Global Trends in CBRNE Defence
Jan 15, 2015

From WMD proliferation and communicable diseases to chemical warfare, Chemical, ­Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear threats are not bound to national borders – they are a global threat to international security. In recent times, the related threat of Explosives has been added to the grouping. On the global scale, the most obvious challenge in this domain is the proliferation of hazardous materials by terrorist networks. It is well-known that Al-Qaeda has always been interested in acquiring such complex capabilities to run an attack with a dirty bomb or a biological agent. The Anthrax bio-terror attacks in the U.S. in 2001, the theft of Cobalt-60 out of a hospital truck in Mexico in 2013, as well as known plans by ISIS to use the Ebola virus as a suicide weapon to attack major U.S. and European cities make it clear that this threat isn’t abstract – it’s out there.

Man-made threats are often the result of regional security complexes and are very diverse from region to region. While the Middle East is currently shaken by developments in Syria and Iraq – two countries with a history of chemical warfare – and the continuing discussion surrounding the Iranian nuclear program, West Africa continues to suffer a tremendous loss of human lives due to the ongoing Ebola outbreak. Having also spread to the U.S. and Europe, the Ebola outbreak exemplifies the prevailing threat of communicable diseases.

Throughout history, countries from Central to East Asia have faced a range of CBRN-related challenges: the chemical and radiological contamination of vast areas of the former Soviet Republic; the nuclear weapon programs of two belligerent states – India and Pakistan; the use of chemical warfare agents in Southeast Asia; and, of course, the recurrent outbreaks of diseases such as H1N1 and Avian influenza.

These are short and general descriptions of regional CBRNE-related challenges that can all very quickly result in a serious threat to international security, but as diverse these threats are from region to region, equally diverse are the worldwide approaches of defense and prevention.

The USA can be considered to have the most sophisticated programs, technologies and response approaches to CBRN threats. Having already been victimized, the U.S. is very focused on preventing and preparing for CBRNE terrorist attacks during major events or within densely populated areas.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Biowatch Program, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Second Line of Defense and several missions of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) are just a few examples for international and national capability building measures from CBRNE prevention and detection to response and recovery.

Besides leading international CBRNE Defense Commands, such as the U.S. Army’s 20th Support Command, NATO’s defense capabilities and activities in improving interoperability and identifying lessons learned through trainings and exercises are of outmost importance for understanding the future of CBRNE defense worldwide.

Within the Framework Nation Concept of NATO, CBRNE defense plays an important role in future NATO transformation and respective capability building. Respective capabilities are built up within member states, for example, at the NATO JCBRN Center of Excellence in the Czech Republic.

In Europe, the organization of CBRN defense is however still quite diverse. A leading example in this field is the transformation of the German Army’s JCBRN Defense Command, responding to changes in this century’s CBRN threat environment and providing an integrated comprehensive response approach from prevention and training to efficient recovery.

This diversity of approaches, as well as lessons learned from past incidents such as the EHEC Outbreak in 2011 (in particular, the lack of European crisis management) led to the ongoing discussion on European interoperability and standardization of crisis management approaches in this field. International capability building measures, such as the EU CBRN Center of Excellence of several EU agencies as well as the Joint Investment Program JIP CBRN of the European Defense Agency, are now following the American example, whereby extensive international research, cooperation and assistance is considered to be of outmost importance in countering one of the largest threats to international security.

Many international capability-building activities from the UN, the USA and the EU are concentrating on the Middle East and Asia. These two vast regions are dealing with very severe challenges and are often considered as the hotspots of potential CBRNE proliferation. Countries in the Middle East are therefore currently at the forefront of building up especially military CBRNE capabilities.

While countries such as Pakistan, China and India can already be considered to be part of the most advanced states in the field of CBRN defense, countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia are also rapidly building up their CBRN defense capabilities with impressive results. On the other hand, countries in Africa or Southeast Asia such as Algeria, Myanmar or Cambodia can be crucial partners in building up international CBRNE mitigation capabilities, but will need foreign assistance for decades.

Due to the fact that no single CBRNE related challenge will ever be bound inside national borders, it can therefore be considered good news that CBRNE defense, and especially preventive measures, are becoming much more internationally focused. This often starts with the exchange of lessons learned and best practices through multinational trainings and CBRNE defense programs, the importance of which cannot be overstated.

Alexander Frank is a consultant at IB Consultancy in The Netherlands.
For more detailed insight into regionally focused CBRN defense approaches and challenges, visit to find out more about the internationally leading CBRN defense event series, the ‘Non-Conventional Threat CBRN’ conferences, exercises and exhibitions being held annually in the USA, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
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