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South Korea’s CBRN forces engage in fight against COVID-19

Felix Kim

The Republic of Korea’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Command is helping protect South Korean citizens from a range of nontraditional threats, including terrorism and COVID-19, through research, training and quarantine support.

The command, which incorporates personnel, pictured, and resources from branches of the nation’s Armed Forces, was created in 2002 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. It carries out counterterrorism operations at public events and leads research and monitoring efforts to identify and counter CBRN threats.

CBRN personnel were deployed in March 2020 to the Daegu metropolitan area to support quarantine work at facilities including Kyungpook National University and the Armed Forces Daegu Hospital.

The command also conducts prevention and response training for first responders in South Korea and across the Indo-Pacific and Middle East to deal with chemical emergencies. In coordination with The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), it has trained emergency response personnel from dozens of countries.

Twenty-five participants from OPCW member states Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Sri Lanka attended training in Seoul in May 2019 to gain experience in monitoring, detection and decontamination operations, along with first aid training.

The workshop included sessions on using detection and safety equipment in a polluted area.

The first responders continued their training in September 2019 with an advanced course in Malaysia, followed by a field exercise in Singapore in December, reported OPCW.

The command also maintains the Chemical Defense Research Center, which features an OPCW-accredited laboratory to conduct “precise analysis and technical support of chemical defense,” according to a Ministry of National Defense news release dated September 25, 2020. “The research ability that has obtained international certification is contributing greatly to the evaluation of the world-class chemical defense force that cooperates with the international community.”

South Korea is a member of the OPCW Executive Council and regularly contributes funds to support the organization’s projects. On October 2, 2020, OPCW announced that Seoul had contributed to upgrading the organization’s laboratory and equipment store and had committed funds for an Indo-Pacific workshop on the development and use of chemistry for peaceful purposes.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

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