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Torsten Sohns
Protection Against Weapons of Mass Destruction *

A German Perspective

*[ The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the German Ministry of Defense or of the German government.]

Protection Concepts

The security challenges and risks we face now are different in nature from what they were during the Cold War: they are multifaceted, multidirectional, and hard to predict and assess. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) [ „Weapon of mass destruction" is a generic term for radionuclides, biological and chemical agents or materials, and their delivery means produced or used for non-peaceful purposes and whose effects can cause large numbers of casualties and/or large-scale material damage.] and their delivery means constitutes a threat to international security and is a matter of concern to NATO. [ Declaration of the Heads of State and Government, 1994 NATO Summit, held in Brussels.] Proliferation increases the number of those in possession and thus the risk [ Nuclear, biological and Chemical (NBC) risks are estimated as the product of the presence of nations, groups, or unaffiliated individuals that desire NBC weapons and the probability that they possess them. In other words, a risk exists where these entities have access to NBC weapons or agents. A risk becomes a threat once a nation, group, or unaffiliated individual has specific intentions of employing NBC weapons.] of WMD being used.


Protection against WMD includes the protection of both the civil population and military personnel. Protection concepts must consider different types of users of WMD and different kinds of weapons.

Potential users of WMD are nations, groups, or unaffiliated individuals that desire or possess WMD. Attention must also be paid to the risk of WMD possessor states becoming unstable, corrupt, or extremist. Under these circumstances WMD may come under the control of civil war factions or may be passed on to rogue or extremist countries, terrorists, organized crime, or other criminals.

Weapons of mass destruction include nuclear, radiological (dispersing radioactive particles), biological, and chemical weapons. They can be used in and outside crisis areas. The possible constellations of users, weapons, and victims result in a large variety of scenarios, which have to be covered by protection concepts.

Protection against WMD has two dimensions:

  • Prevention of WMD proliferation and
  • Reaction to the threat or use of WMD.

Prevention is the goal of political measures, in particular disarmament and arms control. These measures are laid down in treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and follow-on agreements. Also,

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intelligence and export control measures for dual-use materials contribute to prevention of WMD proliferation.

Should prevention of WMD proliferation fail, we must be prepared to react accordingly. The scope of reaction includes measures such as intelligence (supplier-proliferant relations and weapons development programs), economic sanctions, embargoes, deterrence (resolve and the refusal to be intimidated by nuclear, biological, or chemical threats, backed up with credible military capabilities), and defensive and offensive countermeasures.

Defensive countermeasures include nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) defense and NBC medical defense. NBC defense aims to prevent exposure of personnel and materiel to the effects of WMD. Should these precautionary measures fail, armed forces medical services and civilian health care systems must be able to maintain and restore the health of those who have been exposed through NBC medical defense.


Those responsible for protection concepts are scattered over different government and international agencies. In Germany, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Internal Affairs, Health, Agriculture, and Environmental Protection are involved at the national level, while at the level of the German Länder (federal states), the respective ministries have responsibilities for the protection of the population.

At the international level, that is, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), concept writers are found in the Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee (SCEPC) and within NATO's military command structure. Additionally, after the 1994 NATO summit, the North Atlantic Council established two senior working groups:

  • The Senior Politico-Military Group on Proliferation (SGP) addresses the political aspects. The SGP has considered a range of factors in the political, security, and economic fields that may cause or influence proliferation and identified political and economic instruments available to prevent or respond to proliferation.
  • The Senior Defense Group on Proliferation (DGP) addresses the military capabilities needed to discourage NBC proliferation, deter threats or use of NBC weapons, and protect NATO populations, territory, and forces.


