nuclear weapons are cold war weapons designed by states to deter other states. In a bipolar context, it was the instrument of a rebalancing in favor of Western powers, especially European powers to compensate for the imbalance in the relationship between the conventional forces of the two blocs. It was conceived at a time when Europe was at the center of the strategic game and allowed our country to assert itself as an autonomous power.
Today the strategic context has completely changed: the world has become multipolar, the blocks have disappeared and Europe is no longer at the center of the game. Non-state actors maintain a latent and asymmetrical conflictuality, on which deterrence has no hold. The likelihood of a resurgence of power resulting in confrontation between large countries has become very low.
The political utility of nuclear deterrence lies in the place it gives to France on the international stage. France is indeed part of the club - the "P5" of the five nuclear powers recognized by the non-proliferation treaty: the United States, China, Russia and the United Kingdom. None of these countries has announced a renunciation of its nuclear arsenal. Would France still be legitimate to be part of the United Nations Security Council if it renounced its deterrent force? The answer is hard to give. But one thing is certain, the distribution of seats in the UN Security Council is no longer based today, seventy years after the United Nations declaration, on this one argument alone. If we had to consider other criteria, such as economic power, demographic weight, the distribution of the number of seats per continent, then the permanent place of our country in this council would certainly be questioned.
The 1956 Franco-British Suez operation revealed once and for all the dissent within the NATO alliance, between the American protector and the other member countries. The absence of American solidarity in this crisis revealed clearly that there could be very divergent interests. In France, the feeling of dependence on Americans was expressed no longer just in regard to defence, but also in regard to foreign policy. The French felt the American attitude to be a kind of vassalage to the extent that parliament affirmed the need to possess the nuclear bomb. Furthermore, the Soviet threat to launch missiles on London and Paris in response to the intervention which the USSR opposed gave added importance to the debate.
The first two Military Planning Acts (LPM) laid the foundations and ensured the long-term build-up of the "Strike Force", starting with the commissioning of the Strategic Air Forces (FAS) in October 1964, then equipped with Mirage IV-A aircraft. Reflecting the importance given to nuclear deterrence, at the end of General de Gaulle's presidency (1959 - 1969), this force accounted for 24% of the total Defense Ministry budget, and 50% of investments under that same budget. To gage exactly how significant this investment was at the time, the budget for 2016, was around 10% and 20% respectively. The total cost of building up the strike force between 1960 and 1990 was an estimated 150 to 160 billion euros.
Pierre Gallois, then a colonel in the French Air Force, laid the foundations of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a dissertation presented at the École Supérieure de Guerre Aérienne (Air Force war academy) in September 1954. According to Gallois, the atomic bomb was, first and foremost, an effective weapon in "discouraging attack". Gallois realized at the time that the imbalance between conventional forces was too great to guarantee the defense of Western Europe by these means alone. While he acknowledged that, at that point in time, it was the USA that guaranteed the defense of Western Europe thanks to their nuclear capability, there was no guarantee that this would always be the case. Gallois believed that the future was "atomic" and required that France should defend itself with its own means and, more specifically, nuclear weapons. His arguments echoed the very novel views held at the time by General de Gaulle.
In 1960, in his work entitled Strategy for the nuclear age, General Gallois developed the theory of "deterrence of the strong by the weak". France was to adopt this theory with even greater conviction as the United States was beginning to shift from a strategy of "massive retaliation" to one of "flexible response".
In 1967, Chief of Defense Staff Charles Ailleret wrote a visionary paper setting out the e tous azimut ["all-azimuths strategy"], so relevant to France's current (in 2016) concept of nuclear deterrence, in light of the range of the missiles now held by France.
In 1960, in his preface to the work of General Pierre Gallois, "strategy of the nuclear age", Raymond Aron posed in very simple terms what would today be pompously called the strategic equation of deterrence:
"At the present time, two States possess thermo-nuclear weapons and carrier vehicles such that in the event of conflict each one would be able to inflict on the other a disproportionate havoc out of proportion with the possible benefits of the victory. Moreover, even if one of them attacked by surprise the means of retaliation of the other, the attacked party would keep enough bombs planes or gear to inflict immense damage to the cities of the aggressor. In the face of this balance of terror, the reaction of the pacifists of good will is to demand "general and controlled disarmament". And M. Jules Moch denounces the madness of men. But are men really crazy?
