Speech by Minister Hoekstra at the REAIM Summit Ministerial Round Table

Speech by Minister Hoekstra at the REAIM Summit Ministerial Round Table on Thursday 16 February 2023.

Dear friends,

It’s very good to see you here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It was in 1995 that the international community adopted the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. Together, we agreed to stop these weapons, before they were actually produced. Before they were deployed.

Blinding lasers stood on the brink of full-scale production and deployment. And you could argue that we were just in time. And while these weapons never saw the light of day, we can imagine their disastrous effects they would have had. In the words of the time, the lasers would be ‘inhumane’, ‘abhorrent to the conscience of humanity’, and ‘unacceptable in the modern world’.

Today we stand at a similar moment in time.  AI is the frontline of arms control and will determine the future of warfare.  As we speak, armies are investing heavily in AI and again we stand on the brink of full-scale deployment. Yet this time, and we all acknowledge that, the situation is much more complex. 

While the word and name ‘blinding laser’ describes the catastrophic impact, ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is actually something very different. It’s no more than a code that by nature is neither good nor evil. Indeed, it has the potential to make our world better and safer. This means our efforts have to be very different from traditional arms control.

Yet similar to that decisive moment when we decided there is no future for blinding weapons in our world, we are now also in time to shape our future, before presented with a done deal.  We are in time to mitigate risks and to prevent AI from spiralling out of control. We are in time to prevent AI from taking us to a place we simply don’t want to be.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have to admit that I myself and the colleagues I spoke to prior to this conference experienced a rather uncomfortable feeling. I actually think many of us are simply insufficiently familiar with the topic. That we find it hard to visualise what the consequences could be. And that, if we are really honest with ourselves, of the 2,000 people at this conference, to put it mildly: we might not know the most of it.

Yet while we are the laypeople… we are also you could say the dealmakers. And the pavers of the road ahead. We can give the great ideas proposed at this REAIM Summit wings. We can prevent unwanted escalation and ensure that humans are held accountable. We can make AI in the military domain as ethical, responsible and purposeful as we would want it to be. Meanwhile we have the unique opportunity to expand and fortify the international legal order, which is as we all acknowledge under severe pressure.

My call to all of you today is simple: lets together lead the way.

Thank you.