Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 82, Spring 2006
News in Review
Chirac Reasserts French Nuclear Weapons Policy
President Jacques Chirac has set out the post 9/11 roles for French nuclear weapons, which are now intended to deter "leaders of States who would use terrorist means against us" and those "who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction". The statement has attracted criticism around the world, including in the parliaments of some of France's closest allies, where the speech is regarded as a proliferator's charter, more likely to fan the flames of proliferation than to reduce the risks.
Speaking at the headquarters of the Strategic Air and Maritime Forces at Ile Longue, the French President puts great emphasis on the value and salience of nuclear weapons, describing them in language similar to that used in NATO's Strategic Concept, as the "ultimate guarantor of our security". Nuclear weapons give France the "ability to keep our freedom to act, to control our policies, to ensure the durability of our democratic values." In a statement that echoes the words of the Iranian leaders, and must be music to their ears, Chirac describes the French nuclear programme as a matter of national pride - "the very image of what our country is capable of producing when it has set itself a task and holds to it."
Whilst the exact targets of French nuclear weapons remain classified, the French newspaper Libération reports that it is "clear" that the targets of French nuclear weapons may be found in the Middle East and Asia. Nuclear deterrence, Chirac confirms, "is not intended to deter fanatical terrorists", but anyone who might consider using weapons of mass destruction "must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part. And this response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind."
Critics regard the statement as untimely and counterproductive, especially in view of international attempts to persuade Iran to forego its nuclear programme. Speaking in the British House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams of Crosby noted that, "It is phrases and thoughts like that that clearly feed the Iranian belief that they too should protect their security, surrounded as they are by many hostile states." Similarly, a German defence and foreign policy expert for the co-governing Christian Democratic Party, Andreas Schockenhoff, told Reuters, "We have to convince these countries [like Iran] that their situation isn't going to get any better if they possess nuclear weapons. I don't think Chirac's approach is really the best way to lead this debate and to increase pressure on Iran."
New roles for modernised nuclear forces
Whilst Chirac states that France's "concept for the use of nuclear weapons remains unchanged" and that there is "no question, under any circumstances, of using nuclear means for military purposes during a conflict", the speech marks an extension in the role of French nuclear weapons to new missions and towards more flexible nuclear forces. The speech goes considerably beyond the doctrine set out in France's 1994 White Paper, Livre Blanc sur la Défense, which noted that at that time France had "no declared adversary". As Chirac now makes clear, the enhancements to France's submarine launched and air-launched nuclear weapons will allow France to "address the new situations" and to "cover threats wherever they arise and whatever their nature".
The language used to describe French nuclear policy is similar in many ways to that of Britain, with the stated aim being to deter a potential aggressor who might threaten the country's "vital interests". As Chirac describes it, "Defence policy rests on the certainty that, whatever happens, our vital interests remain safeguarded. This is the role assigned to nuclear deterrence, which directly stems from our prevention strategy and constitutes its ultimate expression."
Following the occupation of France during the Second World War, French nuclear doctrine has always placed great emphasis on the importance of protecting France's territory. Chirac reaffirms this commitment: "The integrity of our territory, the protection of our population, the free exercise of our sovereignty will always be the core of our vital interests." But, in the Ile Longue speech he goes further. French vital interests are "not limited to these", but now include "safeguarding our strategic supplies" and "the defence of allied countries", and could be invoked in the event of "an unbearable act of aggression, threat or blackmail perpetrated against these interests". Speaking in the French Senate a couple of weeks later, Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie further specified that these "strategic supplies" could include energy supplies in future.
According to Chirac French nuclear weapons could be used against a major power, against which they could "inflict damage of any kind", or a regional power against which strategic forces could be used to "exercise our response directly against its centres of power and its capacity to act." This was confirmed by Alliot-Marie, who specified that a "potential aggressor might think that France, with its principles, would hesitate to use the entire power of its nuclear arsenal against civilian populations. Our country has adapted its capabilities and can now target the control centres of such an aggressor." According to Libération, the aim is now to be able to "decapitate" a regime, "without killing millions of innocent civilians."
