NEWS | Jan. 11, 2011

U.S. Central Command hosts symposium to discuss WMD

By Zack Baddorf , U.S. Central Command


Staff Brigadier General Ali Kazim Muheisin, Chief Director of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (left), and Jordanian Air Force Colonel Suhail Haddad, his country’s Senior Nation Representative at USCENTCOM, discuss one of the presentations made during the command’s inaugural Regional Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Symposium 2011, held recently in Tampa.  Photo by Zack Baddorf.

TAMPA, Florida (Jan. 11, 2011) —U.S. Central Command hosted its inaugural Regional Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Symposium here Nov. 30-Dec. 3, bringing together eight Middle Eastern nations to discuss how to better combat the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Representatives from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the United States met at the Embassy Suites Tampa Airport hotel for the four-day symposium with a theme of “Expanding Regional WMD Counterproliferation Capacity.”

“I think we all recognize that WMD proliferation is a threat to all our nations,” said Maj. Gen. (Select) Kenneth McKenzie, the director of Strategy, Plans and Policy for U.S. Central Command, which has its headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“Our nations must be able to adapt as the proliferation environment evolves and as in any dynamic environment, it is constantly evolving and changing,” McKenzie said in his opening remarks to the group of about 40 attendees.

This first-ever event was planned and conducted by the J5 Cooperative Defense Branch (CDB) and falls under U.S. Central Command’s Cooperative Defense Program.  This effort strives to improve interoperability between U.S. forces and its partner nations and to develop the ability of those nations to manage the consequences of WMD attacks on their sovereign territory.  

“The symposium’s primary goal was to identify regional CWMD challenges and to generate open and inclusive discussion in a multilateral event that would encourage the partner nation delegates to achieve collaborative solutions,” according to Ron Rook, the CDB chief.

The symposium was co-hosted by U.S. Central Command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), and the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA).  Subject-matter experts from the Department of Defense, the Department of State and DTRA provided briefings on WMD trafficking, the risks of non-state actors in WMD proliferation, how different government ministries can work together to combat WMD, and opportunities for regional and international cooperation in preventing the spread of WMD.

The symposium focused on four areas related to combating WMD –national security, border security, law enforcement and policy.  The briefings and table-top exercise scenarios were developed by DTRA and the senior group facilitator, Rear Adm. (Ret.) John Sigler, who is a professor emeritus at NESA and a former U.S. Central Command J5 director. NESA also hosted the Symposium Dinner, during which Sigler served as keynote speaker.

“This symposium is not just a military symposium. It is a broader objective of having us work together, of communicating across agencies within countries,” said Dr. Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation and moderator for the event.

Bennett said governments can stop nuclear proliferation by stopping specific software, hardware, expertise, and other materials that are required before a weapon can be developed and used.

“Proliferation is continuing and unless we take more positive action it will continue and we will see more use of these weapons and that will be regrettable for all of our nations,” said Bennett.

The participants worked in groups to identify challenges to combating WMD as well as collaborative solutions. Additionally, the attendees conducted table-top exercises where they considered case studies and determined appropriate responses.

Staff Brig. Gen. Ali Kazim Muheisin, the Iraqi Armed Forces Chemical Unit director, described the event as “highly important.”

“This symposium provide[d] recent and state of the art information for the benefit of all in order for all the represented countries and participants to develop defense and preventive programs in order to put an end of the WMD proliferation,” he said.

Ali said countries have an “international obligation to put an end to the dealing and use of such weapons because WMD trafficking is nowadays a threat to all the world.” He said the symposium resulted in common ground between the participating nations’ delegates.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Bagwell, a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear NCOIC assigned to the United States Training Mission to Saudi Arabia, praised the symposium as “vital.” He and three Saudi military officers came from Saudi Arabia to attend the symposium.

Bagwell said cooperation between nations is critical to fighting WMD.

“If they can’t talk to their cohorts across the border, then there’s a problem,” Bagwell said. “We have a common problem. It’s not just our problem or their problem. It’s a common problem. So right now we have countries interfacing with each other that have never sat that close to each other in this dialogue and I think it’s absolutely positive and imperative that we continue to do so.”

This symposium is just the beginning.

McKenzie said U.S. Central Command is committed to a “durable and effective combating WMD mission over the long term,” especially given the seriousness of the threat.

“State or non-state actors both who seek to acquire these materials to make dirty bombs or even improvised nuclear weapons are very frightening and pose a clear and present danger to all of our individual and collective security,” McKenzie said.

The symposium’s organizers will be contacting the foreign participants in the coming weeks and months to provide additional assistance and to enable future collaboration on preventing the spread of WMD.