Under the auspices of the DGP, thorough work has been undertaken to develop a comprehensive Alliance defense response to proliferation risks. The DGP conducted an all-inclusive assessment of the risks to the Alliance posed by proliferation up to the year 2010. Building on this assessment, the DGP identified the capabilities needed to address NBC proliferation risks and made out the gaps to be filled. The improvements necessary to close these gaps were compiled into a series of action plans, guidelines, and force proposals that have been included in the overall NATO defense and force planning process. In 1998, the DGP submitted a comprehensive stocktaking report on the Alliance’s achievements in countering the risks of proliferation of WMD. With this significant work, the DGP has established political consensus among the Allies regarding the nature of the NBC threat and the need to adapt NATO’s defense posture in response.

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Related to the work of the DGP, the German Ministry of Defense produced new concepts for NBC defense [ German Ministry of Defense, „Teilkonzeption für bereichsübergreifende Aufgaben - ABC-Abwehr der Bundeswehr" (Subconcept for Common Tasks - NBC Defense in the German Armed Forces), 29 May 1997.] and NBC medical defense. [ German Ministry of Defense, „Fachkonzept Medizinischer ABC-Schutz" (Concept for NBC Medical Defense), 31 January 1997.] These two documents entered into force in 1997. They provide comprehensive guidance and state requirements for the German Armed Forces' adaptation to foreseeable NBC-related risks.

Risk Estimation

When estimating risks we must look at two dimensions: first, the qualitative dimension that examines the characteristics of possible risks and, second, the quantitative dimension that allows us to estimate the probability of such an occurrence.

NBC risks are estimated as the product of the presence of nations, groups, or unaffiliated individuals that desire NBC weapons and the probability that they possess them. In other words, a risk exists where these entities have access to NBC weapons or agents. Additional risk factors include the means of delivery, in particular missiles with a long range, vulnerable targets, and the potential damage that can be inflicted.

The risk becomes a threat once a nation, group, or an unaffiliated individual has specific intentions of employing NBC weapons. Such intentions may be the result of international and sociopolitical constellations or the personal situation of a lone fanatic, all of which are factors that will not be discussed here.

In addition to the „classic" or „military" NBC risks arising from the presence and proliferation of NBC weapons, from a medical perspective we must also consider other dangers with similar effects. Proliferation of NBC weapons is paralleled by a massive worldwide distribution and proliferation of nuclear and chemical technology in the civilian sector from which armed forces may face considerable risks, for example, during peace support missions. Possible risks may arise from nuclear power plants, technical and medical radiation sources, depleted uranium, and chemical production facilities and stocks (e.g., phosgene, hydrogen cyanide, chlorine gas or insecticides). In the deployment area, safety standards may be lower than those in countries providing troops, and because of circumstances such as civil war, qualified control personnel at such facilities may be lacking. These risks include those resulting from explosions, fires, and their associated by-products. Infrastructure disruption may also include neglect of hygiene measures, which could lead to an epidemic because of the reactivation of natural reservoirs. The indigenous population in the deployment area may be more resistant to such diseases than members of foreign forces.

Although these risks must be considered by political and military decision-makers, in this article only the aspects of protection against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are being analyzed.

Nuclear Weapons and Radiological Weapons

Nuclear Weapons

In the new security environment, where yesterday’s adversaries are today’s partners, NATO’s strategy for war prevention is no longer dominated by the prospect of nuclear escalation.

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Today, it rests more firmly on the development of a cooperative security architecture in Europe and NATO’s ability to defuse a crisis through diplomatic and other means or, should it be necessary, to mount a successful conventional defense. NATO’s nuclear forces still play an essential role in war prevention, but that role is more fundamentally political and no longer oriented toward a particular threat.

There are several thousand nuclear weapons still stationed in Europe, with an overwhelming proportion in Russia. At present the threshold for employing nuclear weapons is extremely high - in the West we talk of „weapons of last resort". However, there is no guarantee that all possessors of nuclear weapons will keep this threshold as high in the future. A nuclear power may well change its strategy if it perceives its conventional armed forces as weak.

