French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans today to cut his nation's strategic nuclear arsenal while vowing to maintain a strong deterrent against emergent powers such as Iran, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 21, 2007).
He pledged to reduce the French arsenal to under 300 nuclear warheads by slicing one-third of the airborne nuclear weapon capability.
"That is half the maximum number of warheads we had during the Cold War," Sarkozy said, speaking at a ceremony in Cherbourg to launch France's fourth nuclear-missile submarine, Le Terrible.
He cautioned, however, that France would vigorously maintain its nuclear forces to deter what he said are growing missile threats.
"Everyone must be aware today that even far-flung powers' nuclear missiles can reach Europe in less than half an hour," he said. "I am thinking in particular of Iran. Iran is increasing the range of its missiles while grave suspicions hang over its nuclear program. Europe's security is at stake."
"In the face of proliferation, the international community must be united, the international community must be resolute. Because we want peace, we must be without weakness with those who violate international norms," Sarkozy added.
"Maintaining the competences necessary to dissuasion at the highest level is a fundamental objective for our security," he continued. "All those who threaten to attack our vital interests would expose themselves to a severe riposte by France."
Sarkozy also promoted several multinational nonproliferation measures by urging China and the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and calling for a wider ban on short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, Reuters reported.
In addition, he expressed support for a plan to stop the production of nuclear-weapon materials.
"I propose to launch without delay negotiations for a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and to impose an immediate moratorium on the production of these materials," Sarkozy said (Matthias Blamont, Reuters, March 21).
In a 2005 estimate, analysts from the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that France then deployed 348 strategic warheads, 288 of which were on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (Nuclear Notebook/Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2005).