Multinational Cooperation in the CBRN Defence Domain


By Lt. Col. (ret.) Bernd Allert, Former Section Chief/Doctrines and Terminology Section at JCBRN Defence Centre of Excellence

“We will continue our work to defend against improvised explosive devices and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats.  We are developing capabilities to protect our forces against terrorist misuse of technology, (…).”

Brussels Summit Communiqué, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 14 June 2021.

It is no secret that within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its member states chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defence capabilities are limited.  How many CBRN defence capabilities does NATO, do the member states need?  The answer is quite simple, and yet not satisfying.  It depends on the scenario.  Within the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) NATO models different scenarios considering various CBRN threat levels.  NATO identifies then minimum capability requirements and attribute these requirements to its member states.  Do all NATO member states need their own CBRN defence Capabilities?  Well, in principle they do not – at least not to support military operations. In case of CBRN incidents within their own territories they might. However, these capabilities could be civilian ones as provided e.g. by fire brigades. In addition, as one of the so-called Prague Capability Commitments NATO’s member states provide CBRN defence capabilities to the Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force (CJ-CBRND-TF) which is the strategic asset of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and established regularly on a rotational base.

Does multinational cooperation in the area of CBRN defence work well?  If you ask commanders of combat troops they might answer “Not below brigade level”.  The CJ-CBRND-TF proved the contrary. The Task Force reached its initial operational capability on 1st December 2003 and its full operational capability on 28th June 2004. From then on, the CJ-CBRND-TF was included in the rotation system of the NATO Response Force (NRF). As of now, more than 20 Allies have contributed capabilities. Eight of those countries assumed responsibility to lead the Task Force. Since the CJ-CBRND-TF is open to Partner nations Ukraine once provided a decontamination platoon. The CJ-CBRND-TF supported successfully the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 and the NATO Summit in Riga 2006. Just a last example, during the field training exercise “Summer Shield XII” in Ādaži/Latvia 2015 a multinational CBRN defence platoon was established and very successfully employed consisting of a German command & control element, a German decontamination unit, a Latvian CBRN reconnaissance element, and a water purification unit from Luxembourg.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

Why is multinational interoperability (by the way, NATO defined “multinational” as an “adjective used to describe activities, operations and organizations, in which elements of more than one nation participate”, and “interoperability” as “the ability to act together coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve Allied tactical, operational and strategic objectives”) so well developed?  I do not wish to sound too self-confident.  However, within NATO the CBRN defence capability area is most probably one of the most standardized areas. It is, because within the NATO committee structure the Joint CBRN Defence Capability Development Group (JCBRND-CDG) was established.  The JCBRND-CDG is responsible for supporting Alliance’s prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and defending against CBRN threats. The JCBRND-CDG currently has seven subordinate panels: the Doctrine and Terminology Panel (DTP), the Challenge Level Panel (CLP), the Knowledge Management Panel (KMP), the Detection, Identification and Monitoring Panel (DIMP), the Physical Protection Panel (PPP), the Hazard Management Panel (HMP), and the Training and Exercises Panel (TEP).  The panels are developing CBRN defence capabilities standards in the lines of capability development doctrine, training and materiel.  Not only most of the NATO member states and the NATO Command Structure contribute to JCBRND-CDG’s work; however, as well as many of NATO’s Partners do.  Although the decision of the participating nations (and not mine!) I am still a little bit proud that the DTP met once in Australia.

In addition, there are many multinational CBRN defence related projects still ongoing.  There is the Framework Nation Concept (FNC) Cluster CBRN Protection.  About thirteen nations – not all of them are NATO members – complemented by fifteen observers have established a Cluster Support Cell in Bruchsal/Germany, as well a sub-cluster on education an training (led by Czech Republic), a sub-cluster on exercises (Slovak Republic) and a third one on integration and operations.  At the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels a group of nations signed a letter on intend to establish a network of CBRN defence facilities, another group agreed on creating a framework on developing and procuring CBRN detection and identification equipment, and a third group intends to develop and procure jointly individual protective equipment and collective protection systems.

Many NATO member states are likewise members of the European Union (EU); however, not all members of the EU are NATO members.  Consequently, the EU develops and implements CBRN defence projects such as the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence (CoE) Initiative, and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) CBRN Surveillance as a Service (CBRN SaaS) project.  CBRN SaaS will establish a persistent and distributed manned-unmanned sensor network consisting of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and unmanned ground systems (UGS).  Coordinated by Austria five EU member states are participating.  A duplication of EU and NATO efforts cannot be excluded.

The description of multinational CBRN defence projects would not be complete without mentioning the Joint CBRN Defence Centre of Excellence (JCBRN Defence COE) in Vyškov.  The JCBRN Defence COE is an international military, multi-nationally sponsored organization which offers recognized expertise and experience to the benefit of NATO and other Partners.  Hosted by the Czech Republic thirteen sponsoring nations and one contributing partner are currently supporting the Centre.

To summarize, CBRN defence has to be considered as a niche capability.  There is not only a single set of forces; much more important, there is also a single set of budgets.  Therefore, nations and organizations, civil and military stakeholders, industries and academics should coordinate all their various efforts and cooperate more closer.  The JCBRN Defence COE could become a focal point for coordinating all multinational CBRN defence related efforts. The COE is NATO accredited, but not a part of NATO’s command structure. The COE contributes to a variety of European Union CBRN defence projects, because none of COE’s sponsoring nations and contributing partners are objecting the cooperating with the EU. The COE provides chairpersons to two JCBRND-CDG panels (DTP and TEP), as well as secretaries to three panels, and liaison to the three remaining panels. The COE has established a relationship to the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” and to some other universities.  Last but not least, the COE supports international conferences like IB Consultancy’s Non-Conventional Threats (NCT) Europe by providing panel chairpersons, guest speakers, and sometimes an information booth.  Finally, it has to be mentioned that at recent JCBRN Defence COE’s 2021 conference ways to enhance NATO – EU cooperation, and to improve civil-military interaction were discussed very intensely.  However, it is not up to me to make that decision,  all stakeholders would be required to discuss and agree.

Related articles

Recent articles