In addition, we must consider that as a result of proliferation of nuclear technology the number of nations possessing nuclear weapons may further increase and that other possessors may not necessarily adhere to the Western policy of weapons of last resort. [ On 15 July 1999 the spokesman of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of China declared that the People’s Republic is in possession of the neutron bomb. This declaration was made in conjunction with the rejection of U.S. charges of nuclear espionage against China and with threats uttered the day before by the Chinese Minister of Defense against Taiwan that the People’s Liberation Army is ready to protect the territorial integrity of China at any time and to defeat any attempt to divide the country ( Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , 16 July 1999).] In addition to the five nuclear powers recognized by the United Nations Security Council and the NPT, two self-declared nuclear powers emerged in May 1998: India and Pakistan. These two powers rose from the ranks of the threshold countries; others may follow.

Particular attention should also be paid to the risk of extremist countries, terrorist groups, and organized crime gaining access to nuclear weapons. In this context, existing nuclear potentials have to be considered not only in terms of the proliferation of knowledge, but also in terms of nuclear weapons changing hands. The specter of nuclear weapons changing hands may someday haunt us when a nuclear power becomes unstable, corrupt, or extremist. Under these circumstances nuclear weapons may come under the control of civil war factions or may be passed on to rogue or extremist countries, terrorists, or other criminals. For this reason stable nuclear powers, in particular a stable Russia with its huge arsenals, are essential for world security.

Radiological Weapons

Radiological weapons are part of the nuclear risk. These are weapons, procedures, or methods that disseminate radioactive substances; for example, the conventional detonation of a container holding a radioactive substance. The aim of such weapons is to disperse radioactive particles. At multilateral arms control talks, such weapons are regarded as difficult to define, and there is little chance of reaching consensus on this issue. In addition, their military value is unclear.

Nevertheless, recent reports indicate that such weapons could pose a real threat. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) uncovered evidence indicating that Iraq tried to develop radiological weapons. Other countries as well could have developed or be developing such weapons. In November 1995, Chechen terrorists were reported to be blackmailing the Russian government by threatening to contaminate Moscow with radioactive material (cesium-137).

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In this context, the Russian incidents of illegal trade in nuclear material are particularly worrying. German security authorities have registered more than 100 cases a year since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Protection against Nuclear Risks

The risk posed by the use of nuclear weapons and radiological weapons spans a wide spectrum, with the erstwhile most threatening form, mass use of nuclear weapons, being extremely improbable. The risk of locally restricted use is greater today, but so too is the possibility of extensive relief measures, including medical support. In contrast to mass use scenarios, the entire infrastructure would not be destroyed. For this reason, nuclear medical defense activities can no longer be portrayed as useless, as was the case in doomsday scenarios. Because help is possible today, we are under a moral and ethical obligation to provide that help.

Moreover, the ability to prevent attrition and damage to material and facilities and to reduce the effects of nuclear weapons, as well as to maintain and restore the health of personnel exposed to a nuclear environment, is part of a credible concept of the Alliance. Furthermore, this ability is crucial in order to provide state-of-the-art medical care for soldiers in every conceivable situation.

Biological Weapons

Biological weapons (BW) consist of biological agents and delivery systems. BW agents are reproductive microorganisms and toxins of biological origin that are produced for non-peaceful purposes and whose effects on physiological processes can result in death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent damage. Epidemiology divides BW agents into pathogens of transmissible and non-transmissible diseases and toxins.

There are no declared possessors of BW. However, accusations of secret offensive programs have been leveled against more than a dozen countries.

Special Properties of Biological Weapons

The effects of BW agents can vary greatly. Pathogens and toxins can cause fatal diseases, as is the case with pulmonary anthrax or botulism, but are not necessarily highly contagious. Other pathogens, however, can produce communicable diseases, thus leading to the danger of epidemics. Such a danger is posed by plague or smallpox. Because systematic vaccination against smallpox has ceased, any resulting epidemic would be of considerable proportions and highly lethal, unless immediate quarantine measures and vaccination were carried out to prevent the infection from spreading. Other pathogens, such as Q fever, would only incapacitate, but not kill, their victims, unless they were immuno-compromised.

