Saturday, January 21, 2006
France's President Jacques Chirac, speaking Thursday that he would use nuclear weapons against states sponsoring terrorism was more than a little alarming. It was downright stupid for several reasons.
France is deeply in debt. With a debt of Euro 1.17 trillion (US $1.42 trillion), a full 66 percent of their GDP, France has continued to maintain an expensive and arguably unnecessary nuclear arsenal which is out of proportion with the consequences of conflict.
Chirac's threat, though it did not identify any one country, was very much aimed at Iran and was irresponsible in terms of a diplomatic effort while demonstrating an attempt to find a place long since lost on the nuclear stage with the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
France's nuclear arsenal has been drawn down over the past decade, but its intended use has remained pretty much stable. It is a deterrent force and little else. Consisting of about 300 warheads, the majority of which are deployed in submarines, the arsenal exists in a vacuum with no defined use.
French presidents, the possessors of the French nuclear switch, have always maintained a posture of "I have nuclear weapons and will have no hesitation in using them". It is a posture which has always remained vague. It worked well when the Soviet Union was the clear threat and a stand-off existed. Chirac has changed all that.
By threatening Iran, Chirac has disclosed France's nuclear posture. Where in the past it was simple possession and an assumed will, it is now possession and intended use. Such a position can only further inflame Iran and increase their determination to produce warheads. Iran has been aware all along that France possessed nuclear weapons; now Iran knows they are a target.
Chirac's announcement did further damage by weakening the European (and US) attempt to bring Iran into line with one voice. Now there are two voices and France is too loud.
Jacques Chirac would have made a greater impact if he had announced the decommissioning of the greater portion of France's nuclear arsenal in favour of a more agile conventional force. Thursday's speech, an attempt to give France a global position and stronger voice, did just the opposite.
Now France looks like a long dead world power rattling a sabre it can no longer afford.