Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies are complex incidents with potential mass casualties that result from the release of toxic or hazardous substances and materials, including chemicals, biologics, radiation, explosives and nuclear weapons. They are caused by occupational exposure, fires, accidents and deliberate attacks.
Hostile non-state actors continue to seek WMD and CBRN materials and equipment for use against NATO populations, territories and forces. They may also try to weaponise toxic industrial chemicals or other less sophisticated CBRN material to sow terror and strain national emergency response capabilities.
During the planning stage for a CBRN attack, terrorist or criminal groups must plan and develop their project. This involves recruiting scientists and purchasing or stealing the necessary substances, often across borders. This cycle can be disrupted if law enforcement, intelligence services and prosecutors act together to counter the expected sequence of events.
The effectiveness of a CBRN agent is determined by the route(s) of entry into the human body, its persistence, and transmissibility. The latter refers to the ability of an agent to spread from one person to another in the vicinity. For instance, gases and vapours are typically absorbed through the respiratory tract, while drops of liquid or solid particles may enter the eye directly. Affected individuals may suffer from deterministic effects (immediate harm), or stochastic effects that appear after some time and may be fatal, such as a lung infection or cancer.
Persistent agents can be absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes. They can also degrade in the environment and form an invisible reservoir, potentially allowing them to be released again later in the air. Transmissible agents can spread through cross-contamination, direct contact or indirect transmission via insect vectors.
In addition to its military CBRN defence capabilities, the Alliance has a civilian CBRN reachback capability, operated by NATO’s Centre of Excellence for Civilian CBRN Defence (JCBRND). The reachback function provides on-demand support and advice to Allies through a dedicated network.
The JCBRND’s reachback is based on the collective capacity of Allies to detect and respond to CBRN threats, and to counter proliferation activities and to prevent illicit trafficking in CBRN-related materials and equipment. Eurojust supports this by facilitating the use of EU and international legal instruments for effective cooperation in CBRN-related cases. It has also developed a CBRN-E Handbook for EU practitioners, including an overview of relevant legislation, systems and databases. This publication is available on the Eurojust website. A downloadable version is also available in Arabic, French, German and Russian. In addition to coordinating investigations and prosecutions, the JCBRND coordinates the exchange of information on CBRN-related incidents between Allies and supports the exchange of training opportunities. It is also involved in promoting awareness of CBRN defence capabilities through outreach to the general public. This can be done, for example, by organising exhibitions and public talks about cbrn. These events are organised in partnership with other organisations, such as museums, science centres and schools. These events can be particularly useful to students of the sciences and technology. cbrn