"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism

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.”

France Delays Arms Delivery Decision

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

A man demonstrates on September 7 in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire against the decision of the French government to delay the delivery of the Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia. (Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images)On the eve of the NATO summit in early September, French President François Hollande announced he was delaying the scheduled delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers because of Russian intervention in Ukraine. At that time, Hollande said he had two conditions for approving delivery of the ship—a cease-fire in Ukraine and a political settlement that resolves the country’s crisis. He said he would make a decision in “late October.”

Germany and the United Kingdom had called on France to cancel the contract, which is worth 1.1 billion euro ($1.4 billion), so as not to bolster Russian military capabilities. According to news reports, France may have to pay a substantial penalty if it does not fulfill the contract, which was signed in June 2011.

In an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a spokesman for the French embassy in Washington pointed to remarks Hollande had made the previous day in Milan. In those comments, Hollande reiterated his conditions for approving the delivery of the first carrier, saying that the cease-fire “needs to be fully respected in Ukraine and the crisis resolution plan…needs to be fully implemented.”

The spokesman said that no date has been set for Hollande’s decision.

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

France and Germany agree on truce over nuclear arms control committee as NATO works on Deterrence and Defense Posture Review

By Oliver Meier On July 7, in a rare show of unity on nuclear issues between France and Germany, the ambassadors of both countries sent a joint proposal to NATO members on the future of the new Weapons of Mass Destruction and Disarmament Committee (WCDC). Despite this compromise, however, the Alliance's role in nuclear arms control remains a contentious issue. In the run-up to the NATO summit in Lisbon in November last year, which adopted the Alliance's new Strategic Concept , Berlin and Paris were deeply divided on a range of nuclear issues, including on nuclear arms control. While the...

UK, France Sign Nuclear Collaboration Treaty

Robert Golan-Vilella

The United Kingdom and France have agreed to cooperate in maintaining their nuclear weapons stockpiles, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last month in a joint press conference.

The Nov. 2 announcement came at the conclusion of a one-day bilateral summit as Cameron and Sarkozy signed two treaties committing their countries to a deeper military partnership. One pact addresses a broad range of defense and security issues. The other states that the two parties will cooperate in nuclear weapons safety and security, stockpile certification, and “counter nuclear or radiological terrorism.”

Under the terms of the latter treaty, the United Kingdom and France will build two joint nuclear research facilities. At one, in Valduc, France, the two countries will perform hydrodynamic experiments on their nuclear warheads. The facility will “use radiography to measure the performance of materials at extremes of temperature and pressure,” British Minister of Defence Liam Fox told the House of Commons Nov. 2. “This enables us to model the performance and safety of the nuclear weapons in our stockpile without undertaking nuclear explosive tests,” he said.

The Valduc site “shall comprise areas for solely national and joint use,” the nuclear cooperation treaty states. Each nation “shall conduct all the trials needed to support its national programmes…without scrutiny from” the other. In addition, each country’s national area is to be staffed by its own personnel, and access to that area “shall be subject to prior approval” by its own national authorities.

The second facility, which will be built at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, England, will pursue “development work to underpin the technologies used in the [Valduc] facility throughout its operational life,” according to the treaty. No fissile material is to be used in the experiments performed at this location, the treaty says.

In addition to nuclear stockpile management, the two powers agreed to “develop jointly some of the equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines,” a joint declaration from the summit said. In non-nuclear areas, the two countries pledged to develop a joint expeditionary force, allow each country’s aircraft to operate off the other’s aircraft carriers, create a framework for addressing cybersecurity issues, and work together to build a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the summit declaration.

In his press conference with Sarkozy, Cameron emphasized Paris and London’s common interests as the driving force behind the treaties. He said that the two countries “are natural partners; the third- and the fourth-largest defense spenders in the world, both with nuclear responsibilities and both with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.” Sarkozy concurred, stating that “we have common commitments and we will shoulder them together.”

Cameron also highlighted the economic incentives for increased collaboration, saying the policy shift “is about practical, hard-headed cooperation between sovereign countries. It is about sharing development and equipment costs, eliminating unnecessary duplication, coordinating logistics, and aligning our research programs.”