BW can have devastating effects. In 1970 an expert commission of the World Health Organization (WHO) published a model indicating that if 50 kilograms of anthrax spores were sprayed from an airplane over a major city with 500,000 inhabitants, 95,000 deaths and 125,000 cases of illness would be expected. In a nutshell, this means for anthrax spores: 50 kilograms will kill one-fifth of 500,000. These losses are comparable to those inflicted by an atomic bomb attack.

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BW can be used over the full spectrum from strategic attacks to clandestine operations. They can also be mixed with radionuclides and chemical agents. What is more, terrorists and other criminals have come to realize that biological agents may be a suitable means for achieving their ends. [ See Torsten Sohns, „Defense Against Biological Terrorism", in Torsten Sohns, Victor A. Voicu, NBC Risk - Current Capabilities and Future Perspectives for Protection (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999).] Biological weapons in the hands of such groups or unaffiliated individuals present one of the most significant dangers for both the civil population and military units.

Differentiating between artificial and natural causes of illnesses and deaths is a special problem; diseases can emerge or reemerge even under natural circumstances. Should an outbreak of an unusual disease occur in the midst of a tense international political or military conflict, prompt work would be necessary to clarify the causes. Political and military decision-makers would urgently require a clear and firm medical assessment to evaluate the situation and decide on future action, which could include grave military retaliation and escalation measures. In view of the extremely important role played by medical diagnostic capabilities, it is crucial that decision-makers allocate the necessary resources to state-of-the-art medical biodefense capabilities.

The covert use of biological agents can be particularly attractive to civil war factions and clandestine operation forces. International crisis management operations are usually characterized by a lack of comprehensive military action. The verification of a biological attack is time-consuming and difficult. The possibility of covert use renders the principle of deterrence almost ineffective. Biological agents could be used in and outside crisis areas. Members of the armed forces could be exposed regardless of whether covert use is targeted at the local population, allied units, or directly at an armed forces contingent.

The progress being made in biotechnology is an important factor limiting the effectiveness [ See Torsten Sohns, „The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction - A Challenge for Decision-Makers" in the ASA Newsletter 99-3, Applied Science and Analysis, Inc., 11 June 1999.] of the BTWC, which comprehensively bans all biological activities that are not justified for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes. Continuous improvements in biotechnology make it possible to produce biological agents in smaller facilities with dual-use technology. The risk of secret production and proliferation increases accordingly.

Moreover, the rapid development of gene technology and biotechnology in recent years has been beneficial, but it has also opened new possibilities to create genetically manipulated biological agents. The spectrum of potential biological risks is increasing and places ever-greater demands on our biological medical defense capabilities.

Protection against Biological Risks

Because biological weapons had been widely underestimated in the 1970s and 1980s, the coalition forces had to learn lessons during the Gulf War. Although Iraq had been a signatory state of the BTWC since 1972, it carried out an extensive biological program that was gradually uncovered, although not before 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War. Suddenly and unexpectedly its covert program posed a real danger and called for improvisation of protective measures.

NATO's military conducted a thorough in-depth analysis of the situation, including the lessons learned by the coalition forces. The capabilities needed were identified and work was started on the elimination of obvious shortcomings in biodefense capabilities, including

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medical biological defense. High priority must be given to active and passive biodefense capabilities such as:

  • a means for intercepting and destroying biological weapons;
  • aerosol detection and warning systems;
  • procedures for detecting biological agents;
  • preventing, diagnosing, and treating BW diseases.

Still not resolved is the issue of a common vaccination policy in the Alliance. While U.S. forces have already started vaccinating against biological threat number one, anthrax, Canada and the European nations are still hesitant.

