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France Could Eliminate Nukes to Save Money: Ex-Officials

Financial constraints have prompted a number of prominent former French officials to float dismantlement of the nation's atomic armaments as a possible cost-saving move, the Inter Press Service reported on Wednesday (see GSN, April 24).

France's funding deficiency in 2012 could amount to $12.3 billion, according to the report.

By eliminating the nuclear stockpile it has held for more than half a century, “France would save [$19.7 billion] per year, and renounce a completely useless weapon,” ex-French Prime Minister Michel Rocard said last month.

Subsequently, though, Rocard referred to his remarks as "a joke."

Eliminating the country's nuclear deterrent is “such a serious issue, that if you want to question it, you have to do it cautiously, and give yourself time to discuss it and to listen to serious arguments.”

France wields four ballistic missile submarines armed respectively with 16 nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, as well as nuclear-capable bombers deployed on one aircraft carrier and at three ground installations. Then-President Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2008 pledged his country would possess no more than 300 warheads.

Sarkozy's successor Francois Hollande, who shares membership in Rocard's Socialist Party, has said his administration has no plans for abandoning the nuclear stockpile. The global prestige said derived from such armaments forms the primary justification for Hollande's stance, according to IPS.

Redirecting French funds away from nuclear weapons efforts is now a more attractive possibility than ever before, a number of observers and political actors have said.

"[The] nuclear weapon is an expensive absurdity,” one-time French Defense Minister Paul Quilès said.

Defenses of such armaments as a national "life insurance" prompted a dismissive response by Quilès. “It is more a death insurance,” the ex-official said.

Anticipated requirements for modernizing systems and acquiring related technology mean the deterrent's expense is probably on the verge of growing further, he said.

Bernard Norlain, who served as a top military officer in the 1980s and 1990s, said “the arguments in favor of nuclear (arms) were pertinent at the time of the Cold War, but the global strategic situation has changed radically since 1990.”

“We cannot continue arguing the same way as in the 1980s,” he said, adding “Hollande’s declarations on the matter are extremely conformist" (Julio Godoy, Inter Press Service, July 18).

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