Indeed, the move comes just as both nations are facing severe financial pressures at home. Two weeks prior to concluding the agreements with France, the British government unveiled its Strategic Defence and Security Review, in which it announced that it would cut defense spending by 8 percent in real terms over the next four years. (See ACT, November 2010.) Commentators in the international media immediately identified the need to cut costs as the principal motivating force for the treaties, dubbing the new partnership “the entente frugale.” The term is a play on the Entente Cordiale, an early 20th century agreement between Paris and London that resolved several long-standing disputes and reduced tensions between the powers.

When asked how much money would be saved as a result of the treaties, a spokesman for Cameron said that the British government did not currently have an estimate and that many of the details would be worked out over the next year, according to a press briefing summary from Cameron’s office.

The prescribed duration of the nuclear treaty is the life cycle of the Valduc and Aldermaston facilities, which “shall be 50 years or until such other time as mutually agreed by the Parties,” the agreement says. The defense and security treaty is to remain in force indefinitely.


France Upgrades, Trims Nuclear Arsenal

Wade Boese

Showcasing France’s newest nuclear-armed submarine March 21, French President Nicolas Sarkozy extolled the enduring value of nuclear weapons to his country’s security while he also vowed to reduce their numbers. The French president further called on other states to dismantle their nuclear weapons testing facilities and forswear certain missiles.

Sarkozy, elected last May, delivered his first major speech on France’s nuclear weapons and nuclear policy at the Cherbourg shipyard where the country’s newest ballistic missile submarine, Le Terrible, was on display. That vessel is the fourth of the Le Triomphant-class and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2010 and armed with France’s newest ballistic missile, the M51.1. The submarine will carry 16 of the missiles, which have an estimated range of at least 6,000 kilometers and are capable of carrying six nuclear warheads.

Sarkozy noted that the addition of Le Terrible and the M51.1 ballistic missile, which will be retrofitted on the other three Le Triomphant­-class submarines, is only part of France’s effort to modernize its nuclear forces. He also said that the Rafale combat aircraft this year will start carrying the upgraded, nuclear-armed ASMP-A cruise missile. The Rafale is replacing the Mirage 2000N and Super Étendard as France’s nuclear delivery aircraft. France previously eliminated all of its ground-launched nuclear-weapon systems.

Nonetheless, Sarkozy announced that France would reduce its force of air-delivered nuclear warheads by one-third. He said the move would lower the overall French stockpile to less than 300 warheads, a total that Sarkozy said was “half of the maximum number of warheads we had during the Cold War.” Although nuclear-armed states jealously guard details about their arsenals, public estimates suggest France would still field the third-largest nuclear arsenal behind Russia and the United States, which both possess several thousand nuclear warheads.

Although declining in numbers, Sarkozy emphasized that French nuclear weapons were not diminishing in importance. He described the weapons as the “ultimate guarantee” of France’s independence and “decision-making autonomy.”

After singling out Iran as a growing threat, Sarkozy warned that “all those who would threaten our vital interests would expose themselves to severe retaliation.” He also claimed a European role for France’s nuclear weapons, declaring, “By their very existence, French nuclear forces are a key element in Europe’s security. Any aggressor who might consider challenging it must be mindful of this.” Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, in a similar 2006 address had invited other European states to discuss a “common [European] defense that would take into account…existing deterrent forces.” (See ACT, March 2006 .) There was little response.

Sarkozy indicated a decision to use nuclear weapons would not be taken lightly. He argued French nuclear weapons were “strictly defensive” and that their use “would clearly be conceivable only in extreme circumstances of legitimate defense.”

Turning to other nuclear-armed powers, Sarkozy urged them to follow France’s lead by dismantling their nuclear weapons testing facilities. He also specifically called on China and the United States to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the two countries have signed. France in April 1998 ratified that accord, which outlaws nuclear explosions, and three months later completed dismantlement of its nuclear testing center.

