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– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
France

French Proposal on Hold as Tensions Mount | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, September 24, 2019

French Proposal on Hold as Tensions Mount The latest attempt by European powers to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal hit a roadblock this month when the Trump Administration hesitated to engage in a French-sponsored initiative. In August, French President Emmanuel Macron offered a proposal before world leaders at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France for a $15 billion line of credit to Tehran in exchange for its full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to the plan, the $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil and would help compensate...

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia


French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new law July 5 acknowledging that Paris coerced French Polynesia into hosting nuclear testing from 1966 to 1996. Introduced as a revision of a 2004 statute governing Polynesian territorial autonomy, the law states that French Polynesia was made to participate by France in “the construction of its nuclear deterrent and national defense.” Previously, French leaders had simply praised the territory for its role in testing. France is now legally committed to the “economic and structural reconversion” of the area.

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru attends a 2014 ceremony at a nuclear test victim memorial in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.  A new law has moved France toward recognizing the toll of nuclear testing on Polynesian residents. (Photo: Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)The law permits the government to compensate Polynesians affected by radiation-induced illness over the course of the tests, but France’s Constitutional Council struck down a provision allocating $100 million annually for remediation on June 27. Expressing frustration with the difficulty of receiving compensation, Polynesian opposition groups have called for the law to be overturned altogether.

A total of 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia near the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, many of which were atmospheric explosions. Declassified documents revealed in 2013 that radioactive contamination was much more extensive than the government had previously admitted.—OWEN LeGRONE

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia

Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds

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All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
     
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
     
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
     
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
     
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
     
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports

Description: 

A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: France

July 2019

As a nuclear-weapons state under the NPT, France maintains the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, estimated to include 300 nuclear warheads. Since it eliminated its land-based ICBMs beginning in 1996, 80 percent of these warheads are designed for delivery through SLBMs, with the remainder affixed to ALCMs carried by strategic bombers. France has taken significant steps toward disarmament—including halving its warhead total since its Cold War peak, no longer deploying nuclear weapons on its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, and extending the time it takes to launch nuclear weapons to several days—and it adheres to a principle of “strict sufficiency” whereby it keeps its nuclear arsenal at the lowest possible level in accordance with the strategic context.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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1992

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

1998

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1991

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

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2013

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1995

Biological Weapons Convention

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1984

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in April 2004

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

France has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

France maintains the third largest nuclear weapons force in the world. As of January 2019, France possesses approximately 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with the remainder affixed to air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by strategic bombers.
 
Former French President François Hollande publicly affirmed the size of the arsenal in February of 2015 when he said that France’s stockpile included 300 warheads for 48 SLBMs and 54 cruise missiles. Estimates place France’s deployed strategic warhead numbers at around 290, with a remaining 10 in reserve. Although France has reduced the size of its nuclear arsenal by half since the Cold War, the current stockpile has remained relatively stable over the last few decades. In 2008, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that France’s arsenal would be reduced below 300 warheads but also reaffirmed France’s commitment to its nuclear deterrent, declaring it as a “life-insurance policy.” This goal was reaffirmed by former President Francois Hollande in 2015 and current President Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
 
Although France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, does not have nuclear-capable ASMPA missiles permanently onboard, there are reserve missiles that can be “rapidly deployed” on the carrier in the case of nuclear operations. France continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal and develop new missiles. According to the French Ministry of Defense (MoD), the nuclear deterrence budget in 2016 was 3.6 billion euros. In 2018, the French government announced it would allocate 25 Billion Euros to its nuclear forces between 2019 and 2023.
 

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • In 1996, France decided to eliminate its nuclear-armed land-based ballistic missiles.


Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • As of January 2019, France’s nuclear submarine force consists of 4 Triomphant- class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs): Le Triomphant, Le Téméraire, Le Vigilant, and Le Terrible, which are under the command of FOST (La Force Océanique Stratégique or Strategic Ocrean Force).
  • This fleet forms the backbone of the France’s nuclear deterrent and carries approximately 80 percent of the nuclear arsenal. It is based at the Île Longue peninsula, south of Brest in the Brittany region of France.
  • At least one submarine remains on deterrence patrol, one is preparing for patrol, and one is returning to port. The fourth submarine, as per the Triomphant-class’ extensive maintenance cycle, will be undergoing overhaul at any given time. 
  • A third generation submarine class, the SNLE-3G, is expected to enter development between the 2019-2025 planning period and replace the Triomphant-class, which will reach the end of their service life by 2035.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)

  • France fields the following submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs):
    • M51.1 – The French reportedly have 32 M51.1 missiles carrying, carrying a total of 160 TN75 warheads. Each missile can carry up to six 100 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), with a range of 6,000+ km.
    • M51.2 – The French reportedly have 16 M51.2 missiles, carrying a total of 80 TNO warheads. The TNO (tête nucléaire océanique) warheads are a reportedly stealthier warhead than the TN75. The M51.2 was flight tested in July 2016 and then declared operational in December 2017. Each missile can carry up to six new 150 kt TN MIRVs, with a range of 6,000+ km. All boats are to be upgraded to teh 51.2 by 2020.
    • M51.3 – In a joint venture, Airbus and Safran are developing the M51.3, which is scheduled for completion by 2025.
  • In 2006, former President Jacques Chirac stated that "The number of nuclear warheads has been reduced in certain of the missiles in our submarines," implying that French SLBMs do not carry the maximum number of nuclear warheads. This decision was supposedly made to improve targeting flexibility against regional powers, as well as the range and precision of the missile.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of January 2019, the French Air Force operates 40 Rafale aircraft which are capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads.
  • France’s Naval Force also operates a nuclear-capable squadron of Rafale MF3 aircraft that are stationed onboard the Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier and the only surface ship equipped for carrying nuclear weapons in NATO.
  • Rafale aircraft carry a 300 kt warhead on an Air-Sol Moyenne Portée -Amelioreor Plus (ASMPA) ALCM. The ASMPA has a range of around 500 km.
  • In April 2019, France and Germany jointly announced a joint effort to develop a sixth-generation combat aircraft with potential nuclear capabilities.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

France is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), a collective missile defense system operated by NATO allies. To learn more, see: "The European Phased Adaptive Approach at a Glance."

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • After ending its production of HEU in June 1996, President Jacques Chirac announced in February 1996 that France no longer produced fissile material for weapons purposes and that would it would dismantle its fissile material production facilities.
  • As of February 2018, France is believed to possess an HEU stockpile of around 31± 6 metric tons.
  • As of February 2018, it is estimated that France holds approximately 26 ± 6 metric tons of military HEU. There exists significant uncertainty over this figure due to a lack of public information about French HEU production.
  • In December 2014, France declared a 4.8 metric ton stockpile of civilian HEU to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A large percentage of this civilian stock is believed to be of U.S. and Russian origin for use in research-reactor fuel. This amount is believed to be stable.

Plutonium

  • France ceased its production of separated plutonium in 1992.
  • As of February 2018, France is estimated to possess a military plutonium stockpile of 6±1 metric tons.
  • As of October 2017, France reported holding 81.7 tons of domestic unirradiated plutonium, the second largest stockpile globally, and 16.3 metric tons of reprocessed foreign unirradiated plutonium, of which 16.2 meric tons belongs to Japan.
  • France is one of the few countries that continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, and it accepts fuel from foreign countries for that purpose. Its AREVA La Hague plant has a commercial reprocessing capacity of about 1,700 tons of used nuclear fuel per annum (around half of the world’s light water reactor fuel reprocessing capacity as of 2009), as of 2018.  France uses separated plutonium to fabricate mixed oxide (MOX) fuel that is used in light water reactors.

 Proliferation Record

  • France officially maintains a long-standing position in support of nonproliferation activities.
  • In 1957, France signed a major nuclear cooperation agreement with Israel even though it was generally understood that Israel was interested in potentially developing a nuclear arsenal. France halted the agreement in 1960.
  • France built the Osirak reactor in Iraq despite warnings from other governments that the reactor might be used to support a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Paris declined to rebuild the reactor after Israel bombed the plant in 1981.
  • France remains among the world’s top suppliers of peaceful nuclear facilities and expertise.