Unlike Britain, France's nuclear doctrine has traditionally included explicit reference to the possibility of a nuclear warning shot - the use of a "small" nuclear weapon, perhaps over an uninhabited area, as a demonstration intended to persuade an aggressor to desist or risk the final resort of French defence policy - a "massive nuclear strike".
The final warning shot policy has had a lower profile since the end of the Cold War, when it was put forward for use against hostile military forces prior to any massive strike against towns and cities in the Soviet Union. Chirac has now clearly placed it up front again: "it goes without saying that we always reserve the right to resort to a final warning to mark our determination to safeguard our vital interests." According to a French military source quoted in Libération, the nuclear warning shot has been restored to French nuclear policy because it offers the head of state a choice between "apocalypse and nothing at all".
Libération also reports that the nuclear warning shot may now take two new forms. The first is the detonation of a relatively weak nuclear warhead in an area of desert, far away from power centres or inhabited areas. The second, and more "radical", is the detonation of a nuclear warhead at high altitude to create a brief, but strong electromagnetic pulse with the objective of destroying electronic systems. In this case, the newspaper notes, it would not be possible to avoid the effects of radioactive fallout.
France currently has two components to its nuclear arsenal - submarine launched ballistic missiles (the M45), along with the Air-Sol-Moyenne Portée (ASMP) air-launched medium range missiles carried by navy and air force bombers. Libération now reports that the number of nuclear warheads carried by missiles has now been reduced in order to increase their range and precision. France is currently modernising both components with a new, longer range M51.1 SLBM expected to enter service around 2010 and the ASMP-Amélioré (a longer range version of the ASMP) expected to enter service in 2007.
Towards a Europeanised nuclear force?
Chirac also revives another long cherished aspiration of French nuclear policy, the proposal for "concerted deterrence", widely seen as the latest incarnation of French attempts to move towards some form Europeanised nuclear force or "Eurobomb". Chirac proposes a "deepening reflection" within the European Union about the role of "existing" nuclear weapons in a "common defence" and states that "French nuclear deterrence, by its very existence, [is] a core element in the security of the European continent".
Defence Minister Alliot-Marie also confirms that France has "relaunched" its idea of offering concerted deterrence in Europe. France originally proposed concerted deterrence in 1995, as it sought European support for its controversial nuclear testing campaign, but its proposals were roundly rejected by a number of European states who did not wish to be associated with the nuclear tests and objected to being implicated by France in this way. At that time, France argued that deepening cooperation and coordination between French and British nuclear forces could form the basis for concerted deterrence.
Alliot-Marie again referred to regular discussions on nuclear cooperation with Britain, which have taken place since 1995. In response to objections from Labour backbench Members of Parliament, Britain's Secretary of State for Defence John Reid MP declined to comment in detail on the French remarks, but said that there was no "common or joint approach to nuclear deterrence outside the framework of NATO." This is a long held British position. Britain is not keen on the degree of European integration that France proposes, not least because the concept has always been opposed by the United States, which interprets Articles I and II of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as precluding any nuclear force under multilateral European control or ownership, unless the EU was to become a federated state.
Proliferation, not Disarmament
In a previous speech in June 2001, Chirac had given great emphasis to steps that France had taken towards nuclear disarmament in the late 1990s, including elimination of its ground launched nuclear weapons, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the closure of the French nuclear test sites in the South Pacific.
In contrast, in his 2006 speech Chirac made little reference to nuclear nonproliferation or disarmament. Instead, he argued, "we can of course progress along the road to disarmament only if the conditions for our global security are maintained and if the will to make headway is shared unanimously." Far from implementing the unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals made by the nuclear weapon states at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, Chirac insists that, "France has maintained its deterrent forces while reducing them, in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in compliance with the principle of strict sufficiency."