Sarkozy also asked China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to join France in “transparency measures.” He did not specify what those measures were, but he invited foreign experts to verify the dismantlement of France’s two military fissile material production plants, Pierrelatte and Marcoule. In 1996, France announced it had ceased producing fissile material, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, for weapons purposes. In his Cherbourg speech, Sarkozy reiterated French support for starting long-stalled talks on a global fissile material production ban for arms.

In addition, Sarkozy endorsed negotiations to ban short- and intermediate-range surface-to-surface missiles. Such a prohibition would not affect the M51.1, which is a long-range missile, or the air-launched ASMP-A cruise missile. Sarkozy’s call follows a February Russian proposal to institute a global ban on ground-launched short- to intermediate-range missiles, which the United States and Russia have already forsworn through the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, March 2008 .)

Sarkozy’s nuclear agenda resembles that enunciated over the past year by the United Kingdom. The British government decided early last year to explore developing a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines while it touted a decision to cut its operational nuclear forces to fewer than 160 warheads. (See ACT, January/February 2007 .) Des Browne, the British defense minister, also recently invited American, Chinese, French, and Russian nuclear weapons scientists to participate in a future conference on verifying nuclear disarmament. (See ACT, March 2008 .)

France, Libya Sign Nuclear Desalination Deal

Alex Bollfrass

On his state visit to Libya, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation with long-time Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. The July 25 memorandum clears the way for French access to Libyan uranium and outlines an agreement on the eventual construction of a nuclear desalination plant to provide drinking water to the littoral desert country.

Press reports indicate that Areva, a French company, would be building the reactor for the facility. Although the desalination plant is not an immediate project, the memorandum might give an advantage to Areva in the bidding competition for 1,600 metric tons of yellowcake in Libyan possession. Several foreign nuclear energy entities have expressed interest in acquiring it. Although obligated to dispose of it after ending a clandestine nuclear weapons program, Libya’s plans for the yellowcake are not known.

Areva’s reactor would power the energy-intensive process of making salt water potable. According to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group, 30 million cubic meters of seawater are desalinated every day worldwide. About one-half of this amount is processed in the Middle East, mostly in hydrocarbon-powered plants.

The type of reactor to be used in the facility has yet to be decided. Sarkozy disputed a recent announcement that Libya was purchasing a European Pressurized Water Reactor from Areva.

Libya’s acquisition of the Milan anti-tank missile system and communication equipment was also announced during Sarkozy’s visit. French opposition leaders, among them Socialist leader François Hollande, have called for a parliamentary probe, suspecting that this sale was improperly linked to the release of six medics from Libyan captivity. The missile supplier maintains that the deal had been under discussion for 18 months.

Preparations for the French-Libyan nuclear cooperation agreement started in 2005. Its conclusion marks another milestone in Libya’s normalization of relations with the West. As recently as 2003, the North African country was working to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

The United Kingdom and the United States choreographed Libya’s return to the international mainstream, but France has most actively taken commercial advantage of the end of sanctions. Both the United Kingdom and Russia have pledged to cooperate with Libya on medical applications of nuclear technology.

Later this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit Libya to further cooperation between Washington and Tripoli. According to Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack, Rice wishes to “mark the fact that this is a very changed relationship” since she first joined the Bush administration as national security adviser.

On his state visit to Libya, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation with long-time Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. The July 25 memorandum clears the way for French access to Libyan uranium and outlines an agreement on the eventual construction of a nuclear desalination plant to provide drinking water to the littoral desert country. (Continue)

France, Libya Agree to Nuclear Cooperation

William Huntington

France and Libya March 15 signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the first of its kind for Tripoli since its 2003 pledge to comprehensively dismantle its nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

