Fact Sheet

Nuclear Disarmament France

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Nuclear Disarmament France

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Arsenal and Missile Types


NPT Nuclear Weapon State

Arsenal Size

  • Active Nuclear Warheads: Estimated 300 total; approximately 290 operational and 10 spares.
  • 240 warheads (TN75 and TNO) on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)
  • 40 TNA warheads on medium-range air-launched cruise missiles carried by Rafale BF3
  • 10 (TNA) on medium-range air-launched cruise missiles carried by Rafale MF3

Key Delivery Systems

  • SLBMs (M51.1 and M51.2) carried by SSBNs. France replaced the M45 with the M51.1 in 2016 and declared the M51.2 operational in December 2017. France is developing the M51.3, which is expected for completion by 2025.
  • Medium-range air-launched cruise missiles (ASMPA) on Rafale BF3 and Rafale MF3 aircraft

Capabilities and Developments

Military Fissile Material Stockpiles (estimates)

  • Weapons grade plutonium: Estimated at 7±1  tonnes
  • Weapons grade HEU: 25±6 tonnes

Commitments and Policies

Disarmament and Commitments to Reduce Arsenal Size

  • Legal obligation to pursue global disarmament under Article VI of the NPT.
  • Then-President Chirac’s new nuclear plans for 1997 to 2002, announced in February 1996, resulted in dismantling several weapon systems.
  • Reduced its nuclear arsenal by half in the last 10 years.
  • No nuclear weapons in reserve.
  • Ceased production of plutonium in 1992, and of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons in 1996.
  • Finished decommissioning the Pierrelatte uranium enrichment facility and intends to decommission its Maroule reprocessing facility by 2035.
  • Completely dismantled its ground-to-ground nuclear component by 2008.
  • Voluntarily reduced by one-third the number of its missile launching nuclear submarines in service.

Future Commitments

  • In support of negotiating verifiable FMCT. The treaty should not cover existing stockpiles.
  • Since France completed a reduction of one-third of its nuclear arsenal, France probably will refuse to further reduce its arsenal in the near future. Statements from President Hollande in February 2015 imply that France will neither further reduce its stockpile, nor build new weapons; it will modernize its forces while remaining inside the boundaries of existing agreements. France claims its nuclear arsenal is now at a level of “strict sufficiency” – the lowest level possible to maintain strategic security.
  • Adheres to the idea that nuclear disarmament must be done in the context of general and complete disarmament, taking into account the strategic context.

Nuclear Weapons Policies

Nuclear Testing

  • Last test on 27 January 1996 at Fangataufa (South Pacific)
  • 26 March 1996: signature of the Rarotonga Treaty, creating a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in the South Pacific (in force since 20 September 1996)
  • Signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (ratification deposited 6 April 1998).

Use of Nuclear Weapons

  • Retains first use policy.
  • Negative Security Assurances to NWFZ treaty members: Committed not to use nuclear weapons against state parties to the Tlatelolco, Pelindaba, and Rarotonga treaties. Has not yet signed the protocol to the Bangkok Treaty. Has ratified the Central Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (CANWFZ).
  • Acknowledged the commitments of the NWS to Negative Security Assurances in UN Security Council Resolution 984 (1995). In August 2022, three of the NWS—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—issued a joint statement in which they reaffirmed their “existing national security assurances regarding the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against NNWS Parties to the NPT.”
  • President Hollande rules out using nuclear weapons as battlefield weapons. Asserts that nuclear deterrence has no place in offensive maneuvers and is purely defensive. Nuclear weapons should only be used if France’s vital self-interests are threatened.
  • Did not participate in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) negotiations, and has no intention of joining the treaty in the future.

