Vers une érosion du soutien à la dissuasion nucléaire française ?
When highlighting the evolution of French doctrinal questions and the arguments in favour of or against France pursuing its nuclear policy, ultimately the question is to determine what swings the balance in the recent legitimation/delegitimation game, given the past doctrinal debates which feature some grey areas regarding small nuclear charges.
With the exception of a serious accident or incident in the field of security, defence or safety, France’s nuclear planning does not seem at risk from counter-narratives1. In his press conference of 5 February 2015, the French President François Hollande announced a modernisation of nuclear deterrent forces, “to the extent that is necessary and always according to the principle of sufficiency”. The aim is indeed to think in the long term, bearing in mind the renewal of the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SNLE) fleet. The posture remains cautious as no-one is inclined to “lower his guard”. For that reason, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference scheduled for the spring of 2015 is not expected to put forward important elements in terms of disarmament. Similarly, the Russian-Ukrainian crisis will lock in the policies aimed at reducing the battlefield nuclear weapons and clamp down on prospects of a new treaty on so-called tactical nuclear weapons.
Still, several international events have put forward abolitionist arguments advanced by NGOs, military and political figures and global awareness-raising campaigns, which have been countered by the “purists” theses built upon the idea that security is not proportional to the reduced number of nuclear weapons.
Besides, the identification of health and environmental risks related to the use of nuclear weapons could, in the long run, require the nuclear powers and the French nuclear force in particular to make an “educational” effort at the level of the doctrine, as well as to increase research and development aimed at reducing the payloads, possibly in combination with a higher perforation capability. Any form of objection other than one related to the environmental effects, based on objective criteria, will be disregarded. In addition, so-called ideological criticisms will be quickly deflected, minimised or countered by arguments relying on the principle of precaution as well as by the current geopolitical reality and the predictable future.
We should also note that European financial support for the French nuclear industry – a way to address and possibly resolve the budgetary criticisms about the nuclear costs, and some objections raised by the French Army or the French Ministry of Finance indeed – seem difficult to imagine for many reasons. 1 Pour une description de l’argumentaire sur le soutien au concept de dissuasion nucléaire
Furthermore, the rhetoric on French deterrence should be based on an adapted doctrinal clarification and a renewed pedagogy in the future. Its credibility and its support are at stake, including in the Franco-British relations. Finally, beyond the precautionary principle that still prevents from imagining the safe removal of nuclear deterrence in a world of uncertainty, an essential requirement of the rhetoric on deterrence is that it should remain “pure” and strictly sufficient in its persuasion power.
One can expect to have to weigh the balance between the arguments of nuclear lobbies within the French army and other groups of servicemen and civilians who are eager to see this specific power being reduced or removed. This was cleverly summarised by General Bentégeat: “Il n’y a aucune raison de s’agenouiller devant le « dieu nucléaire », pas plus d’ailleurs qu’il n’y en a de le répudier définitivement pour des raisons tenant à la foi”2.
Keywords: Deterrence, France, Nuclear Programmes, Contestation, Revision.