France ’s commitment to assist Libya’s civil nuclear program would not have been possible only a few years ago when Tripoli suffered under UN Security Council sanctions. Those international measures were adopted following the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1989 bombing of a French flight over Niger. Additionally, the United States imposed sanctions under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to hinder Tripoli’s ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The Security Council suspended its sanctions in 1999 following Libyan cooperation in the airline bombings investigations and permanently lifted them in September 2003 after Tripoli committed to paying $2.7 billion in restitution to the families of the victims of the Pan Am bombing. Most U.S. sanctions were removed in 2004. However, some remain as Libya is still listed by the U.S. government as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In October 2003, German and Italian authorities interdicted a ship en route to Libya carrying centrifuge components. On Dec. 19 of that year, following secret negotiations with the United Kingdom and the United States , Libya announced that it would dismantle its WMD programs, release all information regarding those programs, and allow inspectors to verify its disarmament and compliance with international obligations. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

Among the significant disclosures by Tripoli in the course of its disarmament was information regarding the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan supplied Libya and other states, including Iran, with components for nuclear weapons programs, including centrifuges. Gas centrifuges can produce highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Since abandoning its unconventional weapons programs, Libya has taken a number of steps to align itself with the global nonproliferation regime and convince other states of its commitment to disarmament. It signed an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow for more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities, ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and destroyed its stock of missiles whose ranges and payloads exceeded the Missile Technology Control Regime guidelines. (See ACT, April 2004.)

French nuclear assistance will contribute to medical and industrial isotope production and water desalinization, according to the French Atomic Energy Commission. Libyan nuclear technicians will also receive training, said French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jean-Baptiste Mattei, who was quoted by Reuters March 15.


France and Libya March 15 signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the first of its kind for Tripoli since its 2003 pledge to comprehensively dismantle its nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

France ’s commitment to assist Libya’s civil nuclear program would not have been possible only a few years ago when Tripoli suffered under UN Security Council sanctions. Those international measures were adopted following the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1989 bombing of a French flight over Niger. Additionally, the United States imposed sanctions under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to hinder Tripoli’s ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). (Continue)

The 2005 NPT Review Conference: A French Perspective

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte

For France, the 2005 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will need first and foremost to confirm the credibility of the NPT as one of the main elements of international peace and security and to demonstrate the efficiency of the review process against a backdrop of pressing challenges.

States-parties will have to restate that the goal of nuclear nonproliferation as established by the treaty remains their priority. We expect them to come up with proposals to solve the problems the NPT faces while respecting a balanced review of the three pillars of the treaty: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses for nuclear energy.

A number of ideas put forward this past year by France, other countries, and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei will surely be considered in the course of the conference. These include proposals on noncompliance, controls over sensitive nuclear technologies, assurances of access to nuclear fuel, suspension of nuclear cooperation with countries violating their commitments, and withdrawal from the NPT. France will also pay great attention to the preservation of cooperation on peaceful uses. The role of nuclear energy for sustainable development should be highlighted in this context.

Important efforts by nuclear-weapon states in the field of nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War should also be underlined. Since its accession in 1992 and in response to an international situation characterized by the end of the Cold War and undeniable progress toward complete and general disarmament, France has made a series of major decisions aimed at implementing Article VI of the NPT, which calls for it and the four other nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China) to make “good faith” efforts toward nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

All told, since 1990, France has halved the number of nuclear delivery vehicles in its force, and the number of nuclear weapons systems is down from six to two. The share of nuclear forces in total French defence spending has dropped from 17 percent in 1990 to less than 9.5 percent in 2004. These numbers show that France has followed its declared doctrine of “strict sufficiency” in shaping its deterrent force, a key pillar of its security.

France is currently implementing the decisions it has made in the field of nuclear disarmament, such as dismantling the Pierrelatte and Marcoule facilities for producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons. France is alone among the nuclear powers in undertaking this long, complex, and costly process.

France has also adopted several measures from the guidelines outlined in the program of action after the 1995 review conference. That program’s three points were: conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT); and a determination to press forward systematically and progressively toward the reduction of nuclear weapons as a whole and to work for general and complete disarmament.

France signed and ratified the CTBT and has taken steps to carry out all of its requirements even before the treaty has entered into force. Most importantly, France no longer has nuclear testing facilities. France is well aware, however, that the CTBT has still not entered into force and that hence the states-parties to the NPT have not yet fulfilled the spirit of Point One in the 1995 Program of Action. As a member of the European Union, France supports the Common Position of the Council (European Union Council of Ministers) on the universalization and reinforcement of multilateral agreements in the field of nonproliferation. The French government is also contributing actively to the work of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission.

