by El Hadj Lamine, Head of the EU CBRN CoE Regional Secretariat for North Africa and Sahel (NAS), Algiers
Nowadays, the world is a small village thanks to the unprec- edented development of transportation and communica- tion, making free trade and human mobility easier. National security management is an environment which, while taking advantage of such exceptional developments, is a major chal- lenge for each and every country around the globe.
Security being one and indivisible
Trafficking of CBRN substances in general is one of the areas that needs close monitoring, given their dangerousness and potential dual use. Indeed, international illicit trafficking poses a serious threat since it usually involves several parties, including non-state actors. International and regional coop- eration is crucial to tackle this common threat and should be improved so as to prevent, deter and eventually crack down on it. The geographic proximity of North Africa and the Sahel (NAS) region to Europe and the Mediterranean basin – a very dynamic area in terms of trade and a sensitive zone, taking into account a number of local conflicts – makes it critical to work closely with other Euro-Mediterranean partners to secure common borders. Security being one and indivisible, the adherence of all concerned parties in both rims (north and south) is a prerequisite for the success of the collective effort.
In addition to the multilateral commitments of the partner countries of the NAS region (within the UN and African framework), through the various instruments2 relating to the fight for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the offer of cooperation made by the European Union (EU) through the CBRN Centers of Excellence Initiative is a singular welcomed step for all involved states, thanks to its distinctive “country-driven” approach.
Capacity building in border security
It is in this spirit that Project 55, entitled “Strengthening capacities for border detection and management of CBRN substances”, has been launched with the aim of developing capacity building in the NAS region for better CBRN border security. Signed in October 2016, the project is funded by the European Union and implemented by the “Expertise France” consortium in six3 partner countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The Regional Secretariat for the NAS region, located in Algiers, facilitates the coordination of project-related activities in the various benefi- ciary countries.
A perfect illustration of the strengthening of regional cooperation in CBRN risk mitigation, the project is aligned with the objectives of the Cen- tres of Excellence. In the long term, the objective of the project is to strengthen capacities relating to CBRN security at borders in accordance with international conventions and to durably improve the security and safety conditions related to the control of CBRN substances. Beyond regional co- operation, the project focuses on the coherence of actions undertaken by the partner countries, often sharing more than one common border.
Our objectives with Project 55
Specifically, the project covers several areas: the legal frame- work, prevention, detection and response to CBRN risks.
• Harmonising the national legal arsenal: it is essential to support the efforts of partner countries in strengthening and harmonising the national legal arsenal relating to border se- curity in accordance with international instruments to mitigate CBRN risks, taking into account the low level of domestication of these instruments in many African countries.
• Raising awareness of CBRN risks and strengthening the capacities of actors relating to the mitigation of CBRN risks at borders by organising training of trainers according to the specific needs of the partner countries.
• Strengthening the inter-service synergy is a fundamental element of the project. It is the inter-service synergy (customs, police, gendarmerie and fire brigade) that covers the chain
of command in a context of detection of CBRN substances on import or export, but also responds to chronic or accidental events related to border controls. Land, air and sea border controls (depending on the needs expressed by each partner country) are the subject of multiple training courses within the project.
• Training courses focus in particular on the detection and identification of fraudulent entries of chemical, biological and radiological products, the control of documents relating to CBRN materials, as well as the detection of CBRN substances and sampling through the customs services, the scientific po- lice, and all other relevant national institutions. A joint training seminar in Slovakia implemented by the International Security and Emergency Management Institute (ISEMi) is offered to part- ner countries at the end of the implementation of the project.
A new realistic orientation in the project
After the implementation of the first activities, the project was put on hold in July 2018 so as to redefine its terms of refer- ence, mainly with the aim of limiting the scope of the project to exclusively border-crossings (land, sea and air). The project restarted its activities in October 2019 during the last regional meeting of the National Focal Points of the NAS region, held in Tunisia. To date, the activities related to legal capacity building have been launched (March 2020) and will be carried out by teams of international experts, taking into account the dispari- ties among NAS partner countries.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, project activities are being re-modeled. In consultation with the Algiers Regional Secre- tariat, the consortium in charge of the implementation of the project is currently considering several methods in addition to e-learning techniques, including the possibility of bringing in local technical expertise in each of the six partner countries.
In conclusion, it is essential to highlight the importance of Pro- ject 55’s expected contributions and outcomes for the improve- ment of local capacities. A regional field exercise involving all NAS concerned stakeholders should be a tremendous input to enhance the regional coordination in facing the challenge of illicit trafficking of CBRN substances, particularly in terms of their detection and manipulation. Moreover, the delivery of pledged sophisticated equipment will be of great added value to all services of the NAS partner countries, which are at the forefront of the difficult battle to ensure security at national borders.