Nuclear Doctrine

French nuclear policy is one of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons.  France adheres to its principle of “strict sufficiency” whereby it keeps its nuclear arsenal at the lowest possible level in accordance with the strategic context. In its 2013 White Paper on Defence and National Security, France claims that its deterrence strategy is strictly defensive and that “The use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defense” and that nuclear deterrence “protects France from any State-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form” including terrorism. French Presidents Hollande and Macron both reiterated this nuclear doctrine. In May 2015, France reaffirmed the 1995 negative security assurance to the UN (Resolution 984) not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) unless it is facing an invasion or sustained attack against its territories, armed forces, or states with which it has security agreement and the attack is in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state.

Paris declared that it took steps in 1992 and 1996 to extend the time it takes to launch nuclear weapons. It is believed that France needs several days in order to launch nuclear weapons.

Testing:

France conducted 210 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Feb.13, 1960, and the last test took place Jan. 27, 1996. France was the fourth country to conduct a nuclear weapon test.

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Biological Weapons

  • Little is known about past French biological weapons activities, which reportedly included research on anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, ricin, rinderpest, and salmonella over two periods: 1921 to 1926, and 1935 to 1940.
  • France is not suspected of having a current offensive biological weapons program, and under France’s 1972 Law on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, it is illegal to produce or stockpile these weapons. They are believed to have stopped their program after WWII.
  • France continues to uphold its 2004 Code of Defense states that “The development, production, possession, stockpiling, acquisition, and transfer of microbiological agents, other biological agents and biological toxins, whatever their origin and mode of production, which are of a kind and quantity not suited for prophylactic, protection or other pacific purposes, are prohibited.”
  • France acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) on Sep. 27, 1984, and is also member of the Australia Group.
  • France annually submits reports as confidence-building measures under the BWC and encourages other states to follow suit. It also hosts the annual plenary meeting of the Australia Group.
  • France maintains a biodefense program that it claims is in strict compliance with the BWC.

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Chemical Weapons

  • During World War I, France produced and used mustard gas and phosgene. France maintained stockpiles of these weapons at the beginning of World War II but did not use them.
  • After World War II, France resumed offensive chemical weapons research and testing, and in the 1960s they manufactured Sarin and VX nerve agents.
  • France destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons prior to 1988. President François Mitterrand claimed, in a 1988 speech to the United Nations, that France no longer had any chemical weapons and ended production.
  • France signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in Paris in 1993 and ratified it in 1995. It also holds that it displays “exemplary” cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)      
The CD was formed in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiation forum for the international community. France has regularly participated in its meetings. On April 9th, 2015, France formally deposited a draft fissile material cutoff treaty at the CD. 

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
France has signed and ratified additional protocols pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any of the contracting parties to the African, Central Asian, Latin American and Caribbean, and South Pacific nuclear weapons free zone treaties. However, France maintains reservations to each of these protocols. No states have signed or ratified the Southeast Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaty protocol.

Nuclear Security Summits
In keeping with its official stance in support of securing nuclear material around the world, France has  participated in the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS held in Seoul, the 2014 NSS Held in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Since its initiation of nuclear talks with Iran in 2003, France has engaged in several rounds of multilateral diplomacy with Tehran over its nuclear program, including P5+1 talks with Iran that resulted in the 2015 JCPOA. After its conclusion, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the deal would be sufficiently “robust” for another 10 years.
 
Following American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, President Macron said “I regret the decision of the American president. I think it’s an error.” In January 2019, France and Germany and the United Kingdom established the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX was designed to create a financial channel to Iran immune from U.S. sanctions reimposed when the Trump administration withdrew from the deal.

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Country Profiles

Country Resources:

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France Calls for Global Cybersecurity

 

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech November 12 during the opening session of the Internet Governance Forum at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.  (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)The United States, alongside countries such as China, Iran, and Israel, and Russia did not sign a broad statement of cybersecurity principles unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Internet Governance Forum sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris on Nov. 12. The principles, titled “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace,” were signed by 51 countries, including all states of the European Union, as well as more than 130 companies and 90 universities and nongovernmental organizations. The document was hailed by supporters as a potential framework for a “digital Geneva Convention” and, despite the lack of participation by the United States, has had the support of U.S. powerhouse companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HP, and IBM.

