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France Floats European Nuclear Deterrent?



While French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has been grabbing the world’s headlines French President Sarkozy also managed to raise a few eyebrows. The German news weekly Die Spiegel reported that Sarkozy floated the idea of a kinda joint Franco-German nuclear force with French nuclear weapons at the core. The report is of interest for two reasons. Firstly the report states,

…Seeing as they were discussing the benefits of all things atomic, the French president continued, he had another suggestion as well: Because the French nuclear umbrella protected France's neighbors as well as La Grande Nation itself, perhaps the Germans would consider taking a political stake in the French atomic arsenal?

Both the chancellor and her foreign minister were speechless. The idea of possessing nuclear weapons is taboo in Germany. Sarzoky's predecessor Jacques Chirac cautiously brought up the issue 12 years ago, but he quickly realized it was pointless to pursue it…


Secondly,

…Steinmeier was the first to regain his composure, explaining that Germany did not seek to become a nuclear power, which is why the country had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1975. Merkel offered a friendly smile and backed up her foreign minister…


Let’s deal with the first point. Notice that Sarkozy was trying to get the Germans to take a “political stake in the French atomic arsenal.” Most likely Sarkozy’s idea was a joint Franco-German nuclear planning group modeled on NATO’s own nuclear planning group. If so then it would be unlikely that the Prussian general staff would be directly involved in the French command loop. The nuclear planning group would set the broad parameters of nuclear strategy.

The point I make here is that Steinmeier’s use of the NPT in discussion with Sarkozy should not be taken seriously. It is true that Germany is a member state of the NPT but it is also true that Germany is a member state of NATO and plays a role in the nuclear planning group. What’s more Germany plays a part in what is called “NATO nuclear sharing” which one can plausibly argue is not NPT consistent. Certainly the non-aligned states at NPT Rev Con’s do make the argument.
Germany’s rejection of France’s offer, therefore, did not have anything to do with the NPT and Paris knows it.

But the big point here is much more subtle. From time to time one comes across the idea of a European nuclear deterrent. The primary US security interest in Europe is to ensure that both NATO remains the principle arbiter of peace and security in Europe and that the US retains its position as NATO leader. In this way the US acts to prevent the emergence of an autonomous European strategic entity and serves to maintain a favourable balance of power in Eurasia, a key requirement for continued US strategic primacy globally.

So what is a Euro deterrent and who would it deter? A Euro deterrent is simply an autonomous European nuclear weapons capability operating outside of NATO. Who is it supposed to deter?

Simple.

The United States.

The French analyst Bruno Tetrais in an ISIS Adelphi Paper, “Nuclear Forces in Europe”, Adelphi Paper 327 (London, ISIS: 1999), p65 states that,

…the possession of a nuclear arsenal by Europe as a whole would also guarantee greater freedom of action in international affairs…


And that means greater freedom of action with respect to the United States. A Euro deterrent, much like US nuclear weapons, would provide the umbrella of power under which Europe could pursue a more autonomous global role.

One matter that is always bubbling under the surface is a common European strategic and defence policy. As Europe haltingly further integrates the question of what role French nuclear weapons would play in any common European strategic policy would need to be addressed.

It is well known that the US considers strategic primacy in the Middle East as a cornerstone of its wider global role given the energy resources in the region. Europe is heavily dependent upon these resources and, in the era of peak oil, a Euro deterrent would help Europe to develop an autonomous strategic posture in the Middle East.

A Euro deterrent may well be about reversing the strategic results of the 1956 Suez Crisis.