It is time to join forces!

Silvia Fiore

Vught, 27 november 2014, Opening van het Nationaal Trainingscentrum CBRN door minister Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert en minister Ivo Opstelten. Foto: MCD/Evert-Jan Daniels

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNe) threats put to test national preparedness capabilities and have profound implications for bordering nations. Multinational trainings are the answer to the seriousness and impact of CBRNe domino effect. International cooperation is needed to learn from each other, pool expertise and best practice, and taking advantage of cross-border synergies.

Response operations to CBRNe threats are complex and the range of professionals involved in the process has expanded. As a CBRNe incident affects society in its entirety, military operators share first response responsibilities with local first responders, including police, firefighters, emergency medical services, hazardous materials (Hazmat) response units, and bomb squads. The consequences of CBRNe emergencies fully stretch the nation’s capabilities, while the evolving nature of the threat brings military and civil operators to question the efficiency of their national response programs against CBRNe attacks. Operators have realized that the response to incidents of this kind often requires a joint approach by emergency services and other agencies in order to deliver an effective response. It is essential, therefore, that civil and military operators are well-trained and coordinated before an incident occurs as no single set of operators can execute the complexity of the tasks required to deal with CBRNe threats.

Although response operations are, in the first place, in the hands of the affected State, a more resilient and prepared response to CBRNe emergency requires closer cooperation at global level. For this purpose, joint multinational trainings are a good tool to ensure that preparedness functions across units and countries. They can be defined as coordinated work among units from different countries, which not only share standards of procedures (SOPs), but also common equipment. Pooling and sharing capabilities has become a synonym for growth and accomplishment. Enhanced coordination efforts in CBRNe response planning helps create a faster, more agile, flexible, scalable and interoperable response.

These trainings help create an implementation plan that will determine the availability and adequacy of emergency responses as well as bringing together lessons learned and best practices from a variety of sectors and countries. The need for joint trainings is founded on the assumption that the nature of CBRNe events requires to improve the decision-making process in relation to first response. Therefore, agencies should identify and train personnel accordingly and must be flexible enough to apply variations of capabilities in public protection operations. The core functions of trainings are meant to bridge gaps between the different agencies involved, to improve cooperation and understanding on matters of organizational capacity, capability and command, and to reduce the risks for the public.

Multinational trainings are also the perfect occasion to improve existing doctrine and operational concepts to better meet current challenges. Agencies often develop and use their own requirements and performance specifications, frequently in the absence of coordination with other agencies that have similar missions. For security reasons, some agencies do not disclose their mission requirements, but the lack of information sharing, and operational coordination is the primary cause of duplicated efforts and less informed on-scene decisions, which impairs an efficient response to a CBRNe incident. Multinational trainings, instead, help achieve a common understanding of potential threats and risks in order to make more tactical decisions on prevention and mitigation measures. They aim at reducing the accessibility of CBRNe materials and improving the exchange of information on CBRNe materials by maximizing the use of existing tools and information sharing systems. Based on common language and a common doctrine, as well as shared ethical and working standards, trainings enhance operational interoperability. By ensuring the common overarching understanding of professional practices, multinational cooperation will also lead to lower costs as equipment and communication systems are uniform among operators.

As the threat grows, joint multinational trainings are becoming a recurring element on the schedule of CBRNe military operators with real-word scenarios replicating various common conditions up to the battalion level. NATO, for example, has set up the Combined Joint CBRN Defense Task Force to ensure that the military capacity of its allies is updated and operationally ready in case of any attack thanks to regular joint trainings. Drawing from a unique pool of operational and specialist expertise, joint trainings represent “an incredible advance in mission readiness and interoperability“, as Brig. Gen. William E. King, CBRNe expert of the US Army, described them. The trainings carried out by NATO JCBRN Defense COE are also key in the field of multinational cooperation. These joint exercises are meant to build up a large CBRNe expert advice capability in support of NATO operations.

In light of the evolving CBRNe threats, there is an urgent need to pool resources and expertise to develop innovative, sustainable and effective solutions. CBRNe operators must respond to these challenges while making the best use of the tools at hand within the CBRNe community. To ensure that threats are reliably evaluated, and that the implementation of response operations is efficient, it is essential to take advantage of multinational trainings as these are platforms for knowledge sharing. With this in mind, joint exercises and tasks forces consisting of teams from different countries jointly training in realist scenarios are becoming more frequent. Multinational cooperative efforts can result in significant long-term security gain and lead to concrete results. They provide a more robust framework for a more effective and focused cooperation in the protection, preparedness and response against CBRNe threats.





Silvia is an Analyst at IB Consultancy. She is currently enrolled in a double master’s degree at the University of Glasgow and Charles University Prague where she is studying International Security, Intelligence & Strategic Studies.