Toespraak minister Derde International Conference on National Safety & Security (

Toespraak door Ivo Opstelten, minister van Veiligheid en Justitie, bij de derde International Conference on National Safety & Security, ‘Resilient Citizens in a Resilient Society’, Kurhaus Hotel, Scheveningen, 6 February 2012. Engels uitgesproken.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Kurhaus! This splendid hotel was built in 1885, and reminds us of the time when Scheveningen was a fashionable seaside resort. It was the first of its kind in the Netherlands. Members of the royal houses of Europe flocked here, and so did many other distinguished international guests. They came to the coast because the sea was said to improve your health and to cure diseases.

I see a striking parallel with this conference. You, too, are a distinguished international group. You lead public and private organisations from all over the world, concerned with national security issues. And you, too, are here to build up resistance to the ailments of the world. Not your own resistance, but that of society as a whole. We’re going to spend the next two days together, trying to make our societies more resilient to crises and disasters.

The conference is located here, on the healthy Dutch coast. And on this rather chilly winter day I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to our French co-hosts in the person of Mr Francis Delon, Secretary-General for Defence and National Security.

Ladies and gentlemen, many different countries are represented here today. But we all face a common challenge: protecting our societies from threats and crises. Not just ‘classic threats’, like floods and earthquakes. They still occur, of course, and can cause enormous damage. So we need to make sure we can cope with such dangers. But we also face relatively new threats. Our societies depend increasingly on technology, which makes us all the more vulnerable when these systems fail. A power cut or a breakdown in vital ICT systems can have an enormous social impact. And risks like these aren’t always confined to a single country. Nowadays, countries are increasingly interdependent, and risks have a much wider impact. And there are other threats that are not hampered by national borders. Like pandemics, or geopolitical threats. These can have a major impact on the supply of energy, raw materials and food. They can also prompt terrorist attacks. We need to be properly armed against risks like these, too.                                                             

So Mr Delon and I are delighted to have such a select international group of crisis management experts with us today. The central theme of this conference is ‘Resilient citizens in a resilient society’. The challenge is to protect our societies better against crises and disasters. I am firmly convinced that three elements are needed for an effective approach:

First, you need to know what you want to protect: what vital interests are at stake?
Then you need to identify the concrete threats to these interests, and therefore to society.
Thirdly, you need to know what measures to take to increase your resilience to those threats.

You could see these elements as three sides of a triangle, all equally important. To prevent or manage a crisis, you need to pay attention to all three sides. And you need to take concrete action in all three areas. Only then can you manage crises properly and cooperate effectively with other countries. I believe it would be a big step forward if this conference helps us to identify measures in all three areas that can be applied across the board.

Lately we have invested heavily in developing risk analysis instruments. And rightly so. We need a clear picture of possible threats, both natural and man-made. But I am a man of action. Simply knowing what threatens us is not enough. We need to take concrete measures to prevent threats – both known and unknown – from disrupting society.

So we need to increase our resilience. But how? I believe that government cannot act on its own. It needs to work closely with private partners who can each make a vital contribution to preventing crises and mitigate the consequences.

A good example of this here in the Netherlands is the National Cyber Security Centre, launched last month. The NCSC consists of a solid core of government organisations, that will soon be strengthened by private sector partners, especially from vital sectors like energy, transport, telecoms and ICT. This partnership will allow us to learn a lot from one another, so that we are better prepared for ICT crises and can respond decisively when they occur.

In other fields too, like countering espionage and terrorist attacks, public and private parties in the Netherlands are already cooperating closely. The same rule of three applies here: identify the interests you want to protect, identify what threatens them, and identify measures to prevent or respond quickly and effectively to those threats.

Ladies and gentlemen, cooperation in the field of risk and crisis management is essential, because everyone benefits from it. I think we can all agree on that. But how do you establish good cooperation? How do you get everyone on board? Cooperation costs time, money and energy.

All parties need to be aware that we share a common goal: preventing long-term disruption to daily life. Each has their own responsibility in achieving this.

·       The government does not want people to be injured or killed in a crisis. Nor does it want people to lose confidence in government as a result.

·       Businesses want to keep functioning. So they can go on meeting their contractual obligations, and do not lose customers and investors.

·       And ordinary people, for their part, just want to be able to get on with their lives, to get paid, to do their shopping and pay with their debit cards. But they, too, can prepare for a crisis and – if one occurs – can cope for a few days without immediate help from professionals.

Everyone may have their own motives, but we all share a common interest. And everyone can contribute in their own way. By constantly spotlighting our common interest we will foster cooperation.

I have just given some examples of how this works in the Dutch context. But we are realising more and more that international cooperation is also crucial. And not just because we increasingly face cross-border threats that call for a joint approach. There are also other advantages to international cooperation. By working together and looking at how others do things, we can learn from one another. How did you tackle that problem? Which measures proved effective? Could we do something like that? How could we do it? And so on. I think that conferences like these, where participants take an active part in workshops, speed up our efforts to combat social disruption effectively.

As I said, we are hosting this conference with our esteemed French colleagues. In recent months we have shared our views on identifying risks, on measures we take to prevent threats, and on crisis management. And it’s made us keen to work together even more intensively.

But I would stress that cooperation is not an end in itself. It must always be focused on a concrete target: preventing, eliminating or controlling a genuine threat. Equally, we do not always need to act jointly. Different situations call for different forms of partnership. So we should always choose the most suitable partners. In that way we achieve tailored cooperation.

·       If a cloud of ash is disrupting air traffic or a virus threatens to become a global pandemic, broad international cooperation is called for.

·       If there is an acute local or regional problem, like an earthquake or a flood, you’ll achieve most by working with countries and organisations nearest the disaster area.

·       Tailored cooperation also means calling in the right expertise. Preventing or tackling a cyber attack is a matter for ICT experts. Make sure that you know exactly which organisations you need to call in, so you get the right experts in the right place as fast as possible.

Cooperation is needed, not only to prevent or respond to disasters and crises, but also to learn from the past. The current EU Presidency’s focus on ‘lessons learned’ is a very welcome initiative to improve our crisis management.

As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, I have high hopes for this conference. I hope that today and tomorrow we can lay a solid foundation for good, focused cooperation that makes our countries more resilient to social disruption, caused by disasters or crises.

I hope that by the next conference, in two years’ time, we will have taken some big steps forward. I hope we can say that the healthy sea air here in Scheveningen helped us learn a lot from one another and that we used that knowledge as a basis for action. That we know what vital interests we want to protect, what threats stand in our way, and what measures we can take to prevent or tackle those threats.

And I hope that we will also have made progress on public-private partnerships – by looking at countries that have already achieved some striking successes. Finally, I hope and trust that in two years’ time we will have proved – beyond doubt – the practical value of the national and international crisis management networks we are building today.

I wish you all an exciting, inspiring and stimulating conference with concrete results and agreements!

Thank you.