Weapons of mass destruction

  • Last updated: 08 Dec. 2017 10:21

The proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and their delivery systems, could have incalculable consequences for national, regional and global security. During the next decade, proliferation will remain most acute in some of the world’s most volatile regions. The potential effects of WMD proliferation on NATO Allies are one of the greatest threats NATO faces.

Radiation hazard sign. Computer artwork of an exploding symbol for radiation.

(© Science Photo Library / Van Parys Media )


Highlights

  • NATO Allies seek to prevent the proliferation of WMD through an active political agenda of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.
  • The Arms Control, Disarmament, and WMD Non-proliferation Centre (ACDC) at NATO Headquarters, strengthens dialogue among Allies, assesses risks to Allied populations, forces and territories, and supports chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear defence efforts.
  • NATO is strengthening its capabilities to defend against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attacks, including terrorism and warfare.
  • NATO conducts training and exercises designed to test interoperability and prepare forces to operate in a CBRN environment.

 

More background information


  • NATO’s counter-WMD initiatives

    NATO Allies engage in preventing the proliferation of WMD by state and non-state actors through an active political agenda of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. They also do this by developing and harmonising defence capabilities and, when necessary, by employing these capabilities, consistent with political decisions in support of non-proliferation objectives. Both political and defence elements are essential to NATO’s security.

    NATO is prepared for recovery efforts, should it suffer a WMD attack or CBRN event, through a comprehensive political-military approach.

    Despite significant progress, however, major challenges remain.

    Since the launch of the 1999 WMD Initiative, which was designed to integrate political and military aspects of NATO work in responding to WMD proliferation, Allies have continued to intensify and expand NATO's contribution to global non-proliferation efforts. Through cooperation with partners and relevant international organisations, NATO has historically provided strong support to the negotiations and implementation of a number of arms control and non-proliferation regimes. Allies have also intensified NATO's defence response to the risk posed by WMD by improving civil preparedness and consequence-management capabilities in the event of WMD use or a CBRN accident or incident.

    The Arms Control, Disarmament, and WMD Non-proliferation Centre (ACDC)

    The ACDC was created in 2017, merging NATO’s Arms Control and Coordination Section with the WMD Non-Proliferation Centre. The ACDC resides in the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division at NATO Headquarters and comprises national experts as well as personnel from NATO's International Staff and International Military Staff.

    Improving CBRN defence capabilities

    NATO continues to significantly improve its CBRN defence posture with the establishment of the Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force (CJ-CBRND-TF), the NATO CBRN Reachback capability, the Joint CBRN Defence Centre of Excellence (JCBRN Defence COE), the Defence against Terrorism COE, and other COEs and agencies that support NATO's response to the WMD threat. Allies continue to invest significant resources in capabilities ranging from CBRN reconnaissance and decontamination to warning and reporting, individual protection, and CBRN hazard management.

    Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force

    The NATO Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force is designed to perform a full range of CBRN defence missions. It comprises the multinational CBRN Defence Battalion and the Joint Assessment Team.

    The Task Force is led by an individual Ally on a 12-month rotational basis. Under normal circumstances, it operates within the NATO Response Force (NRF), which is a multinational force designed to respond rapidly to emerging crises across the full spectrum of Alliance missions. However, the Task Force may operate independently of the NRF on other tasks as required, for example, helping civilian authorities in NATO member countries.

    Joint Centre of Excellence on CBRN Defence

    The JCBRN Defence COE in Vyškov, Czech Republic, was activated in July 2007. It is an international military organisation sponsored and manned by the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also open for partners that want to become contributing nations. Austria joined the Centre as the first such contributing nation in 2016.     

    The COE offers recognised expertise and experience in the field of CBRN to the benefit of the Alliance. It provides opportunities to improve interoperability and capabilities by enhancing multinational education, training and exercises; assisting in concept, doctrine, procedures and standards development; and testing and validating concepts through experimentation. It has thus supported NATO's transformation process.

    The COE integrates a CBRN Reachback Element (RBE), which has reached Full Operational Capability (FOC) in January 2016. This Reachback capability provides timely and comprehensive scientific (technical) and operational CBRN expertise, assessments and advice to NATO commanders, their staff and deployed forces during planning and execution of operations. The RBE, together with its secondary network which comprises various civilian and military institutions, is able, if needed, to operate 24/7. 

    Standardization, training, research and development

    NATO creates and improves necessary standardization documents, conducts training and exercises, and develops necessary capability improvements in the field of CBRN defence through the work of many groups, bodies and institutions, including:

    o    CBRN Medical Working Group;

    o    Joint CBRN Defence Capability Development Group;

    o    NATO Research and Technology Organisation; and

    o    Partnerships and Cooperative Security Committee (taking over the task of developing and implementing science activities, which were formerly managed under the auspices of the Science for Peace and Security Committee).

    The Alliance also continues to create and improve standard NATO agreements that govern Allied operations in a CBRN environment. These agreements guide all aspects of preparation, ranging from standards for disease surveillance to rules for restricting troop movements. In addition, the Organization conducts training exercises and senior-level seminars that are designed to test interoperability and prepare NATO leaders and forces for operations in a CBRN environment.

    Building capacity and scientific collaboration

    The NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme enables collaboration between NATO and partner countries on issues of common interest to enhance their mutual security by facilitating international research efforts to meet emerging security challenges, supporting NATO-led operations and missions, and advancing early warning and forecast for the prevention of disasters and crises.