France also supports launching negotiations on an FMCT at the Conference on Disarmament, but this effort in Geneva is stalled. As mentioned before, France no longer has facilities for the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

France supports the ongoing efforts to bring about a global reduction in nuclear arsenals. Most prominent among these are the efforts of the United States and Russia, notably through the implementation of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The number of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of these two countries is out of all proportion to the other nuclear-weapon states. Where operationally deployed strategic offensive nuclear weapons are concerned, their reduction to 2,200 or even fewer warheads between now and 2012 will represent an unprecedented step in its scope.

Moreover, France is participating in concrete actions beyond its borders. In particular, it is committed to contribute to Russia’s plutonium disposition program, within the framework of an agreement now being negotiated within the Multilateral Plutonium Disposition Group. This agreement will augment a 2000 agreement between the United States and Russia in which each country agreed to dispose or convert to civilian use 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. This project is being undertaken within the framework of the Global Partnership of the Group of Eight, to which France has pledged to contribute 750 million euros.

Pursuant to Article VI of the NPT, France is also working for general and complete disarmament. It is active in all areas of disarmament. It is a party to the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Ottawa Convention on the prohibition of anti-personnel mines and to several agreements in the conventional sphere. France adhered to the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. France is making constant efforts to secure the implementation, universalization, and strengthening of these instruments.
One other important path to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation lies in the regional approach, through peace efforts in South Asia and in the Middle East and, where regional conditions permit, through nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Lastly, France has given negative security assurances to more than 100 countries in treaty form. It has also given negative security assurances to all NPT states-parties through a declaration on April 6, 1995. This commitment is consistent with the right of legitimate self-defense as recognized in Article 51 of the UN Charter. States that violate their nonproliferation commitments cannot claim protection under these assurances.

One must also underline the role of positive security assurances that, in the same ways as negative security assurances, provide a guarantee against the use of nuclear weapons to those non-nuclear-weapon states that respect their obligations.

Since its accession to the NPT in the early 1990s, France has fulfilled its commitments in good faith, through a series of gestures whose scale is well known to all NPT states-parties. Our efforts have been made in response to the strategic situation; to the threats to our country, Europe, and our allies; and to the progress in general toward complete disarmament and in the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

Yet, we know now that, over the same period, certain states have engaged in clandestine nuclear programs. NPT states-parties all placed their confidence in collective security and respect for nonproliferation commitments by other states-parties. The revelations of recent months about nuclear proliferation crises and the networks supplying them have made clear the extent of the threat to the security of each one of us presented by the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We all understand the prime challenges facing the NPT today if it is to remain a credible instrument in preserving world peace and security. Although efforts to implement the various aspects of Article VI continue, it is imperative to restore confidence in the NPT’s equilibria.

Given the current context of proliferation crises, success at the 2005 NPT Review Conference will rest on the quality of debates, demonstrating that the review process can adequately address the challenges to the NPT, and on the ability of the conference to agree on substantive measures to answer these challenges.

France wishes to participate in a serious, rigorous, and balanced review process of the implementation of the treaty. Achieving consensus on documents is important in this regard, and we hope we will be able to reach in 2005 a result acceptable to all.


France on Key Nuclear Issues

Nuclear Warhead Arsenal: Approximately 350 warheads total.

Latest Nuclear Force Developments: France decided in 1996 to eliminate the land-based component of its nuclear triad. Paris is currently moving toward replacing its submarine-launched ballistic missile with a new model.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Signed September 24, 1996. Ratified April 6, 1998. France dismantled its nuclear testing center by July 1998.

Fissile Material Production for Weapons: French President Jacques Chirac declared in February 1996 that France no longer produces fissile material for nuclear weapons. He also pledged that France would dismantle its fissile material production facilities for arms. France publicly supports negotiation of an “effectively verifiable” fissile material cutoff treaty, although it reportedly may be receptive to a recent U.S. proposal on concluding an agreement without a verification regime.