First, there is the immense cost factor. But there are also some open questions, such as the availability of sufficient quantities of effective and licensed vaccines against major threats. Unlike curative drugs, whose side effects are by far outbalanced by the possibly even life-saving effects, vaccines are preventive drugs; that is, they have to be administered during peacetime in healthy persons so that even slight side effects may be perceived as unacceptable. Moreover, military leaders would not be happy about the enormous organizational endeavors they would have to make to ensure timely vaccinations and revaccinations.

On the other hand, we cannot efficiently protect deployed forces with antibiotics only or antiserums against the most significant biological threats. If we were to be taken by surprise, as was the case in the Gulf War, forces would not be combat ready for a biological scenario without prior vaccination. It takes months from the first vaccination until an effective immuno-protection status is reached. During this time the options available to political and military decision-makers would be seriously limited.

Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons (CW) consist of chemical agents and delivery systems. CW agents are toxic chemicals produced for non-peaceful purposes and whose effects on physiological processes can result in death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent damage.

The United States, Russia, and a small number of other states are declared possessors of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, we cannot expect all possessors of CW to accede to the CWC. As we have seen with the BTWC, [ See Ken W. Alibek, Stephen Handelman (Contributor) , Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told From Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House Inc., May 1999 ).] even signatory states to the CWC could violate it.

Protection against Chemical Risks

Iraq used CW against its own Kurdish population in 1988 in Brijini (proven by British NBC defense experts), in Halabdja (strong evidence), and in the war against Iran.

In the 1991 Gulf War, while no conclusive proof of Iraq’s use of CW agents could be found, the coalition forces nevertheless had to take extensive preventive NBC defense measures. From the NBC medical defense perspective, these included nerve agent pretreatment with pyridostigmine. This treatment, in addition to many other factors, has been implicated as

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being responsible for some aspects of the Gulf War Syndrome, although this has yet to be scientifically proven.

Similarly, the risk of CW exposure could not be ruled out for United Nations troops in the former Yugoslavia. As a precautionary measure, the NATO contingents were supplied with individual protective equipment and antidotes against nerve agents.

The former Yugoslavian people’s army is known to have produced CW agents. There was a major production facility in Mostar. In spring 1992, production facilities for chemical agents as well as ammunition for mustard gas and sarin were transported from the Bosnian city of Mostar to Serbia, presumably to Lucani. [ See the ASA Newsletter 99-2 and 99-3, Applied Science and Analysis, Inc., 15 April 1999 and 11 June 1999.] In 1995, news reports alleged that Bosnian Serbs used the incapacitating CW agent BZ when taking the Moslem enclaves of Zepa and Sebrenica. [ German News Agency (DPA), July 1995 and January 1996.]

There is no guarantee that all chemical agents are in safekeeping. We cannot rule out the possibility of these stocks - as is the case with other types of weapons - passing into the possession of one of the warring parties or falling into the hands of terrorists.

Like biological weapons, chemical weapons in the hands of terrorists and other criminals also present a major challenge to protecting the civil population and military personnel. We are all aware that the Aum Shinrikyo sect used the CW agent sarin in terrorist attacks in Matsumoto (7 deaths) and in Tokyo (12 deaths and 5,500 injured).


The risk of exposure to the effects of WMD is real. Weapons from each of the categories have been produced and tested. They are somewhere at someone’s disposal and have already been used in the recent past. [ See Sohns, „Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction".]

As experience has repeatedly shown in the recent past, political measures can only reduce but not rule out the risk of the use and proliferation of WMD. Proliferation happens despite all the disarmament and arms control agreements, and it will augment the number of possessors, thus further increasing the risk of these weapons being used.

The effectiveness of disarmament and arms control treaties is highly dependent on factors such as the willingness of a government to comply and the confidence it has in the sincerity of the other signatories. [ Ibid.] Furthermore, the stability of a country and the degree of control the government has over military leaders, scientists, and the export industry also play a major role.