The principles are an outline that urges states to protect civilians, to refrain from using cyberattacks indiscriminately, and to strengthen capabilities to prevent malign activities such as digital manipulation of elections and theft of business information. It encourages cooperation among governments and private entities to promote a safer cyberspace. Despite the broad language, some countries, such as the United States, are reluctant to limit their cyberweapons options. The principles will be followed by further talks on the subject at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum and the 2019 Berlin Internet Governance Forum.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

France Calls for Global Cybersecurity

France Sued Over Past Nuclear Tests


A mushroom cloud rises above the Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia, after the explosion of a French atomic bomb in 1971. (Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)France is facing a legal complaint filed Oct. 2 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over its nuclear testing in French Polynesia during almost four decades, ending in 1996. Oscar Temaru, a former president of French Polynesia and now opposition figure, accused France of crimes against humanity for the almost 200 nuclear tests France conducted on the Pacific atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa. The action seeks “to hold all the living French presidents accountable,” he said. After long resisting such action, France in 2010 established a compensation program for military veterans and civilians whose cancer could be attributed to the nuclear tests, but few have received benefits under restrictive rules. France’s overseas minister, Annick Girardin, called the lawsuit an abuse of the international court for domestic political purposes. It is uncertain whether the ICC will agree to proceed with the case.—TERRY ATLAS

France Sued Over Past Nuclear Tests

China, France, U.S. Reject UN Disarmament Push

UN Secretary-General António Guterres drew criticism from nuclear powers after saying that he will launch a disarmament initiative. In a Feb. 26 speech to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Guterres asserted that much work remains to fulfill the first resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1946, which encouraged the total elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Further, he said work remains to be done to counter the erosion of the norms against chemical weapons use and nuclear testing. “In the face of this deterioration, the international community must urgently rebuild a common vision on disarmament and arms control,” he asserted.

A U.S. official told Reuters on Feb. 7 that disarmament was only an “aspirational goal” and that the United States does not believe “that it’s time for bold initiatives, particularly in the area of nuclear weapons.” Nuclear disarmament in the near term is unrealistic, Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador to the CD, said in an address to that body following Guterres’ speech. Chinese and French ambassadors concurred. Alice Guitton, French permanent representative to the CD, said that disarmament must be built on patience, perseverance, and realism. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, has been gathering input from UN member states and civil society organizations on the structure of the initiative before an expected launch in May.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

China, France, U.S. Reject UN Disarmament Push

A French View on the Iran Deal: An Interview With Ambassador Gérard Araud

July/August 2016

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport and Elizabeth Philipp

Gérard Araud was appointed ambassador of France to the United States in September 2014. A career diplomat, his past positions include director for strategic affairs, security and disarmament (2000-2003) and permanent representative of France to the United Nations in New York (2009-2014). Araud served as the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear file from 2006 to 2009. 

Araud spoke with Arms Control Today in his office at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., on May 20. 

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity. 

ACT: France has been involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran far longer than the United States—over a decade. Why was achieving an agreement with Iran an important priority for France?

Araud: First, the history is that, in 2002, I was assistant secretary for security affairs and disarmament in Paris and we had the idea of a letter from the three ministers.1 So it was a French idea. When I actually drafted the first letter, there was a choice about the terms in the letter about enrichment. We could say we are asking to suspend enrichment or to stop enrichment. If we had “to suspend enrichment,” the Russians were immediately on board, but the British were not. If we had “to stop enrichment,” the British were on board, but not the Russians. It was the choice to have the British on board rather than the Russians on board. 

In 2002 we discovered the program, and the letter was sent during the summer of 2003. Why? If we had the letter signed by France, Germany and Russia, it would have had absolutely no bearing in Washington, D.C. So the idea was to have the British as a sort of bridge toward the Americans, and I presented the letter to the Americans-—the American was John Bolton, the undersecretary at the time. The Americans told us that it was not a green light, but it was not a red light. So we sent the letter with sort of a yellow light coming from Washington, D.C., and on our side with the promise, the commitment, to [be] totally transparent. Because from the beginning, I knew that there would be an agreement only if the Americans were engaging in the negotiation. So that was the beginning of the story. 

Why negotiate? For us, the issue of Iran nuclear power was twofold. First, it was regional. We were convinced that Israel wouldn’t accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and that would lead to a military option, with all the political consequences of the region. Secondly, even without an Israeli military operation, it would mean the end of the nonproliferation system. The countries around North Korea—South Korea, Japan—were restrained enough not to follow the suit of North Korea and become nuclear, while, in the Middle East, such restraint was very unlikely.

