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The Advent of the French Nuclear Power on the World’s Chessboard

Though remaining a member of the NATO (Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization) French president Charles De Gaulle protested the minor role of France in the organization leading to the French withdrawal in 1959. Cold War was present and Europe lives in the fear of a confrontation. Feeling committed to the defence of Europe from possible Communist attack with its own forces, De Gaulle began to rearrange the own military forces just after leaving the colonial wars. In between two years the size of their armed forces was halfed to 500’000 men and the development of a nuclear weaponry was on first priority.

In the documentary France Nuclear Weapon – La Force de Frappe former General Gallois, a french theorist of the nuclear deterrence, gives a first hand account of how De Gaulle thought of nuclear weaponry:

He thought that France once it became a nuclear power could guarantee itself its own safety and will be no more in the position of begging, like it was the case in London 1940 and like it was the case many times for a long time which was for him deeply painful and humiliating. I told him that as France was a relatively minor power on the world’s chessboard, it was enough we could inflict on our enemy the minimum harm for he respected us. And the General replied, I will never forget it: “You’re right! It is enough we could tear their arm off!”

So France modernized its army, giving the development of nuclear armament systems full priority till the first test of a French nuclear bomb in Juli 1966 in Pacific. In the light of the new warfare France adapted a modern picture of officers and sent them to university, engineer schools and even Political studies schools, being aware that with the deterrence warfare they need to be skilled in international relationships: The prototype of the warrior was no more the parachutist who plays the tough guy, he becomes a thinker.

As Maurice Vaisse, former Director of the Center of Historical Studies of the Defense, says:

You must see the nuclear weapon, not only like another weapon but like a symbol. First of all, it’s an political instrument. A diplomatic instruments to keep the status of Great Power that France had lost in 1940. It was certain for General De Gaulle, the Force de Frappe (nuclear deterrence) was the tool which allowed him to sit at the table of great powers.

France spend huge amounts of money to construct an nuclear armament as fast as possible. The French Nuclear Force was based on three main sections: a triade of air-, sea, and land-based nuclear weapons intended for deterrence. Till today the French Nuclear Force is the third-largest nuclear weapons force in the world (see World Nuclear Stockpile Report).

The conviction that an atomic weaponry gives greater importance on the international political field is very dominant, as former commander of the Tactical Nuclear Force Michel Forget puts it:

It is still today, because you never speak to a nuclear power as you speak to a non-nuclear one, you must understand it.

The main cause of the French weaponry is deterrence – but nevertheless a challenging threat on human conscience for ethical, religious, morale and civil reasons.

In march 2008 president Sarkozy delivered a speech on nuclear policy announcing a reduction of the French atomic arsenal, but still there will be remaining some 250 bombs. Since the last French atomic test 1996 in Moruroua IslandĀ  and the following signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty France established a simulation program to guarantee that its nuclear warheads will perform to their design specifications.