Chirac argues that "modernisation and adaptation" of these weapons is "absolutely necessary" and that it would be "irresponsible to imagine that maintaining our arsenal in its current state might, after all, be sufficient". Whilst the number of nuclear warheads carried by French submarines has been decreased, Libération reports that "this development is not aimed at disarmament, but at increasing the performance of the weapons."
 House of Lords Hansard, February 9, 2006, column 792.
 Oliver Meier, 'Chirac Outlines Expanded Nuclear Doctrine', Arms Control Today, March 2006.
 Livre Blanc sur la Défense [White Book on Defence], La Documentation Française, 1994.
 'Sénat: dissuasion nucléaire, Audition du 1er février 2006 devant la commission des affaires étrangères, de la défense et des forces armies' ['Senate: Nuclear Deterrence, Hearing before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Defence and Armed Forces'], France, Ministry of Defence, February 1, 2006.
 Jean-Dominique Merchet, 'Davantage de souplesse dans la dissuasion nucléaire' ['The advantage of flexibility in nuclear deterrence'], Libération, February 9, 2006.
 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, 'French nuclear forces, 2005', NRDC Nuclear Notebook, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2005.
 House of Commons Hansard, January 23, 2006, column 1153.
 'Questions on the Draft Non-Proliferation Treaty Asked by U.S. Allies Together with Answers Given by the United States', cited in: NPT Hearings, US Senate, 90-2, pp. 262-263.
 'Discours de M. Jacques Chirac, président de la République, à l'occasion de la clôture de la 53è session de l'IHEDN', Paris, June 8, 2001.
Speech by Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, to The Strategic Air and Maritime Forces at Landivisiau / L'Ile Longue, January 19, 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is truly a pleasure for me to be with you today on the Ile Longue. I am pleased to be able to meet here the women and men, soldiers and civilians, who all stand united in the service of our country and participate in the accomplishment of a mission that is fundamental to its independence and security, namely nuclear deterrence.
The creation of a national deterrence force was a challenge for France, that would have proved impossible to meet without commitment on everyone's part. It imposed the marshalling of all energies, the development of our research capabilities and finding innovative solutions to all sorts of technical problems. Nuclear deterrence thus became the very image of what our country is capable of producing when it has set itself a task and holds to it.
I wish to pay tribute here to the researchers and engineers, from the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and all French companies, who enable us to always take the lead in vital sectors such as physical sciences, numerical simulation, lasers - in particular the Megajoule laser - and nuclear and space technologies. I would like to extend this tribute to all those who support, in one way or another, our nuclear forces: staff of the Defence Ministry's General Delegation for Armaments (DGA), executives and workers of partner industrial companies and groups, the gendarmerie in charge of governmental control and personnel from all the services.
I am of course thinking first and foremost of the crews of the maritime and airborne components who, permanently, and exercising the utmost discretion, carry out the longest and most important of all operational missions. I have set a stringent level of posture - that I know; but it is commensurate with our country's security requirements.....
Ladies and Gentlemen, you are conducting this mission in a constantly changing environment. It is true that, with the end of the cold war, we are currently under no direct threat from a major power.
But the end of the bipolar world has not removed threats to peace. In many countries radical ideas are being spread which advocate confrontation between civilizations, cultures, and religions. Today, this will to bring about confrontation translates into odious attacks which regularly remind us that fanaticism and intolerance are the source of follies of all kinds. Tomorrow, it may take even more serious forms, possibly involving States.
Combating terrorism is one of our priorities. We have adopted numerous measures and provisions to address this danger. We will continue in this direction firmly and resolutely. One should not, however, yield to the temptation of restricting all defence and security-related considerations to this necessary fight against terrorism. The fact that a new threat appears does not remove all others.
