulates a maximum flight height of 120 metres.
But, as with other threats, new rules do not provide 100% security against people with bad intentions.
Policymakers cannot devise solutions by themselves.
We need your help, knowledge and craziness!
So I want to start a constructive brainstorming effort with you.
And I strongly believe that it will pay off, thanks to the government’s international policy experience and network, combined with your technical expertise, skills and market insights.
We can jointly identify creative solutions that prevent misuse of drones.
And I’ll be taking a further step in this direction, here at Amsterdam RAI.
Later today I’m going to share experiences with a small group of leading thinkers, policymakers and industry representatives on risks, opportunities and solutions.
These solutions can be very practical.
Take for example the drone maker who is going to release a free smartphone app that will let anyone track and log crucial info about drones that are within a range of one kilometre.
Simple, but effective!
As you are the trailblazers and leaders in the incredibly innovative drone market, I’d like to work with you to set new standards to promote the secure use of commercial drones, in addition to the safety standards that are already taking shape.
I’m positive that your input will provide a wealth of good ideas.
I’m committed to taking forward promising ideas and enabling them to take off.
I will share them with the same core group of countries that developed the standards for military-class, armed drones.
And I will encourage them to join our effort.
However, the world is bigger than this group.
I also challenge you to think about how we can bring other important drone-producing countries on board.
We cannot do this alone. Your input is sorely needed!
My aim is for our joint efforts to foster a global alliance of international policymakers and companies that commit themselves to sharing ideas and developing practical standards ensuring that commercial drones are used peacefully.
This alliance would enable us to maximise the potential of drone technology as a force for good.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The future lies in our own hands.
It’s up to us to paint a picture as bright and beautiful as Van Gogh’s Starry Night.