There was a strong risk that the neighbors of Iran would follow and become nuclear powers. That would have been the end of the nonproliferation system. 

ACT: What do you think it is about this current period, beginning in 2013, that led to a successful nuclear deal with Iran given this long history of negotiations?

Araud: Actually, the negotiation started with the three European countries; and in 2003, there was suspension by the Iranians of their enrichment capability. But everything stopped in 2005 more or less with the election of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. When I was the French-designated negotiator between 2006 and 2009, I can tell you that there was no negotiation. It was not that our proposals were dismissed as insufficient; it was simply that the Iranians didn’t negotiate. They never entered into a substantial discussion of the terms of our proposals, and really, we tried several formulations, very different formulations. We went to Tehran, and nothing came out of it. It was really the feeling that the Iranians had not taken the decision to negotiate. Eventually they took it in 2013, and it means that the supreme leader made the decision first. I’m convinced—but it’s only a personal conviction, and I have nothing to base it on—that what we were looking at the moment when the regime has decided that the cost of the program was too expensive in terms of the survival of the regime. The sanctions were hurting very much, and the regime has decided at this moment to negotiate. 

ACT: Within the negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, what do you think that France brought to the table to really help that process along? 

Araud: The fact is that we have, since we have been in the origin of the process, we have been very careful about keeping excellent teams of negotiators. We have been very careful about the choice of the people, about not losing the know-how between the negotiators during all these years, and I do believe that we were a very reliable team of negotiators. I heard several times people saying that, at some moment of the negotiation, really everybody was looking at the French team because we had invested a lot into this negotiation in terms of expertise. 

The second point was that we’ve always had a very consistent line. We have had, between 2003 and 2016, three presidents in France—three presidents of very different orientation. There was a Gaullist. After that, there was a more rightist and pro-American, and now you have a Social Democrat. We have always—these three presidents and the governments and the ministers, and there were more than three ministers—have always kept the same line. We have been extremely consistent in this negotiation.

ACT: Speaking of presidential transitions, the presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump, has said he would tear up the agreement, he would seek to renegotiate it. Are you concerned at all about the impact of U.S. elections on the continued success of the agreement? 

Araud: You know all the Republican candidates were saying that they would tear apart the agreement when they arrive in office. But you know it’s an electoral campaign, and if the candidates were doing everything they promised during the campaign, and that is in all the countries in the world and all the parties, it would be terrifying. So we keep cool, and we will see when it happens and if it happens. 

ACT: Iran, though, has expressed some frustrations about sanctions relief under the deal, saying that businesses and banks have been reluctant to do business with Iran. Do you see prospects for European companies returning? Do you think there’s more that the EU 3+32 could be doing?

Araud: We are not in charge of the Iranian economy. But, nevertheless, when there is an agreement, there is a quid pro quo. The Iranian quid is the limitation of their program, and so far, they have implemented their part of the commitment. The quo is the lifting of the sanctions. But the lifting of the sanctions, it is not only an expression saying, “I lift the sanctions.” The sanctions have to be lifted, which means that the Iranians should first have access to frozen assets and secondly should be able to have a trade relationship with the rest of the world. 

The fact is—and it’s a fact—that because of the American secondary sanctions, the Iranians are saying that relief doesn’t happen. Actually, if you look—I don’t have the figures, but I think the proportion of the assets effectively de-frozen or released is really not that big. There is a lot of money, which is still frozen because since you can’t use the dollar, apparently it prevents a lot of financial operations. The fact is the banks don’t dare to go to Tehran. You can call it overcompliance on their side because, after having some trouble in New York City, they are still afraid to go there. The U.S. administration is aware of it and has said publicly that they will do their best. It’s not a question of helping the Iranians, it’s simply to give to our commitments, their whole significance. So the U.S. administration is trying to clarify the roles. The problem is your system of secondary sanctions is so complicated that even the U.S. administration has some problems really to understand it. 

