Regional Threats: The Future CBRNe Threats in the Balkans

By Maj. Georgios Gkanalas, EOD/IEDD/CBRNe SME, Hellenic Air Force

Let's have a look at the potential threats in the Balkans region concerning the deployment and use of Chemical and Explosive materials and devices, as well as the combination of those, in a future combat environment.

The region in the South-eastern corner of Europe, often comes up suddenly and loudly in news headlines. The area is rightfully called «Europe’s Powder Keg» due to its political and geostrategic instability and vulnerability.

During the past centuries, many conflicts and quarrels led to some serious confrontations and even caused a World War. Great Powers tried and are still trying to influence and intervene in the regional affairs with mixed, and in many cases, with controversial results. Even though many of the Balkan countries are very fond of the European Union (EU) (many of them are actually EU States), some destabilizing factors appeared, especially after the War of Yugoslavia and during the recent years. Hastily solved regional problems, as the quarrel about the Name Designation of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and the Kosovan Independence, produced some serious lurking concussions on the political stability and peace of the region. Actions by the so-called Great Powers, such as the US, Russia, China, and even the EU, produced a dangerous and highly volatile environment. Last but not least, the ongoing intervention of Turkey is considered as a major destabilizing factor in the political and defense matters of Tirana, Skopje, and other neighboring capitals, constantly reminding us of the dangers of the potential revival of a newly established Ottoman Empire.

A confident assessment can be made that, in the upcoming years, at least one major conflict will take place, with unpredictable consequences on the affected countries. There is also a high possibility to see the restructuring and/or the establishment of new borders, as well as the merging or even the dissolving of some States. Consequently, all the aforementioned situations and challenges will probably produce a devastating and highly demanding Battle Environment (BE), designed accordingly to employ new and updated tactics and to introduce new Weapon Systems (WS), especially the already ubiquitous Unmanned Systems (Drones) and maybe a combination of those, using a mix of upgraded and more lethal Explosives, Chemical Agents (CA) and/or Toxic Industrial Hazards (TIH).

There is also a strong possibility for the participating forces to encounter Drone platforms that can be used in the aforementioned tactical employments. New types of Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures, well known in the military jargon as TTP’s, will be developed and applied through the new complicated and sophisticated BE.

Proxies will be vastly used in order to achieve the involving State’s tactical, operational, and even strategic objectives. They will be well trained and amply provided with the appropriate equipment and supplies, as well as, with tools in order to achieve the necessary tactical and operational awareness for their forces.

The practice and ethics of modern warfare, well-proven during the period started with the War in Yugoslavia, continued with the recent provocative actions of various proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, sadly teach us an important lesson. That is, one cannot rely heavily upon the international organizations and alliances, such as the UN and NATO, to protect the participating military forces, as well as the affected civilians, in case of a new Balkan conflict. Probably we’ll face, for once more, situations of brutal hostilities with the use of civilians as human shields, fake and/or provoked bombings, and deliberate release of toxic substances. This can be combined with misinformation campaigns by certain non-state actors and media ones.

The forces involved will most possibly encounter all means of the employment of Explosives, CAs, TIHs, and combinations of those, coming from many types of weapons and carriers. These can include artillery guns, mortars, Ballistic Missiles, UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems), UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles), Loitering Munitions, and, of course, IEDs. The latter will take a significant share of the aforementioned employment of hazards and, of course, will play an even more significant role on the tactical and operational level of the conflict. Utilizing old and reliable techniques of fusing and booby-trapping, the IEDs, in conjunction with modern «Vessels - Carriers» (such as Drones), electronic, and other sophisticated devices, will certainly be used vastly and methodically in every BE. Already known and reliable enemy TTPs will be upgraded and modified accordingly in order to fit with the new environment and needs. Involving States will probably provide their proxies with ample help and knowledge in the area of ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) Warfare, as well as some tactical and operational awareness by the means of providing them with ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) information. Additionally, utilization of corrupted non-state actors and foundations will be witnessed, so to ease the way of supplying raw material and equipment to the final users. Consequently, and of course, taking into consideration all of the above facts and limitations, the role of the EOD/IEDD/CBRNe operators becomes crucial and catalytic by all means. Hence, the necessity of deployment of these forces, wisely and effectively, will be an important factor during the operational phases of the conflict. EOD/IEDD/CBRNe operators must be well trained, provided with the appropriate equipment and technology, as well as with means of tactical awareness and thorough knowledge of their BE in every case. Of course, ethical and political support to fulfill the final objective of their operations is imperative.

Involved defending states must also seek and establish new and reliable Alliances with robust structure and mutual protocols of support and understanding, far from political and economic reliance from the supporting - attacking states. New Alliances must provide all the economic and political cover to their military organizations, in order to carry out their operations, as well as to have contingency plans in case of major strategic alterations and challenges. All the above conditions and limitations, considering the deployment and the tactical use of EOD/IEDD/CBRNe operators, might be in vain if we are not considering the most important factor of all: the Human Factor. Operators, along with the suitable support and equipment, must have all the ethical and mental capabilities of a «Homeland Fighter». That means fulfilling the supreme duty to protect one’s country’s territory and historical continuity, as well as upholding democracy and human rights. Safeguarding the aforementioned principles shall provide the necessary motivation to every operator, following the lead of renowned fighters of the past, such as the descendants of Pericles, Alexander the Great, Constantine the Great, and so many others. Having the privilege through my current contribution to consult all my fellow co - warriors, I urge everyone to perform their duties with honor, tenacity, and patience. But the most crucial focus points, in my opinion, are the vast knowledge of their expertise area as well as hard training and the appropriate perception of current and upcoming hazards.

In conclusion, the Balkan region was always an area of political and geostrategic turbulence. Ethnic diversities and state quarrels led the area to earn its characteristic nickname of the «Powder Keg of Europe» and prove it accordingly through the eons. We are always looking forward and working hard towards achieving a long-lasting period of peace and stability in the area but, at the same time, we are at constant alert for any possible conventional or even asymmetric threat that may occur. And as the Great Athenian Rhetor Demosthenes said: «Χαλεπώτερον το φυλάττειν του κτήσασθαι» or «Harder to hold than to acquire».

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Greek Government. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorized, provided the source is acknowledged and the publisher is given prior notice and sent a copy.


Major Gkanalas is active-duty EOD/IEDD/CBRNe SME, serving in Hellenic Air Force (HAF) for the last 30 years. He graduated from HAF’s NCO Academy in 1992 as a General Armorer and he volunteered to attend HAF’s EOD School in 1997 and ever since has entered the EOD Community. He worked as Ordnance loader and Weapons Maintainer on F-4E aircraft and F-16C/D Blk 52+Adv. At the time being he’s the EOD Head of 116Combat Wing as well as the Ammunition – Explosives QA Officer of the Air Base. He graduated from US NAVSCOLEOD, Eglin AFB, FL in 2009 and he has participated in many training and operational missions (USA, Israel, Thailand, UK, Slovakia etc,). Major Gkanalas is a frequent participant in various related webinars, conventions and expos and he has extensive experience as trainer and speaker. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the town of Patras at the South – West of Greece, near the birthplace of the Olympic Games.