The 1st international symposium for the development of CBRN defence capabilities

(download full review in english / german) A Review from the 1st Symposium in 2010 

(DWT) Nobody could know in advance that the Federal Minister of the Interior Dr. Thomas de Maizière would for the first time on November 17th, 2010 at 12 p.m. explicitly warn of an acutely increased security risk situation in Germany by international terrorism just less than two weeks before the Berlin CBRN Conference. Potential plans for terrorist attacks towards the end of November were discussed. The security measures throughout Germany were immediately tightened. As yet, the emergency has not occurred. Heribert Prantl rightly commented on this in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “A terror warning is not an NBC alarm”. But it was not only emphasised on the almost 900 experts from 54 different countries taking part in this Congress premiere in Berlin how urgent further research and development in this field is.

The fact that the exhibition area in and around the Berlin Congress Centre (bcc) was booked solid at an early stage shows that this Congress filled a gap. Only the unexpectedly early cold spell and the extremely fierce east wind stood slightly in the way of the global information exchange. A few of the participants or exhibits did not reach the event location in time due to flights from London being cancelled, for instance, or trains being late. The Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg), the Ministry of the Interior (BMI), the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the Association of the German Army (FKH) provided advice and practical support after convincing themselves of the event concept.

Comprehensive approach

After two days of communicating the latest status of knowledge, retired Major General MBA Wolfgang Döring came to the conclusion: “CBRN issues are for both population and politics.” This is an international task that can only be handled with a comprehensive approach. Döring is the Managing Director of the German Association for Defence Technology (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wehrtechnik e.V. - DWT), whose Study Group (SGW) planned, organised and executed the symposium.
Talk of a comprehensive security term was common to several contributions and now also seems to have found comprehensive acceptance. Because the following applies at least for the political and institutional actors: The strategic, economical, ecological and demographic boundary conditions are similar for most states – at least for the western ones. As a result, similar consequences are principally drawn from them. The conference, which presented dozens of high-ranking lecturers, from the USA to Israel, from Brussels to neutral Switzerland with a forum, also showed how the concepts differ in details.
The concentration on the European-Atlantic area was also expressed in the subtitle of the symposium: “A National Approach in a Multinational Environment”. Under the auspices of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP) of the European Union, this was occasionally considered to be too narrowly interpreted. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Wolf Rauchalles, Managing Director of the SGW, gladly took up this stimulus. The next event would be named: “A European Approach in an International Environment”.

Responsibly providing information

As opposed to those responsible, the dimension of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats is obviously not yet clear to the population as named by Wolfgang Döring. This was also indicated by the relative restraint of the media or even protest demonstrations. At the associated press conference, the Chairman of the DWT, retired General Rainer Schuwirth also put this down to the “extremely calm reaction of the population to the latest terror warnings”. Brigadier Winfried Zimmer, Head of the Department Fü S IV at the Federal Ministry of Defence added, that CBRN is always a global threat. But the world population has – except in times of war – formerly hardly had anything to do with it.
Many lectures and discussions dealt with how fine the line is between playing down the situation and promoting fear, and between the necessary holding back of knowledge and the provision of information. The awareness for open, objective and comprehensive public relations has grown. More work is being done on crisis communications suitable for the age of the Internet, which of course needs to be well-prepared.

No theory without practice

The Berlin CBRN Congress was predominantly intended for expert exchange between specialists. This was also understood, as the large circle of participants mainly consisted of CBRN experts from national and international authorities and institutions with security-related tasks (BOS) and the supporting industry. The seats did not have to be filled with buses full of recruits and police cadets.
The specialist lectures and the trade exhibition distinctly showed which scientific and technical progress the companies have made. Private industry also realises that the necessary expansion of CBRN defence is a lucrative field of business. Private actors as operators of critical infrastructures or simply as a determining component of society are always also potential victims. The economic damage, even if only resulting from threatened terror attacks, can by far exceed the physical and personal damage incurred. The product, research and development projects and partly also visions presented in Berlin were versatile and imaginative.
As the schedule of the Congress also provided for several breaks, the exhibition was well-frequented; satisfaction was prevalent at the company booths. The contacts between politics, authorities, relief organisations, diplomacy, industry and science established during the program were extensively deepened at the large reception that rounded off the first day of the Congress. Only the outdoor area of the exhibition, which was able to present diverse practical demonstrations, suffered somewhat from the weather. The task forces of the Federal Armed Forces, THW and providers undauntedly defied it with the help of suitable clothing and warm drinks.

Difficult risk assessment

Plenty more knowledge was available at the young Congress series. It was frequently emphasised that CBRN dangers need not always be caused deliberately. In the rapidly industrialising world in the developing countries, accidents and natural disasters with serious CBRN consequences are much more probable. The devastating catastrophes of Chernobyl, Seveso or Bhopal provide plenty of visual instruction material. And the range of possible incidents is extremely large. Risks and the place and time of their materialisation are hardly foreseeable. Therefore, prevention, protective measures, damage limitation and restoration of functionality of structures must be built up as the most flexible and modular manner possible.

Tight budgets, shrinking populations, but also the dwindling acceptance of victims in “post-heroic societies” force cooperation. The tenor of almost all contributions was the improved interlinking of military and civil, national and international forces. There was general agreement on the fact that there is no way past network-based solutions. This not only means cooperation, but increasingly also the convergence of structures, training and equipment. At the same time, remaining specialisations can be further intensified and lead to an efficient and cost-saving division of tasks.
The desirable result of such a large-scale event as the Berlin CBRN Congress is to improve the harmonisation of words and deeds. The participants agreed that declarations of intent do not ban harmful substances or warfare agents. All those involved bear a high degree of responsibility. Ambassador Jacek Bylica, “Head of Centre for Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDC) of the NATO, summed it up: “We are here to remind them.” The Berlin Congress series will be continued, as frequently requested.