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NATO Showcases New Nuclear, Chemical, Biological Defenses

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Nov. 21, 2002 – Building new capabilities to meet new threats is a theme of the NATO Summit here.

NATO showcased a new Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Event Response Team and a Deployable NBC Laboratory at the summit site. A senior NATO official briefed the press on these capabilities before the summit. The official said the alliance took the lessons of the Persian Gulf War to heart and began to fashion a 21st century NBC defense in 1994.

NATO had good chemical warfare defenses during the Cold War, officials said. But Iraq, with artillery shells filled with anthrax and other biological agents, was a concrete threat the alliance couldn't ignore.

NATO conducted a capabilities assessment and identified the deficiencies. For the last three years the NATO group on counterproliferation has focused on these biological defense gaps.

While nuclear, biological and chemical threats are lumped together as though similar, defenses against them are quite different, the official said. All NATO countries have teams that can detect the presence of chemical agents and warn troops to take countermeasures.

There is no counterpart for biological weapons. The first indication of an attack may be the felling of victims. This means the best detection teams can hope for is to identify the biological agent quickly and give medical personnel an idea of what treatment victims need.

"You can begin to appreciate the importance of being able to rapidly determine what kind of situation you have on the field," the official said. " If soldiers begin to become sick, is it from chemical, is it from biological, is it from radiological (attacks)?

Determining the threat is essential to determining treatment. "It is not a one-size-fits-all treatment," the official said. "You have one set for chemical, one for biological and one for radiological."

In February, NATO accelerated work on NBC defenses. The idea was to pool NBC capabilities from many member nations. This pooling of technical expertise, equipment and training created a multinational capability that didn't exist before, the official said.

The Deployable NBC Laboratory and the NBC Event Response Team are the tangible results of this process. NATO will test the prototypes over the next year.

The NBC Event Response Team and the lab began a series of seven exercises at various NATO country training areas. The first exercise at the Liberec training area in the Czech Republic ended Nov. 13. Other countries hosting training include the United States, Canada, France and Spain. Final validation of the concept will be during Exercise Allied Action in Turkey in November 2003.

But the prototype teams can be used now, the official noted. If an NBC event happens, the prototype team is available for deployment, just as the United States used Predator unmanned aerial vehicles in Kosovo before the aircraft had been declared operational.

The NBC event team would be used to assess the effects of an NBC event and advise NATO commanders on how to mitigate them. Also, the team would have the ability to maintain communications with other technical experts for advice.

The laboratory is a small mobile setup that can be flown to areas of operations. Personnel assigned to the lab would be able to investigate and collect suspect samples and quickly and accurately identify them.

Part and parcel of these initiatives are a disease surveillance system, a chemical-biological defense "virtual" stockpile and NBC training.

The disease surveillance system would collect battlefield information and correlate it with information from other areas. Personnel would then be able to advise NATO commanders of a biological outbreak.

The virtual stockpile allows NATO commanders to be able to get antibiotics, vaccines or treatments where they are needed quickly.

The NATO countries participating in all these initiatives are Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Transcript: Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout at Prague Congressional Center, Nov. 21, 2002

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