Speech by Minister Hanke Bruins Slot at the High Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the High Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, 27 February 2024.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Mr President,

We are here together at the High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament. A conference dedicated to make the world a safer place.

But the fact is that we are seeing the rapid emergence of disruptive technologies.

As well as an increase in violent conflict across the world.

Ukraine, the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Yemen and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Another fact is that the Conference on Disarmament is yet again stuck in a deadlock.

Once again, it has not been able to reach consensus on effective disarmament measures.

And so far it has not agreed on a programme of work for its 2024 session.

Therefore, I believe we have a common responsibility and obligation to break the current stalemate.

And so I am grateful for the opportunity to address this Conference in its High-Level Segment today.  

The topics discussed here are more pressing today than they have been for many years.

The UN Secretary-General’s presence here yesterday is a clear testament to that.

His words underlined what to me is one of the fundamental principles of the UN.

Together we must protect international rules-based order.

This Conference can provide key building blocks for that effort.

It can bring states closer together.

It can increase mutual understanding.

It can take joint steps towards global disarmament.

And it is our common duty to work to that end.

Besides being confronted with violent conflicts, we are also seeing cracks emerge in the international security architecture.

Arms control agreements are under increasing pressure.

Novel arms races are emerging in both traditional and new domains.

And some signatories of those arms control agreements seem to favour obstruction and destruction over cooperation and progress.

We’re seeing a lack of progress in negotiations on crucial instruments.

To give just one example: the treaty banning all nuclear test - explosions - the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty - has still not entered into force.

Even after 27 years.

It is high time to turn the moratorium into a treaty obligation.

An architecture that could help reinforce a powerful norm against nuclear testing.

Mr President,

One big challenge we face is the rapid evolution of emerging technologies.

It’s true that advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and cyber technology hold great promise when it comes to economic and social development.

And we believe that the responsible development and use of emerging technologies in weapons systems are indispensable for modern armed forces.

But those technologies also entail real and imminent risks to security, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

They will transform the battlefields of the future.

We must develop clear standards for responsible behaviour in this area. And we must strengthen the existing norms.

The urgency is clear.

Take military AI.

Imagine a war fought between decision-makers that are incapable of fear.

Decision-makers that have no aversion to loss.

Decision-makers that are strangers to human emotion and psychology.

Now imagine them operating at superhuman speed.

With no possibility of humans being able to comprehend what’s happening, or to intervene.

We have a duty to prevent such a future.

And fortunately, we are taking steps in this regard.

Last year, the Netherlands co-hosted the REAIM summit with the Republic of Korea, a conference on responsible artificial intelligence in the military domain.

Nearly sixty states agreed to issue a joint call to action on the responsible development, deployment and use of AI in the military domain.

This was a major step towards establishing norms for military AI.

As a follow up, we are forming a global commission on AI.

And we are grateful that the Republic of Korea has offered to host the second REAIM summit, which will be held later this year.

A closely related issue is the urgent need to regulate lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The risks and legal implications of weapons systems that take decisions fully outside the scope of human control are obvious.

As the current chair of the Government Group of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, the Netherlands will preside over the discussions in an inclusive and transparent manner.

Our national position is clear.

Autonomous weapons systems that can’t be used in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law, should be explicitly prohibited.

And those that can be used in accordance with international law should be regulated.

We must ensure human judgement and control with the development of new weapon systems.

That should be the main objective of regulation.

In the meantime, I am glad that the UN member states have reached consensus on a set of norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.

Our growing reliance on information and communication technology increases the risk of disruptive, coercive and destabilising cyber activities.

So we need to deepen our common understanding of how international law applies in cyberspace.

And we have to identify whether gaps exist.

Mr President,

Arms-control and disarmament diplomacy requires determination and courage.

We have an obligation to keep working on this.

We have an obligation to work together.

The challenges we face are global, and so our response must be global too.

Thank you.