    The central objective of SPS activities in WMD non-proliferation and CBRN defence is to improve the ability of NATO and its partners to protect their populations and forces from CBRN threats. The Programme supports research towards the development of CBRN defence capabilities, training activities and workshops in the following fields:

    o    protection against CBRN agents, as well as diagnosing their effects, detection, decontamination, destruction, disposal and containment;

    o    risk management and recovery strategies and technologies; and

    o    medical counter-measures for CBRN agents.

    Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation

    Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are essential tools in preventing the use of WMD and the spread of these weapons and their delivery systems. That is why Allies will continue to support numerous efforts in the fields mentioned above, always based on the principle to ensure undiminished security for all Alliance members.

    Since the end of the Cold War, Allies have dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and their reliance on nuclear weapons in the NATO strategy. No NATO member country has a chemical or biological weapons programme. Additionally, Allies are committed to destroying stockpiles of chemical agents and have supported a number of partners and other countries in this work.

    NATO members are resolved to seek a safer world for all and create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That is why the Alliance will seek to create the conditions for further reductions in the future. One important step towards this goal is the implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and the Russian Federation.

    With respect to the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the North Atlantic Council declared that the treaty disregards the realities of the increasingly challenging international security environment. At a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, in particular the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, the treaty fails to take into account these urgent security challenges. This new treaty risks undermining the NPT, which has been at the heart of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts for almost 50 years, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards regime which supports it. In view of this and a number of other arguments including their commitment to advancing security through deterrence, defence, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, the Allied nations cannot support this treaty.

    Improving civil preparedness

    National authorities are primarily responsible for protecting their populations and critical infrastructure against the consequences of terrorist attacks, CBRN incidents and natural disasters. Within NATO, Allies have agreed baseline requirements for national resilience and are developing guidelines to help nations achieve them. The Alliance also serves as a forum to exchange best practices and lessons learned to improve preparedness and national resilience.

    A network of 380 civil experts from across the Euro-Atlantic area exists to support these efforts. Their expertise covers all civil aspects relevant to NATO planning and operations, including crisis management, consequence management and critical infrastructure protection. Drawn from government and industry, experts participate in training and exercises, and respond to requests for assistance.

    Under the auspices of NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), Allies have established an inventory of national civil and military capabilities that could be made available to assist stricken countries following a CBRN terrorist attack. Originally created in 1998 to coordinate responses to natural and man-made disasters, the EADRCC has since 2001 been given an additional coordinating role for responses to potential terrorist acts involving CBRN agents. It organises major international field exercises to practise responses to simulated disaster situations and consequence management.

    Cooperating with partners

    The Alliance engages actively to enhance international security through partnership with relevant countries and other international organisations. NATO's partnership programmes are therefore designed as a tool to provide effective frameworks for dialogue, consultation and coordination. They contribute actively to NATO's arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.

    Examples of institutionalised fora of the aforementioned cooperation include the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the NATO-Georgia Commission and the Mediterranean Dialogue. NATO also consults with countries in the broader Middle East region which take part in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as with partners across the globe.

    International outreach activities

    Outreach to partners, international and regional organisations helps develop a common understanding of the WMD threat and encourages participation in and compliance with international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts to which they are party. It also enhances global efforts to protect and defend against CBRN threats and improve crisis management and recovery if WMD are employed against the Alliance or its interests.

    Of particular importance is NATO's outreach to and cooperation with the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and other regional organisations and multilateral initiatives that address WMD proliferation. Continued cooperation with regional organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) can contribute to efforts to encourage member states to comply with relevant international agreements.

    On the practical side, NATO organises an annual non-proliferation conference involving a significant number of non-member countries from six continents. This event is unique among international institutions’ activities in the non-proliferation field, as it provides a venue for informal discussions among senior national officials on all types of WMD threats, as well as potential political and diplomatic responses. The conference has been hosted by both Allies and partners since it first took place at the NATO Defense College in Rome in 2004, followed by events in Sofia, Vilnius, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Bergen, Budapest, Split, Interlaken, Doha, Ljubljana and Helsinki.

    The Alliance also participates in relevant conferences organised by other international institutions, including the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, the EU, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the OSCE, and others.

    Many of NATO's activities under the SPS Programme focus on the civilian side of nuclear, chemical and biological technology. Scientists from NATO and partner countries are cooperating in research that impacts on these areas. Some examples include the decommissioning and disposal of WMD or their components, the safe handling of materials, techniques for arms control implementation, and the detection of CBRN agents.

  • The decision-making bodies

    The North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body, has overall authority on Alliance policy and activity in countering WMD proliferation. The Council is supported by a number of NATO committees and groups, which provide strategic assessments and policy advice and recommendations.

    The Committee on Proliferation is the senior advisory body for discussion of the Alliance’s political and defence efforts against WMD proliferation. It brings together senior national officials responsible for political and security issues related to non-proliferation with experts on military capabilities needed to discourage WMD proliferation, to deter threats and the use of such weapons and to protect NATO populations, forces and territories. The Committee on Proliferation is chaired by NATO’s International Staff when discussing political-military aspects of proliferation, and by national co-chairs when discussing defence-related issues.

  • Evolution

    The use or threatened use of WMD significantly influenced the security environment of the 20th century and will also impact international security in the foreseeable future. Strides in modern technology and scientific discoveries have opened the door to even more destructive weapons.

    During the Cold War, the use of nuclear weapons was prevented by the prospect of mutually assured destruction. The nuclear arms race slowed in the early 1970s following the negotiation of the first arms control treaties.

    The improved security environment of the 1990s enabled nuclear weapon states to dramatically reduce their nuclear stockpiles. However, the proliferation of knowledge and technology has enabled other countries to build their own nuclear weapons, extending the overall risks to new