Our world is constantly changing and searching for new political, economic, demographic and military equilibria. It is characterized by the swift emergence of new poles of power. It is confronted with the appearance of new sources of imbalance, in particular the sharing of raw materials, the distribution of natural resources, and changing demographic equilibria. These changes could result in instability, especially if concurrent with the rise of nationalisms.
That the relationship between the different poles of power should sink into hostility in the near future is no foregone conclusion. To preclude this danger, we must effectively work towards establishing a fairer, more representative international order based on the rule of law and collective security. We must also prompt our major partners to opt for cooperation rather than confrontation. However, we are not safe from the unexpected reversal of the international system, nor from a strategic surprise. These are the lessons of our History.
Our world is marked also by emerging assertions of power based on the possession of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Hence the temptation for certain States to acquire nuclear power, thus violating treaties. Tests of ballistic missiles with ever-greater range are also on the increase worldwide. This observation has led the United Nations Security Council to acknowledge that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery was truly a threat to international peace and security.
Finally, one should not ignore the persistence of more traditional risks of regional instability. There are risks of this kind everywhere in the world, unfortunately...
In the face of crises that are shaking the world, in the face of new threats, France has always first chosen the path of prevention which remains in all its forms the very foundation of our defence policy. Relying on the rule of law, influence and solidarity, prevention is central to the set of actions conducted by our diplomacy which constantly strives to resolve crises that may arise here and there. Prevention also involves a whole range of defence and security postures, foremost among which are pre-positioned forces.
Believing that prevention alone is enough to protect us would however be naively optimistic. To make ourselves heard, we must also be capable of using force when necessary. We must therefore have a substantial capability to intervene outside our borders, with conventional means, in order to support and supplement this strategy.
Such a defence policy rests on the certainty that, whatever happens, our vital interests remain safeguarded.
This is the role assigned to nuclear deterrence which directly stems from our prevention strategy and constitutes its ultimate expression.
For in the face of the concerns of the present and the uncertainties of the future, nuclear deterrence remains the fundamental guarantee of our security. Wherever the pressure comes from, it also gives us the ability to keep our freedom to act, to control our policies, to ensure the durability of our democratic values.
At the same time, we continue to support global efforts to promote general and complete disarmament and, in particular, the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. But we can of course progress along the road to disarmament only if the conditions for our global security are maintained and if the will to make headway is shared unanimously.
It is in this spirit that France has maintained its deterrent forces while reducing them, in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in compliance with the principle of strict sufficiency.
It is the responsibility of the French Head of State to assess, permanently, the limit of our vital interests. Maintaining uncertainty as to this limit is consubstantial with the deterrence doctrine.
The integrity of our territory, the protection of our population, the free exercise of our sovereignty will always be the core of our vital interests. But they are not limited to these. The perception of these interests is changing with the pace of the world, a world marked by the growing interdependence of European countries and also by the impact of globalization. For example, safeguarding our strategic supplies or the defence of allied countries are, among others, interests that must be protected. Assessing the scale and potential consequences of an unbearable act of aggression, threat or blackmail perpetrated against these interests would be the responsibility of the President of the Republic. This analysis could, if necessary, lead to consider that these situations fall within the scope of our vital interests.
As I emphasized immediately after the attacks of 11 September 2001, nuclear deterrence is not intended to deter fanatical terrorists. Yet, the leaders of States who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part. And this response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.
From its origins, deterrence has always continued to adapt, in its spirit as well as in terms of its means, to our environment and to the threat analysis I have just recalled. We are in a position to inflict damage of any kind on a major power that would want to attack interests we would regard as vital. Against a regional power, our choice would not be between inaction or annihilation. The flexibility and reactivity of our strategic forces would enable us to exercise our response directly against its centres of power and its capacity to act. All our nuclear forces have been configured accordingly. It is for this purpose, for example, that the number of nuclear warheads has been reduced on some of the missiles in our submarines.
