French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday in a speech at l'île Longue, the home of the French submarine nuclear force, know as Force Océanique Stratégique or FOST, that if attacked by state-sponsored terrorists, he would consider using nuclear weapons in retaliation. His statement was mild, and did not suggest that France would definitely use nuclear weapons, but his speech was meant to accomplish 4 things in my view:
1. To warn Iran.
2. To let U.S. to know that it is not the only nuclear power calling the shots (no pun intended).
3. To justify the continued existence of a €300 million/year expense (10 % of France’s military budget ) on nuclear arms. France is facing budget deficits that put it outside the EU’s 3% limit. He actually wants to increase spending on the nuclear arsenal in order to modernize it.
4. He wants the French to know that he can talk just as tough as Bush about the threat of terrorism.
His comments came on the heels of the review of French nuclear forces, which is conducted every 5 years.
Don’t blow this off as the French bloviating. France maintains the fourth largest nuclear force in the world, after the United States, China, and Russia. It is said to have approximately 300-350 nuclear missiles and it has long maintained the Force Frappe or Strike Force that consisted of land, sea, and sky nuclear capabilities. This Force, conceived in 1958 under DeGualle, was meant as a deterrent to then Russian aggression. This is now referred to as “force nationale de dissuasion”, loosely translated, “National Force of Deterrence”. Chirac made it clear that there are new dangers that still make such a deterrent relevant. This is not the first time Chirac has stepped out on nuclear weapons. In 1995, he angered many in the international community by conducting nuclear tests in Mururoa despite the NPT. The reasoning then was that the nuclear arsenal was aging, and France needed to make sure it still worked. Whatever.
You can read the original text of Chirac’s speech and you will see that he is using some of the same rhetoric used by the Bush Administration.
Here is a sample:
Pour autant, les dirigeants d'Etats qui auraient recours à des moyens terroristes contre nous, tout comme ceux qui envisageraient d'utiliser, d'une manière ou d'une autre, des armes de destruction massive, doivent comprendre qu'ils s'exposeraient à une réponse ferme et adaptée de notre part. Cette réponse peut être conventionnelle. Elle peut aussi être d'une autre nature.
Translation: 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. This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.
Chirac did go on to say that France would continue to support international non-proliferation efforts and would continue to reduce its nuclear arsenal “in compliance with the spirit of the NPT and the principle of strict necessity.”
France no longer maintains land based missiles, having closed those military bases in 1996. But it does maintain air and sea forces. The FOST is composed of a fleet of nuclear ballistic submarines. Initially 6 were built. Three have been decommissioned. There is currently a new one being built and is expected to be operational by 2010. The French Air Force has 60 Mirage planes (according to Wikipedia) that can carry medium range attack missiles. A long-range version is in development as is expected to be operational by 2010.
What does this mean when world leaders are willing to stand up and basically say, hey, we have 'em and we'll use them? Are we headed for a new genre of cold war?