Nuclear Use Doctrine: In May 2000, France reaffirmed its 1995 pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Paris does not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons.


Sources: Arms Control Association, Institute for Science and International Security, Natural Resources Defense Council, and national governments.

France's Nuclear Disarmament Actions

September 1991:
Announcement of the early phasing out of Pluton tactical surface-to-surface missiles and AN-52 gravity bombs

August 1992:
France ratifies the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

November 1992:
Cessation of production of plutonium for nuclear weapons

January 1996:
Final nuclear test

February 1996:
Announcement of the closing of the Pierrelatte and Marcoule facilities for the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and of the Pacific test site; announcement of reduction in the number of ballistic missile nuclear submarines from five to four; announcement of the end of the Mirage IV’s nuclear mission; announcement of the abandonment of the surface-to-surface component of the nuclear forces through the standing down and destruction of the Hadès and S3D surface-to-surface missiles

June 1996:
Cessation of production of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons

September 1996:
Signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ratified in April 1998

September 1997:
Announcement that no part of its nuclear deterrent forces was aimed at a particular target

April 2003:
Ratification of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte is France’s ambassador to the United States. He has also served as France’s permanent representative to the United Nations and President Jacques Chirac’s senior diplomatic adviser.

U.S. Requests License for Plutonium Shipment to France

The Department of Energy has filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking permission to ship up to 140 kg (308 lbs) of weapons-grade plutonium oxide to France next year to advance U.S. efforts to convert excess U.S. plutonium stocks into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. MOX is a combination of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide that can be used in nuclear reactors.

According to the license request submitted by the Energy Department Oct. 1, the program is “necessary to obtain…approval for large-scale use of weapon[s]-grade MOX fuel in commercial reactors.” The Bush administration decided in January 2002 to convert U.S. stocks of excess weapon-grade plutonium to MOX fuel as the primary means of eliminating 34 tons of plutonium no longer necessary for military use in compliance with a 2000 agreement with Russia. (See ACT, March 2002.) Under the plan, the Energy Department would ship plutonium from Los Alamos National Laboratory to France’s Cadarache MOX facility.

The plutonium would be converted into MOX fuel, returned to the United States, and tested in the Catawba nuclear power plant in South Carolina to “confirm fuel performance and to demonstrate the United States’ capability to receive, inspect, [and] store the fuel assemblies at commercial reactors.” The Energy Department requested that the application review be completed by June 15, 2004, with an eye toward shipping the material in August 2004.

The United States currently is developing its own MOX fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. According to Energy Department officials, the United States must process the test fuel in France because it is unable to manufacture MOX fuel at this time. The U.S. facility is slated to start up in 2007.

In an attempt to head off concerns about possible proliferation and safety risks in transferring the weapons-grade material, the Energy Department application outlined security measures that would be taken. The Energy Department’s Safe Secure Transport system would provide guarded transportation of the material on the U.S. side, and the fissile material would be safeguarded in accordance with the U.S.-EURATOM peaceful nuclear agreement in France and while in transit overseas. The French government assured U.S. officials that material safeguards would be implemented in compliance with international regulations and that France would take security measures “comparable to those used” in the United States.

France's Deterrence Policy in Question

French President Jacques Chirac has denied an Oct. 27 report published in the French newspaper Libération that he plans to modify the country’s current policy of nuclear deterrence to “target what the Americans call rogue states.” The paper cites an unidentified French senior military official and indicates that the strategy may evolve over the long term to address a possible threat from China as well.

Chirac’s office issued a statement Oct. 28 stating that his country’s nuclear use policy has not shifted from the deterrence doctrine he outlined in a June 2001 speech at the Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale. However, according to Reuters, French General Bernard Norlain commented Oct. 27 on French LCI television that “there is of course a need to adapt” France’s nuclear policy in light of new threats.

In addition, Libération reported Oct. 28 that France may also examine the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review’s endorsement in January 2002 of low-yield, earth-penetrating nuclear weapons that could be used to destroy underground facilities housing weapons of mass destruction. (See ACT, April 2002.)


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