CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Dangers

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents are potentially catastrophic events that can cause a large number of fatalities. These incidents can be caused by occupational exposure, accidental release of toxic chemicals/materials, terrorism and warfare. They are characterized by their lethality and a widespread impact on the public, including severe contamination, psychological effects and economic losses. The combination of proliferation of WMDs, lack of control over sensitive materials and scientific weapons expertise, low-intensity conflicts and tempering/sabotage, all point toward a growing threat of mass casualty incidents.

The nexus between CBRN and cyber threats is becoming an increasing challenge. Malicious cyber actors can access, use and disseminate CBRN analysis, guidance, knowledge and expertise. They can also disrupt critical industrial and scientific infrastructure in order to trigger an incident, such as the release of toxic industrial chemicals or a CBRN terrorist attack.

In addition to these traditional CBRN hazards, the newer dangers include weapons of mass destruction incendiaries and drone attacks. The latter can be especially dangerous because they do not require a physical person to initiate an attack. The increased risk of a WMD attack in Europe is intensified by Russia’s continuing efforts to modernize its Soviet-based weapons and by its disregard for international norms and law.

Biological: a harmful bacteria, viruses or toxins and the illness or disease they cause. Chemical: a chemical substance that can damage the skin, respiratory system and eyes. Radiological: exposure to radioactive substances that can damage the skin and lungs. Nuclear: the thermal or blast effects of a nuclear detonation and secondary radioactive fallout.

The severity of the effects can vary from mild to fatal depending on the type and quantity of CBRN agents released, their persistence in the environment, their ability to be transmitted from one individual to another and their toxicity. The last criterion relates to the degree to which an agent can cause harm, for example by irritating the skin and mucous membranes or by inducing vomiting or intolerable pain.

NATO’s CBRN defence capabilities are anchored in its two core principles and commitments, which underpin the Alliance’s overall defence strategy. They are supported by strategic enablers, such as capacity-building for military and civilian personnel; intelligence- and information-sharing; partnerships and outreach; and strategic communications and public diplomacy. The JCBRN Defence COE is the main hub for these capacities. In addition, other NATO Centres of Excellence (COE) and education and training centres make contributions to our CBRN defence capability. The NATO Defence College, for example, offers a comprehensive CBRN curriculum for officers and senior non-commissioned officers. It includes a unique, four-month CBRN and medical course. It is a great opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career in CBRN defence.

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