Nuclear Deterrence : French Choice Would Not Be Between Inaction or Annihilation
Nuclear Deterrence : French Choice Would Not Be Between
Inaction or Annihilation
Speech by Jacques Chirac,
President of the French Republic, during his visit to the Strategic Forces
Landivisiau - L'Île Longue, Finistère, January 19, 2006.
Marine Nationale Photo
Chief of Defense Staff,
Chiefs of Staff,
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 many 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 - and in particular the Megajoule laser -, 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 industrial companies
and groups, gendarmes in charge of governmental control and personnel from all
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 commensurate with our country's security
requirements. I am aware of the constraints it imposes. One seldom speaks of you,
but I want to salute your worth and your merit. The permanence of the deterrent
posture, which has been remarkably kept to for forty years, is in itself a proof
I wish to extend this tribute to your families, more particularly those of
submarine crews. I am very much aware of what operational patrolling involves in
terms of absence from home, solitude and sometimes suffering.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you are conducting this mission in a constantly changing
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, involving States.
We have adopted numerous measures
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 in future sink
into hostility is no foregone conclusion. To preclude this danger, we must
effectively work towards establishing a fairer and 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 in breach of 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 is a
threat to international peace and security.
Finally, one should not ignore the persistence of more traditional risks of
regional instability. They are present all over the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
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 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 nascent crises. Prevention
also involves a whole range of defence and security postures, foremost among
which are prepositioned 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 or 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
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 of actions, to control our policies, to ensure the durability of our
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
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 our world, marked by the growing interdependence of European
countries and by globalization.
For example, safeguarding our strategic supplies
and 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
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. This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a
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
capicity 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 often
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, to keep them aware of the inordinate cost their actions would
entail for themselves and their States. Furthermore, we always reserve the right
to resort to a final warning to mark our determination to safeguard our vital
Thus the principles underlying our deterrence doctrine remain unchanged, but the
ways 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
The modernization and adaptation of those capabilities are necessary for our
deterrent to retain its indispensable credibility in an evolving geostrategic
It would be irresponsible to imagine that maintaining our arsenal in its current
state might 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 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 amount to 18 per
cent only 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 and support scientific, technological and industrial
research efforts in our country.
10 per cent of our defence effort is the right and sufficient price to provide
our country with a credible and sustainable assurance of security. Putting it
into question would be irresponsible.
Moreover, the development of ESDP, 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,
together, 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 begun to reflect together on what are, or will
be, their common security interests. This is a first and necessary step.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
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 ensured our country's defence and helped
preserve peace. Today, they continue to keep watch, quietly, for us to be able
to live in a land of freedom that is the master of its future. Tomorrow, they
will continue to be the ultimate guarantor of our security.
In my capacity as Head of the Armed Forces, and on behalf of our compatriots, I
would like to express the gratitude of the Nation to all the women and men who
contribute to this mission.