So the Americans have told us and they have told also [the] business community that they are ready to answer to all the questions that the companies may have. For instance we have the example of Airbus and Boeing who want to sell planes to the Iranians. Planes come with a lot of spare parts. The question is whether it’s legal to sell the planes to the Iranians. Airbus is in contact with the U.S. administration to clarify the situation. But what we feel, and it’s public now, [it] is the will of the U.S. administration to deprive the radicals in Tehran from any pretext to say, “Oh you see, the West is not implementing its part of the deal, we have been trapped, it was a trap, so let’s do the same on our side.” 

ACT: So aside from this question of sanctions, do you see any other challenges that the agreement could face in the coming years? 

Araud: It’s such a complicated agreement—159 pages. When you enter an arms control agreement, you can’t foresee everything or every problem. So it’s obvious that we will have every six months a different interpretation between the Iranians and us, maybe between us and the Russians and the Chinese, of the different points. The Iranians, of course, will try to drag the agreement toward their interests, and we will do the opposite. So there will be disagreements down the road, and that’s the reason why we have created this committee, which will be in charge of trying to solve these disagreements.3 But disagreements are not unusual. When the Americans have an arms control agreement with the Russians, or with the Soviets at the time, there were also these bumps on the road. 

ACT: On the U.S. side, one of the areas that members of Congress in particular have voiced concern about is Iran’s continued ballistic missile testing. The UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal softens the language on missile tests. Under the new resolution, Iran is “called upon” not to undertake any activity on ballistic missiles that are designed to be nuclear capable. Since the resolution came into effect in January, Iran has continued to test missiles. Are you concerned about the continued missile testing in Iran?

Araud: Our choice was to limit the negotiations to the nuclear issue and not to go beyond that. We consider that the nuclear issue in itself should be really the only topic of the negotiation, considering the seriousness of the issue and also considering that it was certainly in a sense the only issue where the P5+1 would agree.4 So it’s on the nuclear issue. 

The second point is, and I said it publicly, I was expecting the Iranians to harden their position on the other issues after this nuclear deal, in a sense to show or to send a message that they have not caved in front of the West, which is a message toward the outside world but also toward the Iranian public opinion, which is dreaming of seeing the end of the revolution. So I guess what we see now as provocations, unfortunately, were more or less expected. 

On the French side, we have always been in favor of reacting strongly against missile testing in the Security Council, but I think you know the Russians and the Chinese have opposed it. We have said that we have expressed our concern about the missile testing, and we would be willing to go to the Security Council if necessary. 

ACT: Do you think there are any particular steps that countries, like the United States and France, could take to stem Iran’s continued ballistic missile development?

Araud: You have the regimes, [Missile Technology Control Regime] and so on, that we have to implement. We have to work with the usual suspects and implement the regimes and controls. 

ACT: What do you think that reaching this agreement with Iran means for strengthening nonproliferation norms writ large? Are there areas of the deal that you think the international nonproliferation regime could build off of? 

Araud: Yes, but during all the negotiations, especially the Russians but the Chinese also have been very keen on avoiding the impression of creating a precedent. When we negotiated the agreement, there was always this concern coming back, with the Russians and the Chinese basically saying, “No, you are not going to create a new regime.” Having said that, it’s obvious that, during the negotiation, we have faced the problem of enrichment, of uranium enrichment. As a military nuclear power, we know that enrichment is the first step toward a weapon. The militarization side is easier to hide, so the enrichment is really the critical step. The Russians have joined in floating ideas of proposing an international regime for enrichment. There were ideas of having an international bank because countries were saying, “Well, if we give up the right to enrichment, we don’t have any assurance that we will get the enriched uranium that we need for our civilian program.” There was the idea of the Russians saying that they were dedicating a plant for an international bank, and there is the [International Atomic Energy Agency] fuel bank in Kazakhstan.5 

ACT: Are you concerned, though, that other countries, particularly in the region, might choose to pursue enrichment, given that Iran has maintained its capacity?

Araud: Of course. There is the risk because some people can argue that we have created a special status, a sort of new status for Iran. After the agreement, there were some neighbors saying, “Oh, you know we would want the same capabilities.” For the moment, we have not seen any step into this direction. But of course, we have to be vigilant, considering the tensions in this part of the world. 

I do remember when I was in Paris, I was interviewed by our parliament hearing committee on foreign affairs and the chairman of the committee told me, “The nonproliferation system is broken, it’s over.” Actually, when I was assistant secretary now 15 years ago, there were two problems, which were North Korea and Iran. Fifteen years later, there are two problems: North Korea and Iran. 

When I was a student, people were saying, “In 2000 the list of the nuclear powers will be Argentina, Brazil,” and so on, and it’s not the case. So in a sense, the nonproliferation system has quite resisted this, and it has been a success. So we have to be vigilant, especially in terms of enrichment. But now that we have this deal with the Iranians, maybe we could come back to working on it. 

ACT: Speaking to the weaponization concerns, the concern over nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in Iran was a primary driver for deploying U.S. missile defense in Europe. Since that threat has been mitigated by the Iran deal, do you think the plans for keeping Aegis Ashore should be adjusted? 

Araud: That’s a difficult issue because the American administrations have been very insistent on launching this program, keeping this program, and the debate has been raging in NATO for the last 20 years. The Russians have been through the ceiling on this issue. I think eventually we are going to declare the NATO system as operational.6 But my personal opinion would be that what we have done is enough. It’s not really necessary to dedicate so many resources in a situation where we don’t have a lot of resources for such a system for a very hypothetical threat. 

For the French, the starting point is evaluation of the threat, and this is something we should re-evaluate regularly. Given the latest assessment of this threat, heads of state and government decided to move forward with this missile defense, but that doesn’t prevent re-evaluating now or in a few years what is the state of this threat. That’s actually something we, France, would be keen to doing because missile defense is not something we should do out of the blue and not just for itself. It’s to protect us against a threat, and it’s just common sense to link it to the re-evaluation of the threat. That is one of the elements we are looking at. 

There are also few elements which we look at and we said publicly when we agreed to missile defense, for example, the fact that the cost of missile defense should not go overboard. Another element is that, in NATO, missile defense, on a basis of common control, is owned and operated by NATO. These are elements which are important for us in assessing the progress of the missile defense. There are a few other ones, but those are the important ones.

ACT: On that note, France recently withheld its approval from NATO taking control, command and control, of the European missile defense system.

Araud: The problem that we have, and I’m sure it will be solved before the next summit, is we want to have a real, robust NATO command-and-control chain. For obvious political reasons, the Americans want to declare the system operational at the next summit. From the French side, we want to be sure the [command-and-control] system is robust enough. So again, it’s really not a substantial problem. I’m quite sure that it will be solved.

There is an evaluation going on right now actually in NATO on whether the system is sufficient or not. We are in that phase where we see whether or not it is sufficient to declare the system operational at the Warsaw summit. So we are in this phase where we are looking at it, [being] more careful about being sure it’s sufficient, but we are looking at the info right now that NATO is giving us in the next few weeks. 

ACT: Recently in certain disarmament fora, including last year’s [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the five nuclear-weapon states received some criticism for not fulfilling their Article VI disarmament commitments from the NPT review conference in 2010. What does France think could be done to accelerate the progress on disarmament?  

Araud: I think that if the U.S. and Russia were decreasing dramatically their systems, it will really be very important and very critical. This has been an ongoing criticism for a long time. We do consider on our side, and if you look at the figures, that we have made significant progress in terms of disarmament. We have given up the tactical weapons. We have also made [a] declaration of transparency.7 We have been more transparent in these terms, and we do consider that our systems are very much smaller than the Russians’ and the Americans’. Before talking to us, you have to talk to the Russians and the Americans. 

ACT: Is there anything that you think that France could do to encourage the United States and Russia to take further steps? 

Araud: The [fissile material cutoff treaty] FMCT and the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT are the two main elements we are trying to promote in the international arena, given that it’s very difficult, but we still try to push for it. 

ACT: Are there any particular steps related to either of those treaties that you are hoping to promote or move forward on? 

Araud: There is going to be, in a few weeks, the 20th anniversary of the CTBT. We would like to use this opportunity to promote the CTBT a bit more. For the FMCT, we proposed a draft some time ago, and we are trying to make concrete proposals to promote these treaties. But it’s a slow process. It is a gradual step by step process to go forward. 

ACT: In the United Kingdom, there’s a debate about the salience of its nuclear weapons program and its deterrent. What is France’s view on the UK eliminating its nuclear weapons arsenal, and would that have an impact on France as a sole possessor of nuclear weapons in Europe? 