However, our concept for the use of nuclear weapons remains unchanged. There is no question, under any circumstances, of using nuclear means for military purposes during a conflict. It is in this spirit that nuclear forces are sometimes referred to as "weapons of non-use". This formula should not, however, allow any doubts to persist about our determination and capacity to resort to our nuclear weapons. The credible threat of their utilization permanently hangs over those leaders who harbour hostile intentions against us. It is essential for making them see reason and for making them aware of the inordinate cost their actions would entail for themselves and their States. Furthermore, it goes without saying that we always reserve the right to resort to a final warning to mark our determination to safeguard our vital interests.
Thus the principles underlying our deterrence doctrine remain unchanged, but the modalities of expressing this doctrine have evolved and keep evolving, so as to enable us to address the context of the 21st century.
Constantly adapted to their new missions, the capabilities of the maritime and airborne components enable a coherent response to our concerns. Thanks to those two components with different and complementary characteristics, multiple options are opened to the French Head of State which cover all identified threats.
The modernization and adaptation of those capabilities are hence absolutely necessary for our deterrent to retain its indispensable credibility in an evolving geostrategic environment.
It would be irresponsible to imagine that maintaining our arsenal in its current state might, after all, be sufficient. What would be the credibility of our deterrent if it did not allow us to address the new situations? What credibility would it have vis-à-vis regional powers had we kept strictly to threatening total destruction? What credibility would ballistic weapons with very limited range have in the future? Thus, the M51 ballistic missile, thanks to its intercontinental range, and the Improved Air-to-Ground Medium Range Missile system (ASMPA) will, in a volatile world, give us the means to cover threats wherever they arise and whatever their nature.
Likewise, no one can contend that missile defence is sufficient to counter the threat of ballistic missiles. No defensive system, however sophisticated, can be 100 per cent effective. We can never be assured that it cannot be circumvented. Basing all our defence on this single capability would in actual fact prompt our adversaries to find other means to use their nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Such a tool cannot therefore be considered a substitute for deterrence. But it can supplement it by reducing our vulnerabilities. This is why France has resolutely embarked on a common reflection within the Atlantic Alliance, and is developing its own programme for the self-protection of deployed forces.
Our country's security and independence come at a price. Forty years ago, the Defence Ministry devoted 50 per cent of its investments to nuclear forces. This share has since then constantly been reduced and is expected to account for 18 per cent only of investments in 2008. Today, in the spirit of strict sufficiency that characterizes it, our deterrence policy accounts overall for less than 10 per cent of the total Defence budget. Defence appropriations dedicated to deterrence go to leading-edge technologies, essentially provide substantial support for scientific, technological and industrial research efforts in our country.
Ten percent of our defence effort is the right and sufficient price to provide our country with a credible and sustainable assurance of security. And as I wish to stress, calling this into question would be utterly irresponsible.
Moreover, the development of the European Security and Defence Policy, the growing interweaving of the interests of European Union countries and the solidarity that now exists between them, make French nuclear deterrence, by its very existence, a core element in the security of the European continent. In 1995, France put forward the ambitious idea of concerted deterrence in order to launch a debate at European level on this issue. I still believe that, when the time comes, we shall have to ask ourselves the question of a common Defence that would take account of existing deterrent forces, with a view to a strong Europe responsible for its security. European Union member States have, moreover, begun to reflect together on what are, or will be, their common security interests. And I would like us to deepen this reflection. This is a first and necessary step...
Since 1964, France has had an autonomous nuclear deterrence. The lessons of History led General de Gaulle to make this crucial choice. During all these years, the French nuclear forces have ensured our country's defence and greatly helped to preserve peace. Today, they continue to keep watch, quietly, for us to be able to live in a land of freedom which is the master of its future and its destiny. They continue, and will continue tomorrow, to be the ultimate guarantor of our security.....
Source: Présidence de la République Française, http://www.elysee.fr. [official translation]
© 2006 The Acronym Institute.