France, the EU’s sole nuclear power since Britain’s exit from the bloc, was to unveil how it intends to use its atomic arsenal as a deterrent.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in an address to military officers graduating in Paris yesterday, was expected to recommit to upgrading France’s capacity, at a time when NATO allies, who would ordinarily look to the US in a nuclear standoff, worry about Washington’s retreat from the multilateral stage.
On Monday, Macron said that his speech would address the interests of other European countries.
“I will focus on the doctrine [of French deterrence], but also on the procedures and modalities that I wish to propose on this topic to our partners in the coming months,” he said on a visit to Warsaw.
Deterrence theory postulates that countries with nuclear weapons are less likely to attack each other for fear of mutual destruction, meaning the arms serve as guarantors of peace.
France considers nuclear deterrence a keystone of its defense strategy and the ultimate guarantee of its most vital interests.
Macron has already agreed to a costly modernization of France’s atomic arsenal, saying in January 2018 that “deterrence is part of our history, part of our defense strategy, and will remain so.”
An act of parliament provides for about 37 billion euros (US$41 billion) to be spent on the maintenance and modernization of the French nuclear arsenal from 2019 to 2025 — about 12.5 percent of the total defense budget for those seven years.
Macron’s address comes after Russia and the US last year withdrew from the Soviet-era Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Macron in December last year said that the treaty’s end meant that “France, Germany, and other European countries are now threatened by new Russian missiles.”
Washington has also since threatened not to renew the New START treaty with Russia, the last key nuclear deal between the former Cold War foes.
The treaty, which expires this month, obliged both sides to halve their number of strategic nuclear missile launchers and establish a new verification regime.
Corentin Brustlein, research director at the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations, said that Europe has always been a strong focus of France’s nuclear vision.
There had been several French attempts at dialogue with European partners on the topic “that have never succeeded,” Brustlein said.
However, “the balance is shifting, including in countries such as Germany” where public opinion is deeply anti-nuclear and the subject remains largely taboo, but “where we see emerging positions on the level of European strategic ambition that must grow,” he said.
On Monday, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union pleaded for the EU to create its own nuclear deterrence capability.
Germany should “consider cooperation with France regarding nuclear weapons” and “should be prepared to participate in the nuclear deterrent force with its own capabilities and means,” Johann Wadephul said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel daily.
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