In the wake of the tumultuous geopolitical events of the past two years, it has become increasingly evident that the global security environment is undergoing rapid transformations, necessitating a more nuanced approach both within and outside the transatlantic security community. This reality also holds for the CBRN defence domain, in which the JCBRN Defence COE plays a crucial role, providing recognized expertise and experience to NATO and its Parners. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the 2023 JCBRN Defence COE Annual Conference, held in Prague from October 2 to 4, 2023, focused on issues of paramount significance to the Alliance, encompassing the overarching theme of "CBRN Defence and Resilience in the light of the current security environment & future challenges."
Much like in previous years, the conference proved to be a successful event, attracting participants from 12 NATO member countries and Sweden, including representatives from multiple NATO bodies, academia, armed forces, and civilian first responder organizations. The primary objective of the conference was not only to hold high-level discussions on the ever-evolving security landscape but also to address the emerging and impending challenges in the CBRN defence domain and the ramifications of these challenges, in the present and the future. Specifically, the conference honed in on resilience and the two-way civil-military interaction (CMI), as well as enhancing and integrating CBRN defence capabilities, along with exploring in depth the broader crosscutting functions of CBRN defence.
Unlike previous conference iterations, the 2023 conference featured three different keynote speakers, underscoring the complex and multifaceted nature of the topics at hand. These included Colonel Scott M. Fleming (NATO HQ — International Military Staff (IMS) — Policy and Capabilities (P&C) Division — Nuclear, CBRND & Arms Control Policy Branch), who spoke about strengthening national and collective resilience from a military perspective and reinforcing NATO deterrence and defense through the development of integrated capabilities. The speech also highlighted the importance of effective civil-military interaction within the revised NATO CBRN Defense Concept, necessitating adaptations in military capabilities and mindsets to address crosscutting functions. Colonel Stephan Pillmeier (NATO ACT — Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate — Concept Development Branch) presented the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) Concept and way ahead in terms of Definition, Vision, and Guiding principles, as well as changes required on the path to an MDO-enabled Alliance. Dr. Wendin D. Smith (NATO HQ — International Staff (IS) — Political Affairs and Security Policy (PASP) Division — Director Security Policy Directorate) emphasized the importance of a holistic whole-of-society approach to resilience in her keynote speech, highlighting NATO's focus on implementing CBRN Defence Policy, developing a civil-military interaction framework, and addressing emerging challenges such as climate change, gender, cyber, hybrid threats, EDTs, and information resilience to strengthen NATO's deterrence and defence capabilities.
Over the two days of the conference, the themes outlined by the keynote speakers were explored in depth as three separate blocks were organized during which many notable subject matter experts presented their institutions and views on the manifold aspects of the Conference topic. For example, the first block, separated into two panels, addressed key issues in resilience and CMI via the lens of NATO’s role in this domain as well as by examining other relevant considerations, including not only the national civil and military perspectives and capabilities but also some of the relevant legal considerations at hand. Some key points that emerged during the panels and subsequent discussion include the imperative to integrate the military into civilian planning, the need to properly map civilian capabilities, and the importance of aligning national CBRN defense with NATO standards. Insights from the Czech civil defence system were highlighted as a potential example of good practice to inform the development of robust national resilience capabilities.
The second day of the conference was more closely focused on exploring the specific enhanced and integrated CBRN defence capabilities and the possible impact of emerging and disruptive technologies on the field. One notable theme permeating throughout the multiple panels was the increasingly diverse and intersecting risk of biological threats, including the threat multiplier that synthetic biology could present. Additionally, it has been reaffirmed that the field of CBRN defence is not secluded from the elements currently impacting the security considerations more broadly. Reflecting the widespread recognition of the importance of crosscutting functions also in the field of CBRN defence, subjects such as the challenges stemming from climate change or the need to consider themes of inclusivity or gender issues were brought to the forefront as well. Providing a valuable insight into the field, constraints of operating in a low-capacity, low-resource environment have also been explored based on the experience of providing civilian CBRN defence training in Ukraine.
The conference successfully achieved its aim, addressing challenges and presenting recommendations as outlined in the final report. This was not limited to identifying the good practices in the domains of resilience or CMI but included also the important and forward-looking emphasis on the growing importance of the need to account for crosscutting functions in capability development, of which inclusivity or climate change are just two of the many examples. This has been enabled by lively and productive discussion of the assembled experts reinforcing the extensive content of the four panels. Building upon the positive on-site attendee feedback, the JCBRN Defence COE stands ready to continue supporting NATO efforts in Resilience and CMI, including by exploring the opportunities for incorporating areas of interest as identified throughout the individual panels into the multiple aspects of our work.
Author: Mr. Tomáš Michalčík
Photos: JCBRN Defence COE Archive