The threat posed by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and materials is real and enduring. The exploitation of these technologies by state and non-state actors remains a key security concern for NATO and its Allies. The Alliance is committed to its comprehensive strategic-level policy on Preventing the Proliferation of WMD and Defending against CBRN Threats, agreed in 2009. This Policy remains an essential cornerstone of Allied security and stability.
A number of crosscutting capabilities support NATO’s defence against CBRN threats and WMD proliferation. They include capacity-building for military and civilian personnel; intelligence- and information-sharing; partnerships and outreach; and scientific and technical collaboration. These capabilities are collectively known as the strategic enablers of the Alliance’s CBRN defence capability.
CBRN Detection, Protection and Decontamination
As the global population continues to grow, the potential for large-scale, widespread contamination by a CBRN incident is greater than ever before. The risk of infection and injury is heightened when terrorists or other malicious actors use chemicals, biological agents, radiological substances or nuclear weapons to cause maximum harm with minimum consequence. These incidents may also involve explosives or toxic industrial chemicals.
Detection and identification of potential hazards is the first step in any response to an emergency situation. A number of commercial- and government-off-the-shelf equipment is available for this purpose. It can be used to detect, identify and collect samples for analysis, and provide marking and hazard reporting on potentially dangerous sites.
Emergency services and other responder organisations will need to have a plan in place to isolate and transport contaminated people safely to hospital and beyond. In the UK, this task is carried out by specialist fire service CBRN teams. They train regularly to prepare for a range of scenarios including the transport of an individual who has been exposed to a nerve agent like Novichok.
There are many other potential hazards involving radiation and the release of radioactive particles. These include high doses of radiation, which can cause immediate and life-threatening injuries (known as deterministic effects), or low doses, which can increase the likelihood of developing cancer over time (known as stochastic effects).
Increasingly, these threats are accompanied by cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and other industrial and scientific systems. This nexus between physical and cyber security means that the defence against CBRN threats must address these new challenges. The Alliance is working to strengthen its cyber capabilities, in cooperation with Allied and Partner nations.