A Culture of CBRN: the Role of Regional Centres of Excellence

Addressing the threat of illicit trafficking of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) material in today’s world is different from addressing the legacy of Cold War in the Former Soviet Union. The growing nuclear energy demand, biotechnology development and pandemics will without doubt be accompanied by increased non-proliferation challenges, and in particular the threat of illicit trafficking of CBRN material. Moreover, these new threats are expanding to new regions.


Therefore, the objective pursued by the European Commission, together with its partners, will be to consolidate what has already been done, in terms of assistance to countries to enhance their capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to illicit trafficking of CBRN material, in Russia, the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia while expanding in the coming years into new regions of concern: South East Asia, the Middle East and some parts of Africa.
The Instrument of Stability was established through the Regulation of 15 November 2006 with the aim of directly improving living conditions in partner countries and to lay down a basis for their sustainable development. With this instrument, and the 300 million euros dedicated to CBRN for 2007-2013, there is an opportunity for the European Union to enhance significantly its worldwide contribution to non-proliferation and disarmament. The Instrument will be used to help counteract the illicit spread of CBRN technologies, materials and agents and their means of delivery, to contribute to risk mitigation and preparedness relating to CBRN material and to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Promoting a culture of safety and security is very much a priority and the EU is committed to helping to establish and maintain stability and security worldwide.

The ‘ad hoc’ approach, with short-term projects related to a specific problematic in a specific area, such as export control assistance or border monitoring, has shown some potential but also certain limits concerning sustainability and the satisfaction of regional requirements. Therefore, assistance should be presented as packages tailored to national and regional needs.
The European Commission has asked experts from EU Member States to go on fact-finding missions to explore possible CBRN cooperation with the Middle East, South East Asia and some parts of Africa. Experts have been to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and United Arab Emirates, while other missions are still to come. One of the outcomes of these missions was that countries revealed important needs for export control, border management, illicit trafficking or biosafety and security.

With this in mind, a concept of Regional CBRN Centres of Excellence has been developed to address the following requirements:
Local ownership. Strong participation and a sense of ownership are often regarded as a key for sustainability;
Regional and international partnerships. The role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the World Health Organisation (WHO), Interpol and other regional and international organizations will be essential in order to strengthen information exchanges and best practices;
An integrated approach recognizing the increasing links between terrorism, organized crime and WMD proliferation; and above all, anticipating risks and developing a ‘methodology’ to assess future CBRN risks and threats are now, more than ever, required.
In order to develop a coherent approach to fighting WMD proliferation, and to preventing ‘reinventing the wheel’, best practices and information sharing on CBRN are essential. The European Commission relies on UNICRI to develop regional Knowledge Management Systems, which promote sharing of information, best practices, and lists of national and regional experts. Designed to improve coordination between countries and international/regional organisations, the innovative Systems will make a significant contribution to implementation of the EU concept of Regional CBRN Centres of Excellence.

(This article is drawn out of Bruno Duprè’s intervention at UNICRI, dated 16 October 2008)

Bruno Dupré is WMD Desk Officer at the Security Policy Bureau, External Relations Directorate, European Commission.