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France determined to keep and upgrade its nuclear weapons

Atomic-Bomb-SmFrance Isn’t Aiming for Nuclear Zero | The National Interest, Frank Klotz  May 8, 2013 The French government finally unveiled its long-awaited livre blanc on defense and national security last week. As expected, the white paper contains grim news for the French military, capping spending at flag-francecurrent levels and calling for substantial personnel reductions over the next five years. But one aspect of the French defense posture emerged virtually unscathed. Despite earlier reports about possible cuts in order to save money, the white paper reaffirms long-standing policies on the fundamental purpose and composition of French nuclear forces. While many officials and observers in the West discount the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy now that the Cold War is over, the French government clearly takes a different view……..

The new white paper closely adheres to traditional French thinking on nuclear matters—views shared in the past by conservative and socialist governments alike. It asserts that nuclear forces are “the ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty.” Along with protection and intervention,dissuasion is identified as one of the three priorities of French defense strategy. Its purpose is to protect against all aggression by other states against French vital interests, wherever it comes from and in whatever the form. The white paper adds almost parenthetically that French nuclear forces also contribute to the security of the Atlantic alliance and Europe…….. The white paper says very little about the actual composition of the French nuclear deterrent force other than to note that it comprises both naval and air components. It reveals that the France’s nuclear arsenal has less than three hundred warheads, which is substantially below the five hundred it reportedly held in the 1990s. The overall size of the nuclear force is purportedly based on the rather ambiguous criterion of “strict sufficiency,” which the French have said cannot be measured against the yardstick of what other nations might possess.

Even though France has reduced the overall numbers of its nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, it has nevertheless undertaken major programs to update those that remain. It has replaced its fleet of five ballistic-missile submarines with four Le Triomphant-class boats, with the last of the new series being commissioned in late 2010. The new submarines are in turn being outfitted with new missiles, a process that should be completed by 2018. Like its predecessor, the 2013 white paper affirms that France will retain the practice of continuous at-sea deterrence patrols with its submarines, though it does not specify how many will normally be under way at any given time.

The French air force has also upgraded its nuclear-capable aircraft…….

Finally, the French have reportedly developed new nuclear warheads for both new sea-launched and air-launched missiles. Starting in 2015, the new sea-launched missiles will be outfitted with a new nuclear warhead, the Tête Nucléaire Océanique, a process expected to be completed on all four boats by 2018. The new warhead for the air-to-surface missile, called the Tête Nucléaire Aeroportée, began production in 2007. Both warheads are said to be based on design concepts tested in France’s last nuclear tests in 1996….. The most recent French nuclear-modernization cycle is now over the hump in fielding new ballistic-missile submarines and nuclear-capable fighters, as well as the weapons they carry…..

the government fully intends to maintain nuclear forces at levels needed to protect French national-security interests as it defines them. For the moment, that means maintaining the nuclear status quo. It also means that the France is unlikely to join the other nuclear powers in negotiations to reduce nuclear forces anytime soon.

May 9, 2013 - Posted by | France, weapons and war

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