"In fact, it is impossible to guarantee the elimination of bomb stocks. Even if statesmen did not suspect each other of the blackest designs, the suppression of weapons of mass destruction would probably be impossible. In the current state of the world, these weapons make supremely improbable the war that the pacifists hate rightly. States have always fought why they cease to do the XX thcentury, if they stopped fearing the demonic power of the atom? In truth, the worst solution, the one that would create the greatest risk, would be an alleged control of atomic weapons, which would spread the illusion that a war between the Great, delivered with conventional weapons, is only possible. Once engaged in the struggle, each of the great would hasten to produce the explosives, allegedly outlawed. The only chance for peace, in the present phase, is that peace be maintained by the anguish inspired by the mere evocation of the thermonuclear war. The nascent peace of fear? It would not be the first or the worst trick of Reason."
"Will thermonuclear weapons help to prevent any war or to prevent the great war and to promote limited wars? So far, the majority of experts have used the second term of the alternative. The more monstrous the threat, the less often it can be brandished. As total war is assumed, limited conflicts, both in terms of the battlefield and the weapons used, remain possible. General Gallois leans in favor of the first term of the alternative, at least if the Great are involved. "
The French doctrine is a concept of " nonemployment " i.e. there is no question of using the nuclear weapon within the framework of a conflict which does not threaten vital interests. It is not a weapon intended for the battlefield. Contrary to the American doctrines which envisaged a graduated response then flexible, the French doctrines always refused to admit nuclear escalation.
One of the essential aspects of the strategy of nuclear dissuasion is its credibility, technical, human, and political.
Technical credibility : the potential adversary must have the certainty that whatever the suddenness and the intensity of its attack, it will not escape a nuclear response which will inflict damage innacceptables to him. The underwater component with its capacity of " striking as a second " (i.e. striking after an aggression), has been set up with a hardened and redundant system of transmission to answer this requirement. The air component is the privileged instrument of the flexibility, the demonstrativity and diversity. More than the quantity, it is the quality of these two components which gives them their credibility.
Human credibility: it is clear that competence, the determination and the engagement of the people who implement the components of the strategic nuclear forces are an absolute need. These qualities must be recognized. It is through the daily demonstration the professionalism of the whole of the forces armed in all their activities whatever their objectives that this credibility is shown.
Political credibility : the nuclear weapon is foremost a political weapon. there is a very strong link between the President of the Republic and the nuclear weapon: " The centre piece of the strategy of deterrence in France, is the Head of the State, it is me " (François Mitterrand, November 16, 1983). It is the President of the Republic in person who authorizes nuclear fire, without any intermediary between him and the carriers of the missiles. Political credibility is based on a certain number of gestures, declarations, decisions, which enabled him to be maintained intact with the passing of the years.
The political weight that confers the nuclear weapon is to be brought closer to the policy of France in the world and its place as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations.
France has reduced its arsenal by decreasing the volume of the maritime and air components, by withdrawing the ground-to-ground component (closing of the plateau of Albion and dismantlement of its HADES missiles), and by closing several sites (center of experimentation of the Pacific, factories of Pierrelatte and Marcoule). The modernization of the nuclear forces continues however at adapted intervals so that the doctrines of French dissuasion may remain in conformity with its permanent principles.
Althouth France fully reintegrated NATO's structure in April 2009, it nevertheless retains independent oversight of its strategic nuclear policy and arsenal.
The 2008 Livre Blanc called for the number of French nuclear weapons, missiles and aircraft tasked with a nuclear mission to eventually be reduced by a third starting in 2008, with an ultimate goal of less than 300 nuclear warheads.
