The United States still considers that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose one of the gravest threats to the nation. The risk of possible use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents by Islamic State (ISIL) terrorists, or incidents resulting from natural or man-made disasters, continues to pose serious threats to civilian populations internationally.

US authorities said that sympathizers of the Islamic State could be the brains behind the series of recent chemical weapons threats aboard international flights using US airports or flying over American airspace earlier this year. US law enforcement officers received 11 threats in a seven-day period. The US response was outlined in a White House briefing in which reaffirmed that attacks using improvised nuclear devices or biological weapons, as well as outbreaks of a pandemic disease, pose a serious and increasing national security risk, and that the United States will focus on reducing the risk of these high-consequence, nontraditional threats: This includes ensuring that decision-makers have the tools they need to manage disease outbreaks by linking health care providers, hospitals, and public health agencies. By building on America’s unparalleled talent and through international partnerships, we can create new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests, and manufacture them more quickly and efficiently.

NATO troops training for a CBRN emergency (NATO)
NATO troops training for a CBRN emergency (NATO)

The US is strengthening nuclear security by enhancing its nuclear detection architecture and ensuring that its own nuclear materials are secure. By establishing well-planned, well-rehearsed, plans for coordinated response, the United States will also ensure a capability that can dramatically diminish the consequences of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents. One of these capabilities is US Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (CBRND) Program that gives US military forces capabilities to ensure they survive a CBRN attack and accomplish their mission. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) established the Joint Requirements Office for CBRND (JRO-CBRND) to shape future CBRND programs. JRO-CBRND is the Joint Staff’s single source of expertise on CBRN defense, including passive defense, consequence management, force protection, and homeland defense. It facilitates development of CBRND capability requirements, doctrine, education, training, and awareness.

This year has shown that terrorism is again coming closer to Europe. After Madrid in 2003 and London in 2005, this year it came to Paris, Brussels and Verviers. Retired head of chemical and biological weapons for the British Army and NATO, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, addressed the possibility of ISIL militants returning to the UK could attack the London Underground or football matches with chemical weapons. “It is very evident that ISIL is putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in improvised explosive devices (IED). “Virtually every foreign jihadi who returns to the US or UK will have been exposed to training of this sort and will have a reasonable idea on how to use chlorine and other toxic chemicals as a terror weapon.” One of the United Kingdom’s CBRN agencies is the National Chemical Emergency Centre that provides the MoD with 24/7 global, support as well as access to its hazardous chemicals database to help the MoD respond to chemical emergencies such as a spill or exposure. In an emergency, police and fire services will use the SDS to respond to incidents.

However, it is NATO that is currently very much focused on military security in Europe, and in particular in Europe’s Eastern sector following worrying reports that confirm that ISIL has gained at least temporarily access to former chemical weapons storage sites in Syria, Iraq and even Libya. It allegedly used toxic chemicals in the fighting around Kobane in Syria. NATO tools include the Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force, a strong military capacity created by volunteering Allies to be at the disposal of NATO in case of a WMD or CBRN attack. Regular training ensures its operational readiness. Intelligence sharing and reporting to Allies helps to identify potential threats. The Joint CBRN Centre of Excellence (COE), established by Allies in the Czech Republic, provides training and expertise to military customers and first responders in Allied and partner countries. It integrates a “Reach Back facility” operated 24/7 to react and provide scientific and operational advice in case of an attack, having access to a large secondary network of expertise in Allied countries. Other NATO COEs and agencies as well as Allied national military capacities are consistently reviewing, together with Allied civil protection forces including police and firefighters, preparedness plans against possible CBRN attacks. These response capacities are also regularly trained in exercises and are on standby in case of any attack, whether committed by state actors, ISIL members or lone wolf terrorists.

Meanwhile, with perceived threats from a resurgent Russia, the International CBRN Risk Mitigation Research Center is one of the first international organizations in Ukraine systematically combining the functions of analysis, coordination and enhancement of the interaction with all concerned in the sphere of prevention, non-proliferation and elimination of the effects of CBRN threats.