A factor particularly limiting the effectiveness of the BTWC is the progress being made in biotechnology. Continuous improvements in biotechnology make it possible to produce biological agents in smaller facilities with dual-use technology. The risk of secret BW production and proliferation increases accordingly. Moreover, the improvements in biotechnology have also opened new possibilities to create genetically manipulated biological agents.

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It should be noted that agreements under international law, such as disarmament and arms control, are not applicable to civil war factions, terrorists, organized crime, or other criminals. These groups increasingly represent risk potentials that cannot be covered by this approach. As far as such groups are concerned, we will have to rely on intelligence, criminal investigation, and defensive countermeasures. Forces deployed for peace support missions may especially be under a considerable threat. If pathogens of a highly contagious disease are released with BW, however, the resulting epidemic may rapidly spread worldwide and threaten civil populations as well.

The question is not whether, but when and where WMD will be used next.

This statement is not meant to discourage the political preventive approach. Prevention of WMD proliferation with political means continues to provide the fundament for all further action. It should be recognized, however, that the political approach alone cannot offer complete protection. Therefore, the political endeavor must be supplemented with NBC defense and NBC medical defense capabilities.

In many countries, including Germany, there is little awareness of WMD. What is more, many decision-makers have yet to fully perceive the risks involved and to take appropriate action. The concepts and requirements for protection against WMD have all been written, but the next step has yet to be taken, namely to allocate the necessary resources (personnel, training, and equipment) for protection against WMD.

The United States is exemplary in its pronounced risk perception and its willingness to draw the right conclusions. Far more than ever before, its efforts are taking account of the dangers posed by the proliferation of WMD. For example, budget planning for the U.S. armed forces provides for an increase from $388 to $865 million for biological and chemical defense from fiscal year 1996 to 2005. [ Figures obtained from Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, Alexandria, USA, July 1999.] This amounts to an increase of more than double. Also, Britain will spend 270 million pounds ($425 million) over the next three years (from 1999) to meet the challenge of chemical and biological warfare. [ London, 21 July 1999, Reuters news agency.]

One of the benefits of protection capability against WMD is that it renders such weapon programs less attractive. Therefore, NBC protection capability should be visible. This would even discourage the use of WMD, thus supporting deterrence. Moreover, it will help save lives, and in the face of the threatened or actual use of WMD, an NBC defense capability ensures that an acceptable spectrum of options is available to political and military decision-makers. This helps to keep the threshold of nuclear retaliation and escalation high.

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The Protective Triad: Political, NBC Defensive, and Medical Countermeasures

No current strategy guarantees full protection against risks from WMD. There is no magic pill, no impregnable shield. The best possible defense is a joint approach in which political, NBC defensive, and medical measures mutually complement and enhance one another:

(1) The risk of use and proliferation of WMD should be ruled out as far as possible by political measures, in particular disarmament and arms control. These measures are laid down in the respective treaties and follow-on agreements. They should be supplemented by export control measures for dual-use materials that ought only to be traded with countries that comply with the respective treaties and allow for inspections.

In cooperation with friendly countries, we must support the Russian government in converting the former Soviet military NBC research and production facilities. Many of their scientists found themselves in difficulty when the Russian defense budget was reduced. When scientists find themselves in a crisis of this kind, this can lead to considerable proliferation risks with unforeseeable consequences.

(2) Because political measures do not offer complete protection, the military and civilian technological activities (dual-use problem) of „rogue states", along with the activities of suspicious persons and organizations, must continuously be monitored, analyzed, and evaluated (intelligence) in an attempt to identify activities conducted for non-peaceful purposes. Strategic and operational intelligence increase the chances of preventing WMD use and of developing effective countermeasures.

The armed forces must be prepared to find and destroy enemy WMD, including incoming theater attack missiles (active NBC defense). Furthermore, they must address all of the three categories of NBC weapons and develop the capability to sustain operations in an NBC environment for more than a few hours and preserve their combat strength (passive NBC defense [ Passive NBC defense should be guaranteed throughout the entire operational spectrum by a balanced system, which includes seven elements : individual protection, collective protection, NBC medical defense, the hardening of defense materiel, NBC reconnaissance, decontamination, NBC evaluation, and hazard forecast.] ). NBC defense capability is needed not just tomorrow but today. It must be guaranteed throughout the entire operational spectrum by a balanced system of NBC defense measures. This must be reflected by manpower, training, and equipment.

For the medical services this means that they must develop the capability of protecting medical personnel at work, patients during treatment and evacuation, and sophisticated medical material against NBC exposure. Failure would present a major obstacle to military operations in an NBC environment and may seriously limit the options available to political and military decision-makers. In the worst case, the only options left to the Alliance's political leaders may be to do nothing or to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

Since NBC defense cannot guarantee complete protection against exposure, NBC medical defense capabilities must be available to

  • maintain and restore the health of NBC-exposed personnel;
  • clarify the causes of unusual diseases and deaths, for example, to distinguish natural from other outbreaks;

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  • advise political and military decision-makers.

Expert groups and their budgets must be augmented in order to provide NBC medical defense training for all military doctors and guarantee NBC medical defense readiness.

Medical considerations must increasingly include not only the acute, often lethal effects of NBC weapons, but also the long-term effects of low-dose NBC exposure. This constitutes a substantial increase in the qualitative and quantitative requirements placed on the medical service.

Protection of the Civilian Population

The vulnerability of our highly civilized and technological world to WMD is considerable. If it is difficult just to protect armed forces in operations against WMD, in particular biological weapons, then to protect the civilian population will pose even greater problems. What is more, there are in this area obvious conceptual gaps. It must be remembered, too, that civil defense resources have been substantially reduced since the end of the Cold War.

Both civilian authorities and the armed forces must be prepared to take any necessary action to avert hazards in the event of threatened or actual use of WMD. Productive cooperation between all government bodies and their resources must be guaranteed. To this end, the civilian and military authorities must keep each other informed about their capabilities, and complementary action by civilian authorities and the armed forces must be planned, taught, and practiced together. Especially as far as biological weapons are concerned, the armed forces should provide a special training program for police officers, firefighters, key law enforcement, and health care personnel as well as relevant personnel from government and nongovernment aid organizations (e.g., the Red Cross). The management of situations involving NBC hazards in the civilian sector may require the armed forces’ NBC defense and NBC medical defense expertise, for it may be the only national resource available to decision-makers for appropriate advice.

Continuity and Long-term Planning: The Only Way Forward

In NBC medical defense, only a small group of medical scientists are conducting research on the prophylaxis, diagnosis, and therapy of the relevant clinical pictures. Few countries have even one facility working in this field („scientific islands"). Such facilities are usually just large enough to meet their personnel requirements for their own regular (small group of) experts.

Fluctuations in risk perception have repeatedly led to reductions in NBC medical defense activities. The continual uncertainty of financing NBC medical activities has caused considerable insecurity and produced devastating consequences for the recruitment of young scientific personnel. There is an urgent need for a separate item in the German Ministry of Defense budget specifically for financing NBC medical defense activities. It would significantly improve control over the budgeting of these activities. This should be supplemented by an open and balanced information policy on the dangers of WMD and their proliferation as well as on the budgeting and progress of counterprograms. All this would soon produce marked improvements.

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Future Challenges

Armed forces of the future must have the capability to protect themselves against WMD while the civil population must be afforded appropriate protection. Where precautionary measures fail, the military medical and civil health care services must be able to restore the health of those who have been exposed. State-of-the-art equipment and procedures, together with appropriately trained personnel, need to be in place.

Armed forces that do not have appropriate NBC defense and NBC medical defense capability cannot honor their obligations within an alliance. Nor will they be able to provide effective assistance should their own country find itself under NBC threat. As the threat from WMD increases, the availability of appropriate medical capabilities plays an increasingly important role in a country’s defense.

Now is the time for decision-makers to act and allocate the resources necessary.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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