Col. (Dr.) Ram Athavale examines essentials for effective CBRN Border Management

Tajikistan – Afghanistan border crossing on river Pyanj. Source :

Managing National Borders is a complex mechanism.  Various agencies from Armed Forces, Police, Coast Guard, Paramilitary forces and Customs are engaged in securing the borders.  Optimal management of movement of personnel and goods across borders within agreed upon protocols and treaties is necessary to maintain sovereign integrity, safety and security.

CBRN material can be and is being transported across land, air and sea frontiers on daily basis.  There is a need to institute specific measures to ensure only permitted and valid goods are entering your borders.  In addition, there is a need to ensure prevention of unwanted entry and respond effectively to incidents of CBRN nature.

International Protocols and Obligations

Most nations are signatories to a range of international protocols, treaties and organisations that mandate strict monitoring and control of CBRN material.  The important ones are :

  • UN Security Council Resolution 1540 mandates all member states to
    • adopt measures that criminalize WMD proliferation;
    • enact effective export and other controls (including financial, transit, transshipment and brokering controls);
    • and secure sensitive materials.
  • Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
  • WCO Strategic Trade Control Implementation Guidelines.
  • The Rotterdam Convention (formally, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade) is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals
  • Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM).
  • International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
  • The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention CWC).
  • The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
Simple open border in Africa. Source :

Strong Domestic Legislation.  The first main issue is developing and instituting strong legislations and laws to check movement of CBRN materials across borders.  Such legislations should be compatible to those of your neighbours so as to avoid loopholes for malafide movement of CBRN materials.  These legislations will empower border management agencies to check, inspect and prevent/authorise entry of CBRN material.  The legislations would also allow prosecution of wrongdoers, smugglers and terrorists attempting to transport CBRN material.

Vigilance. Most National borders have designated crossing points which are manned.
These crossing points normally have deployed border security agencies who check, inspect and process movement of men and material.  However, both land and sea borders cannot be and are not secured along its complete length.  In some cases there are border fencings on land while some have random patrolling for maintaining sanctity. Illegal traffickers and smugglers would normally use such unmanned, less secure borders for crossing over.  Technology allows us to institute surveillance of borders by use of ground based sensors, aerial vigilance (eye in the sky) and stand-off detection systems. Drones and robots are latest additions to assisting border security personnel in manning difficult areas and keeping a round-the-clock vigil. These modern supplements need to be backed by alert trained manpower.  Similar measures need to be instituted for shores that are not continuously manned.

Manned Armenian border with portal monitors. Source :

Manning the Borders.  The border management team should consists of Border police, customs, and immigration and in some cases intelligence and army/coast guard elements.  There is a need on common compatible training of all these personnel in dealing with CBRN materials.

Effective training backed by adequate equipment can be great assets to empower these border teams.  These teams should maintain regular interaction with similar teams across the borders to ensure compatibility of drills and protocols for ensuring safety of the borders.

The training of such teams in detection technologies, methods and guidelines for approved carriage of CBRN material, inspections of containers and knowledge of possible clandestine carriage methods is important.  The teams should be adequately trained in use of detection

UAVs and drones for surveillance of unmanned portions of the borders.

equipment and protective measures.  Use of latest technologies and non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems should be encouraged.  Drills for engaging suspect carriage/containers should be practised regularly.  Adequate knowledge of prohibited materials and their safety protocols should be imparted to these teams.  Response to accidental or deliberate release of toxic substances should be practised.  Towards this the teams should be equipped with requisite PPEs and other protective equipment.  The Border team should be able to call for back up support before getting overwhelmed or to prevent escalation.

Back up Support.  These teams should be backed up by trained specialist staff for CBRN incident management.  Technicians and CBRN response personnel should be available to be deployed at the border post to take over the operations if required in the shortest possible time.  These back up CBRN Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) should also be well equipped for all eventualities from protection, detection decontamination to medical management of casualties if any.  In addition, adequate laboratory and forensic capability should be developed to support agent identification and analysis in select cities and towns.

Illicit trafficking of arms and munitions coupled with CBRN and dual-use goods is a global problem and needs urgent attention.  Terrorists are already looking for easy means of acquiring CBRN materials for use across the world. Effective regulation, export controls and border management, including legislative and enforcement measures, can minimize the risk that such items will be either diverted to, or illicitly acquired by non-State actors. These measures should respect the need to maintain a proper balance between export controls and the facilitation of legitimate trade.

The featured image is the Kivukoni Market port Dar es Salaam. Source :

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Dr. Ram Athavale has been a key advisor to the Government of India on CBRN Security and Incident Management, and is now deployed as a key CBRN Expert for On-Site Technical Assistance to the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence Regional Secretariat in Nairobi Kenya.