EU sets up international centre in Abu Dhabi

The centre will help ensure the Gulf's readiness to tackle chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.

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ABU DHABI // An international centre set up by the European Union in Abu Dhabi will help ensure the Gulf’s readiness to tackle chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents.

The EU CBRN Centres of Excellence regional secretariat will include cross-border cooperation between Gulf countries to establish an incident response strategy.

“The centre will help the EU mitigate the risk from incidents happening outside the union,” said Maciej Popowski, deputy secretary general of the EU external action service. “Events such as Chernobyl or Fukushima show that a regional response is important.”

Hamad Alkaabi, UAE ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: “The centre will act as a coordination point to support regional cooperation.It will support development of national and regional capabilities to counter the risks associated with nuclear, chemical and biological material and it complements UAE national activities so the choice to open it in the UAE is a recognition of the active role the UAE plays regionally and internationally in this area.”

The centre will be inaugurated by Mr Popowski, Dr Mihai Stuparu, the EU ambassador to the UAE, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and Dr Jonathan Lucas, director of the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

“The Gulf is a key partner for the EU and the UAE authorities kindly offered to host the secretariat,” Mr Popowski said. “The Centres of Excellence initiative is based on a voluntary, bottom-up approach. The centre responds to your and our interests.”

The initiative involves more than 45 countries and has been launched in eight regions, including central Asia and north Africa. Such an initiative is crucial to protect critical infrastructure and industrial installations.

“It will act as a focal point for regional CBRN activities, and roundtables will help design and review projects,” he said. “The networks and project implementation will reduce CBRN risks.”

Local and international experts will meet in Abu Dhabi at least twice a year after the inauguration to discuss readiness and responses to such threats.

“Gulf counterparts are here,” Mr Popowski said. “Partners who join see that value of regional cooperation to combat risks which do not respect borders.”

Nuclear experts view the centre’s establishment as an excellent idea.

“In countries near Abu Dhabi, significant levels of instability can be noted, with insurgency groups fighting against governments and among themselves,” said Paul Wilke, a senior research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations. “Presently, these groups are fighting with conventional weapons, but it is clear that they have very little regard for human life and humanitarian law. There is little doubt that, given the availability, these groups would not hesitate to employ non-conventional weapons.”

He said terrorism was plaguing many countries and so far terrorists have used conventional explosives.

“If they were to employ non-conventional means, the costs in terms of human lives and societal disruption would be enormous,” he said. “The interest in the region to develop nuclear energy would introduce materials which could be misused by insurgents or terrorists with terrible consequences. A CBRN centre in Abu Dhabi could do very useful work in order to promote the safeguarding of dangerous materials, improve detection techniques and promote adequate response systems.”

The next step will include a reinforcement of regional contacts and national efforts to combat CBRN risks assessed.

“Further roundtables to discuss future projects should assure practical outcomes,” said Mr Popowski, who also plans to discuss wider security issues. “The UAE is an important player in anti-piracy activities, particularly in the Gulf of Aden, so reinforcing these contacts is really important for both sides as it helps increase our mutual understanding and better meet the challenges.”