NRC Exercise Tests Responses to Simulated Terrorist Attack
"Terrorists hijack a passenger cruise ship in international waters and threaten to sink it if their demands are not met within 48 hours. The hostages aboard include citizens of a number of NATO-Russia Council (NRC) countries.'' This was the fictitious scenario for a counter-terrorism tabletop exercise organized under the NRC, at NATO Headquarters on 26 and 27 March 2012.
According to the scenario, the NRC discussed their shared concerns about the situation and tasked experts to explore how the Council could work together to tackle it. The closest ships in the area were military vessels from NRC nations. This allowed for both civilian and military representatives of member nations to play their parts in the exercise. The aims were to explore how to coordinate an NRC response to a simulated terrorist incident as well as to evaluate strategic-level cooperation among member nations in such a context.
Lieutenant-General Evgeny Potapov, Deputy Head of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee of the Russian Federation, headed the delegation from Moscow that participated in the exercise. "For us it is very interesting to familiarize ourselves, in real time, in a specific operational situation, with the methods our partners use in their countries and to share our experience with them and perhaps develop the mechanisms which will enable us to deal effectively with current terrorist threats at sea," he explains.
A tabletop exercise is an exercise which is designed to test the theoretical ability of a group to respond to a situation, allowing people to test a hypothetical situation and engage in role playing. As the scenario unfolded, exercise participants met in various formats to assess the situation, explore possible responses, and prepare to manage the potential consequences of the terrorist attack.
Over 70 civilian and military personnel from NRC nations took part in the exercise. A broad range of expertise was represented, including experts from ministries of defence, foreign affairs and transport, as well as military personnel from a number of NRC nations. Several nations also provided experts from national law enforcement bodies.
The exercise contributed to building awareness of counter-terrorism roles and procedures within NRC nations, helping to identify challenges and sharing best practices. It also promoted understanding of organizational structures involved in the response to terrorism, which could facilitate interagency cooperation among NRC nations in the case of a possible real-life situation.
"This is the first exercise of this type between NATO countries and Russia in the NRC framework. It is a great opportunity to share experience and see how we can better cooperate to manage terrorist incidents," says Jamie Shea, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges. "The lessons we learn should certainly give NRC cooperation in counter-terrorism a powerful boost, especially at a time when the terrorist threat remains very real for all of us - as recent events have once more tragically shown."
NRC cooperation to combat terrorism
The exercise was organized within the framework of the NRC Action Plan on Terrorism, which was launched by NRC foreign ministers in December 2004 to improve overall coordination and strategic direction of cooperation in this area. NRC leaders underlined the continued importance of NRC cooperation in the fight against terrorism at their summit meeting in Lisbon in November 2010, when they endorsed a Joint Review of 21st Century Common Security Challenges. An updated Action Plan on Terrorism was approved by NRC foreign ministers at their meeting in April 2011 in Berlin.
Regular exchanges of information and in-depth consultations take place within the NRC on various aspects of combating terrorism. Under the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI), an information exchange system has been developed to provide air-traffic transparency and early notification of suspicious air activities to help prevent terrorist attacks such as the 9/11 attacks on the United States. In the scientific and technical field, work is ongoing on the STANDEX project, which aims to develop technology that will enable the stand-off detection of explosive devices in mass transport locations. Over the years, several Russian ships have been deployed in support of Operation Active Endeavour, NATO's maritime counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean.