The beginning of December saw the formal launching of NATO's new multi-national Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Defence Battalion in the town of Liberec. It is undeniably a moment of primary importance for the Czech Republic, assigned to lead the 500 member battalion which includes members from twelve other NATO countries including Canada, Great Britain, Turkey, Spain, and Italy. The core of the Czech team ranks some 160 NBC specialists, who have built a strong reputation in the field, in peace and wartime, in their ability to defend and respond to chemical accidents as well as the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
While Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka, army and NATO representatives kicked off the launch, Radio Prague spoke with General Dusan Lupuljev, the head of the Czech anti-chemical unit stationed in Kuwait, to discuss some of the challenges that lie ahead:
"This battalion came into existence to meet the very real threat of weapons of mass destruction. This threat was indicated in the past, and at present there is a continuing threat of use - or relatively cheap manufacture of - WMD by terrorist organisations. That is the new NBC battalion's reason for existing. To assure NATO will not be caught off guard, and able to react, if weapons of mass destructions are ever used."
"When the need for a new battalion was being weighed several countries were considered to lead in the first year. Of NATO members only a few have the capability of heading such a force: the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic though, was in a way rewarded: first, thanks to its readiness over the last thirteen years, in particular in both Gulf wars, and second, for its investments in new technology. This made the Czech Republic a reasonable choice."
Furthermore, the Czech Republic was still thinking of ways to innovate and improve.
"Even though our unit in Kuwait was not used against WMD they did serve similar roles as well as such tasks as the disinfection of hospitals, roads, and other spaces, as well as securing drinking water. Our experience in Kuwait taught us how to make improvements in technology but also organisation. We were the first state to come forward with a concept that has been incorporated in the new battalion, that units created shall be multi-purpose. In Kuwait it became apparent that smaller, multi-task units were preferable. Our contribution to the new battalion is a multi-purpose unit capable of the following: detection, decontamination, analysis, disinfection. We think that will be the trend in the future: units will not be required to respond to thousands of kilometres exposed to radiation requiring large units, but smaller danger zones requiring multi-task capability."
Under the Czech Republic's first 12 months of leadership exercises and much training will take place, both in the Czech Republic and co-operating states. The Czechs are confident they will be able to both pass on their branch of expertise, and successfully preside over the readiness and preparation of Final Operational Capability of the new multi-national force by July 2004.
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