NATO recently announced that the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense battalion (a new multinational unit designed to defend against and respond to attacks by weapons of mass destruction) is now operational. The battalion's capabilities fall into five categories: nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance operations; identification of NBC substances; biological detection and monitoring operations; NBC assessments and advice for NATO commanders; and NBC decontamination operations.
The unit is now at the "initial operational capability" level and full capability is expected in July 2004, following six months of deployable laboratory training and field and command-post exercises. Various NATO countries will supply specific capabilities to the battalion, which will operate in six-month rotations. Each rotation will train similarly to attain full capability, with NATO's Allied Command Operations handling certification. Officials said about 500 people compose the first rotation, with that number expected to grow to about 700 for the second rotation. The Czech Republic will lead the unit's first six-month rotation, with Germany scheduled to lead the second.
The CBRN battalion will be able to deploy either independently or as part of the NATO Response Force. It will be made up of 12 NATO nations and one invitee: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania (the invitee), Spain, Turkey, UK and the USA. Pooling resources to field such specialized units was seen as a step towards breathing new life into NATO's relevance in the 21st century.
A United Nations panel of experts concluded in mid-November that Al Qaeda is determined to acquire and use chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. A confidential UN report acquired by the news media on November 15 noted that technical difficulties have been the only thing that has so far kept al-Qaeda from launching biochem attacks. - Adam Geibel