François Hollande, then candidate had already declared: " Already, I want to reaffirm two directions. The first is the consolidation of our nuclear deterrence. It is inseparable from our security and our international status. It is, in the formula too often used but fair, the "life insurance" of our country, especially in the face of the threat of proliferation. It is dedicated to the defense of our vital interests, so it sanctuary territory. It is the weapon of the autonomy of our choices. Deterrence, permanent seat in the Security Council and a credible capacity to engage in crises: this is the articulation that allows us to speak loudly and express our point of view in the concert of nations."
François Hollande, President of the Republic, said on 26 June 2012: " that there are negotiations on nuclear disarmament, France must take its full share and we will. But renouncing the nuclear deterrent for reasons of budgetary savings is not today the position of France. I committed myself to the French to preserve nuclear deterrence, because it is an element that contributes to peace. ". It was moreover, a few days after these declarations, the first president of the Republic, since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, to embark aboard a nuclear submarine launcher of gear - The Terrible. He said then that he wanted to " by (his) presence, reaffirm France's attachment to the deterrent force "and welcome" the commitment and professionalism of the staff who are dedicated to carrying out this mission".
"The international context does not allow for any weakness... the era of nuclear deterrence is therefore not over," Hollande said during a trip 19 February 2015 to an air base in the southern city of Istres on Thursday. The Istres-Le Tubé base is home to a detachment of nuclear-capable Mirage 2000N fighter-bombers. "In a dangerous world – and it is dangerous – France does not want to let down its guard," the president said.
In February 2015 Francois Hollande confirmed the possibility of conducting in case of need a limited strike, referred for the first time in 2006 and Jacques Chirac Nicolas Sarkozy called the "nuclear warning" two years later. Recalling that nuclear weapons allowed to "inflict unacceptable damage to an opponent in its nerve centers, that is to say, political, economic and military," Francois Hollande he also decided to allow a certain margin maneuver. "I can not exclude an opponent miscalculate the delimitation of our vital interests. That's why I want to recall here that France may ultimately show its will to defend our vital interests by a warning from nature nuclear aimed restoring deterrence ". The president, however, reiterated that "France will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are parties to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation and respect their international obligations of non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "
Although France retains full discretion and action regarding its deterrence, including at the level of the Atlantic Alliance - "France will not participate in NATO's nuclear planning mechanisms" - the president believes she "goes with the constant strengthening of European defense".
France has had an exemplary stance for twenty years, since it stopped the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, dismantled its factories, stopped all nuclear tests and signed all arms control treaties, Disarmament and Counter-Proliferation: the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Convention on the Prohibition of Cluster Munitions, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines. It fulfills all the conditions and submits to all the controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as all other international bodies.
The thesis of the military uselessness of the nuclear weapon was formulated for the first time in France in a tribune signed by MM. Alain Juppé, Bernard Norlain, Alain Richard and Michel Rocard, October 14, 2010. The first paragraphs of this tribune published in the newspaper "Le Monde", are worth recalling:
"Designed in the extreme struggle of the Second World War, nuclear weapons became the tool of mutual deterrence of the two protagonists of the Cold War, joined by the United Kingdom, France and China. Deterrence, coupled with the strategic supremacy of the "big two" of the time, played a role in limiting armed conflict during the Cold War; it has kept part of this function since then. Two profound developments on the world stage, however, require a re-examination of the role of nuclear weapons for tomorrow.
"On the one hand, the variety of conflicts after the end of the blocks offers much less take to the mechanisms of deterrence. Many of the actors are committed to it with purely local objectives, do not put up with the pressures of any global power and do not reach the vital interests of the nuclear powers. These have opted durably for cooperative policies in their mutual relations. The only bearers of a global challenge are non-state actors attempting to spread their fundamentalism. The strategic relevance of deterrence is experiencing ever wider "blind spots".
"On the other hand, the regulatory instrument constituted by anti-proliferation agreements from the 1968 treaty has lost its effectiveness. It has been possible, two or three decades ago, to induce certain States not to acquire nuclear weapons or to dispose of them. But the commitments of the nuclear powers that founded the equilibrium of the system did not succeed. Israel, India and Pakistan entered the "club" without resistance, the resolution of the most acute regional crises was not achieved and the weapon holders made only limited progress in the process of disarmament to which they had subscribed. "
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