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Glossary

Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)
SLBM: A ballistic missile that is carried on and launched from a submarine.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Disarmament
Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Dismantlement
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)
The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty us currently under discussion in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to end the production of weapons-usable fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) for nuclear weapons. For additional information, see the FMCT.
Treaty of Rarotonga
Treaty of Rarotonga: The Treaty on the South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SPNWFZ) prohibits the testing, manufacturing, acquiring, and stationing of nuclear explosive devices on any member's territory. The treaty also prohibits the dumping of radioactive wastes into the sea. In addition, the treaty required all parties to apply International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities. For additional information, see the SPNWFZ.
Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ)
NWFZ: A geographical area in which nuclear weapons may not legally be built, possessed, transferred, deployed, or tested.
Ratification
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT: Opened for signature in 1996 at the UN General Assembly, the CTBT prohibits all nuclear testing if it enters into force. The treaty establishes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to ensure the implementation of its provisions and verify compliance through a global monitoring system upon entry into force. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO is charged with establishing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and promoting treaty ratifications. CTBT entry into force is contingent on ratification by 44 Annex II states. For additional information, see the CTBT.
Ratification
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
First-use
The introduction of nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, into a conflict. In agreeing to a "no-first-use" policy, a country states that it will not use nuclear weapons first, but only under retaliatory circumstances. See entry for No-First-Use
Treaty of Tlatelolco
The Treaty of Tlatelolco: This treaty, opened for signature in February 1967, created a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Treaty of Tlatelolco was the first international agreement that aimed to exclude nuclear weapons from an inhabited region of the globe. The member states accept the application of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all their nuclear activities. The treaty also establishes a regional organization, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (OPANAL), to supervise treaty implementation and ensure compliance with its provisions. For additional information, see the LANWFZ.
Treaty of Pelindaba
Treaty of Pelindaba: The Treaty on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone was opened for signature in Cairo in April 1996. The treaty prohibits the research, development, manufacturing, stockpiling, acquisition, testing, possession, control, and stationing of nuclear explosive devices on any member’s territory. The treaty also prohibits the dumping of radioactive waste originating from outside the continent within the region. In addition, the treaty requires parties to apply International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities. The treaty also provides for the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), which supervises treaty implementation and ensures compliance with its provisions. For additional information, see the ANWFZ.
Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Protocol
Protocols to NWFZs provide for the obligations and rights of non-parties to the zones, and of the nuclear weapon states with reference to those states that are party to the NWFZs and the regions covered. Protocols may include assurances by the NWS not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against contracting parties within an NWFZ.
Treaty of Bangkok
Treaty of Bangkok: The Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone prohibits the development, manufacture, acquisition, or testing of nuclear weapons anywhere within the region. It also prohibits the transport of nuclear weapons through the region, as well as the dumping at sea, discharging into the atmosphere, or burying on land of any radioactive material or waste. In addition, the treaty requires all parties to apply International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities. For additional information, see the SEANWFZ.
Nuclear-weapon states (NWS)
NWS: As defined by Article IX, paragraph 3 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the five states that detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967 (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Coincidentally, these five states are also permanent members of the UN Security Council. States that acquired and/or tested nuclear weapons subsequently are not internationally recognized as nuclear-weapon states.
United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council: Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council consists of fifteen members, five of which—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are permanent members. The other ten members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The five permanent members possess veto powers. For additional information, see the UNSC.

Sources

  1. International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Countries: France,” 29 April 2023, www.fissilematerial.org.
  2. U.S. Department of State, “P3 Joint Statement on Security Assurances,” 4 August 2022, www.state.gov.
  3. Report submitted by France under actions 5, 20 and 21 of the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to the 2015 NPT Review, 12 March 2015, www.francetnp.gouv.fr.
  4. Nuclear Disarmament: Statement by the Head of the French Delegation, Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, 2 May 2014, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
  5. President Hollande, Speech on Nuclear Deterrence, 19 February 2015, www.acdn.net.
  6. Statement by Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel at Main Committee I of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, 1 May 2015, www.reachingcriticalwill.org; President Hollande, Speech on Nuclear Deterrence, 19 February 2015, www.nuclearfiles.org.
  7. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, “Positions on the Treaty,” www.icanw.org.
  8. Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, and Eliana Johns, “French nuclear weapons, 2023,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 79:4 (2023), pp. 272-281, https://fas.org.

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