ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – A Weapons of Mass Destruction expert discussed the lessons learned from eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program and how those lessons may apply to future large-scale combat operations.
Dr. Philipp C. Bleek spoke to Army leaders from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, during an Operations Directorate Leader Professional Development session, July 13.
The 20th CBRNE Command is the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command. From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
Bleek is a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at Monterey, California, in the Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies Program (NPTS).
He also currently serves as an expert on the Congressionally-mandated, Department of Defense-sponsored, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine-convened study called “Assessing and Improving Strategies for Preventing, Countering, and Responding to Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism: Chemical Threats.”
Bleek previously served as a senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs where he helped to author the 2014 National Defense Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and played a role in planning for various Syria chemical weapons-related contingencies.
Much of the declared Syrian chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed in international waters aboard the container ship MV Cape Ray with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems that were developed by the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, now the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Chemical Biological Center on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Part of the Ready Reserve Force, the Portsmouth, Virginia-homeported Cape Ray is owned by the U.S. Maritime Administration.
“This eliminated most of one of the few chemical arsenals that existed,” said Bleek.
This LPD event was held two weeks after the 105th anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and a week after the United States completed the destruction of its declared chemical weapons stockpiles in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997.
“The dramatic marginalization of chemical weapons is something worth celebrating,” said Bleek, while adding that the potential threat of chemical weapons use persists, particularly to hinder operations and target logistical hubs during large-scale combat operations.
Col. Vance M. Brunner, the operations director for the 20th CBRNE Command, invited Bleek to speak at the development session.
“Dr. Bleek brings a host of knowledge regarding chemical weapon programs both by state and non-state actors,” said Brunner. “His research and background include factors on why states do or do not pursue CBRN weapons, proliferation of key countries, deterrence, and conventions, such as the biological and toxic weapons convention and the chemical weapons convention.”
“He is always looking at future threats posed by chemical weapons and their delivery systems, such as the use of drones in swarms or the use of microchemistry labs to manufacture chemical agents,” said Brunner.
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies has teamed up with the 20th CBRNE Command for their Leadership Development Program.
“The world-class professors at Middlebury bring a higher level of education than what you will find at our military schools. They bring a global security perspective for combating Weapons of Mass Destruction,” said Brunner. “They cover topics at the strategic and political level, such as treaties, international organizations and regional political factors for the pursuit of WMDs.”
Brunner was selected to be an Army War College fellow at Middlebury Institute of International Studies from 2021-2022 before coming to the 20th CBNRE Command.
“I chose this fellowship because of the unique opportunity that MIIS offers to its students. The NPTS program focuses on nonproliferation of WMDs,” said Brunner, a native of Kailua, Hawaii, and graduate of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. “The NPTS program provided me with a global perspective for combating Weapons of Mass Destruction that I feel is needed as the 20th G3 (operations director).”
A career U.S. Army Chemical Corps officer who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Brunner said the Leadership Development Program enhances the readiness of the 20th CBRNE Command to serve as a Theater CBRNE Headquarters in support of a combatant command.
The colonel said the program includes monthly readings followed by lectures and discussions with experts who provide a higher-level view of CBRNE at the operational and strategic level.
Brunner said the development program is also designed to help the command prepare to support maneuver forces during large-scale combat operations.
“Preparing for countering Weapons of Mass Destruction with a near-peer adversary is critical. Any U.S. adversary will struggle in a conventional fight with the might of the U.S. Joint Force and its multiple partners and allies. Therefore, they may rely on WMDs to level the playing field or try to gain an advantage against the U.S. and its allies,” said Brunner. “Being prepared for worst case scenarios is an essential part of a near-peer fight.”