Araud: No, it wouldn’t have an impact on France. Very often, people don’t understand why France is so much committed to nuclear deterrence. They do believe it’s sort of out of glory. The fact is that, in 1940, when the Germans invaded our country, we were alone. The Americans were not here, and the British were not really here either—they had sent 10 divisions to France. France nearly disappeared. So we have drawn [a] very clear lesson that, to survive, you are alone. So we need nuclear deterrence. 

After this horrendous period for us, when our country nearly disappeared, it has become a sort of ingrained conviction that you are alone to defend your existence. That’s part of our very particular experience that people don’t understand. It’s not because we love nuclear weapons. It’s simply that now the genie is out of the bottle. Nuclear disarmament is difficult because if we get rid of the nuclear weapons you know Kim Jong Un or somebody else may still have the nuclear weapons. What will happen? He will be the master of the world. 

It’s impossible to reach universal nuclear disarmament. What we are trying to do is to limit the numbers of the nuclear-weapon states. Of course it’s unfair for the states which are not. As for the United Kingdom, I would bet everything you want that they won’t get rid of their nuclear weapons. There is a debate, but a debate we don’t have so much in France. Of course there is a fringe left which is in favor of it. But there is not a debate like the British have every decade. The British, maybe there could be debate about modernization, whether you need to modernize or not to modernize, considering the threat. That could be a debate. But on having the weapons, I really don’t see. Compared to the Americans, we Europeans know that history is a tragedy. 

ENDNOTES

1.   Iran’s heavy-water production plant at Arak and its centrifuge plant at Natanz were revealed to the international community in 2002. The first three countries to engage with Iran on the question of uranium enrichment were France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

2.   The EU 3+3 refers to the three EU countries—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—plus China, Russia, and the United States, that were engaged in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

3.   The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action established the Joint Commission as a mechanism for resolving disputes.

4.   P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) plus Germany.

5.   See Tariq Rauf, “From ‘Atoms for Peace’ to an IAEA Nuclear Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2015.

6.   In April 2016, the United States declared the ballistic missile interceptor it built to be operational in Romania and a second site in Poland to be under construction. NATO claims this system is intended to protect against the ballistic missile threat from Iran while Russia claims it is an attempt to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. For more information, see Kingston Reif, “Romania Missile Defense Site Activated,” Arms Control Today, June 2016.

7.   In 2006, France passed the Nuclear Transparency and Security Law. In 2008, under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, France became the first nuclear-weapon state to publicly reveal the size of its nuclear arsenal. For more information, see Bill Richardson et al., “Universal Transparency: A Goal for the U.S. at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit,” Arms Control Today, January 2011.

The ambassador to the United States and former Iran deal negotiator reflects on how that agreement was reached, possible bumps ahead, and dangers posed by Iranian ballistic missile development...

France Pays to Settle Mistral Dispute

By Jefferson Morley

Ending a 10-month-long impasse, French President François Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Aug. 5 to sever a 2011 contract in which France had committed to selling Russia two Mistral-class amphibious landing ships.

The contract is worth 1.2 billion euros (about $1.3 billion), according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. It became controversial after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began arming separatists fighting the Ukrainian government. On the eve of a meeting of NATO allies in September 2014, Hollande demanded that Russia agree to a ceasefire and a political settlement as a condition for scheduled delivery of the first ship in November 2014.

When no ceasefire materialized, France and Russia entered into negotiations early this year to dissolve the financial arrangement.

“The price in the [termination] agreement, which is the best possible, will be less as Russia will be repaid to the nearest euro the advance payments that have been made,” Le Drian told a radio reporter Aug. 6.

Reuters reported that France had offered a settlement of $866 million. Russia has asked for compensation of $1.28 billion, according to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant.

A French official told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 18 e-mail that the exact amount of the settlement is not public information but will be shared this fall with the French Parliament, which has to ratify the settlement. The official said the French compensation “will be inferior to what Russia has spent” and therefore less than $1.3 billion.

Hollande’s statement on the cancellation agreement made no mention of Russian military intervention in Ukraine. The French president said he and Putin agreed that the negotiation took place in “a warm, open climate of partnership,” adding that he and Putin “agreed that the matter was now closed.”

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