Practice Relating to Nuclear Weapons
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) provides: “Numerous texts aim to control or limit nuclear weapons. International law does not prohibit, in all circumstances, their use or the threat of their use.”
France’s Code of Defence (2004), as amended in 2007, states: “The mission, composition and conditions of engagement of the nuclear forces are the subject of decisions made by the council of defence.”
France’s Penal Code (1992), as amended in 2010, states:
Employing a nuclear weapon, or any other weapon not prohibited by an international convention to which France is a party, in order to perform an act necessary for France to exercise its right of self-defence, does not constitute a [war crime].
In 1996, during a debate in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, France stated:
In this respect, I should like to recall that France’s nuclear doctrine is exclusively deterrent and defensive in nature. France’s deterrence is aimed at preventing war; it constitutes an element of stability and contributes to the maintenance of international peace and security. As far as France is concerned, nuclear weapons could in no way constitute an instrument of coercion or a combat weapon. Nuclear deterrence, as seen by France, is aimed at prohibiting any infringement of our vital interests, and the obvious conclusion of this is that the advisory opinion of the Court is fully compatible with France’s deterrence doctrine.
In 2005, a French Government publication entitled “Fighting Proliferation, Promoting Arms Control and Disarmament: France’s Contribution” states:
As a Nuclear Weapon State, France considers that the purpose of its deterrent forces is to guarantee that its vital interests will never be threatened by any other power. As such, the French deterrent is not directed against any particular country. French nuclear weapons form no part of any strategy based on the military use of such weapons and have never been considered by France to be war-fighting assets.
In a White Paper on “Defence and National Security” published in 2008, France’s Ministry of Defence stated:
The fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery will indeed continue to be a priority …
In order to be efficient, the fight against proliferation must be based on … the universalization and full implementation of the international conventions signed by the vast majority of States ([including the] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT … ).
The Proliferation Security Initiative or PSI … initially comprised 11 States. It now includes almost 90 signatories. It aims at improving operational cooperation among governmental actors in order to identify and prohibit the transfer of materials or equipment that may contribute to programmes on … nuclear weapons and their means of delivery …
Regarding the G8, an action plan against proliferation was adopted at the G8 Sea Island Summit. This plan advocates in particular for the suspension of all nuclear cooperation with a country that has violated its international commitments, as well as for measures aimed at restricting the transfer of sensitive fuel cycle and heavy water technologies (enrichment, reprocessing) …
In December 2003, the European Union adopted … an action plan against the proliferation of CBRN weapons [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons], which covers all aspects of the fight against proliferation. In particular, the EU made the implementation of its commercial or cooperation agreements with third countries conditional on the latter’s respect for their international commitments regarding non-proliferation …
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 in June 2004, co-sponsored by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. This resolution, adopted pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, qualified the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery as a “threat to international peace and security”. It also called upon all States to strengthen their controls over export, and acknowledged their responsibility over all activity undertaken by non-State actors within their territories. The Security Council also responded to the two major current proliferation crises by adopting resolutions and sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
These measures complemented the traditional instruments for the fight against proliferation, which are the international conventions and suppliers’ regimes.
… [T]he NPT … , signed in 1968 and extended indefinitely in 1995, included in 2008 all UN member States apart from India, Pakistan and Israel. The status of North Korea regarding the treaty is ambiguous since it announced its withdrawal in 2003 through irregular procedures. All States parties, with the exception of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, undertake “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices”.
The NPT provides also for nuclear-weapon-free zones, the most extensive of which are South America (Tlatelolco Treaty [for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean]), Africa (Pelindaba Treaty [on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone]) and the Pacific (Rarotonga Treaty [on a South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone]). There are currently ongoing reflections on how to strengthen this treaty, in particular by restricting the possibilities of a withdrawal, and how to fight against the dissemination of fuel cycle technologies without undermining the right of States to [use] nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was created in 1957, is in charge of verifying the respect by States members of their commitments regarding non-proliferation. The Nuclear Suppliers Group, or NSG, brings together the possessors of nuclear technologies, united by the will to fight proliferation and which undertake to respect several directives when they envisage export.
Finally, France is committed to nuclear disarmament. It was the first State, along with the United Kingdom, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT]. It was the first State to decide to shut down and dismantle its facilities for the production of fissile material for explosive purposes. It is the only State to have dismantled, in a transparent manner, its nuclear test site in the Pacific. It dismantled its ground-to-ground nuclear missiles. It voluntarily reduced the number of its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines by a third. In accordance with the principle of strict sufficiency, the number of nuclear weapons, missiles and aircraft in the airborne component will also be reduced by a third, starting in 2008. With this reduction, the French nuclear arsenal will comprise less than 300 warheads, that is, half of the highest number of warheads owned by France during the Cold War.
On 21 March 2008, France also proposed an ambitious plan for pursuing multilateral nuclear disarmament. It encourages respect for three principles: sufficiency, transparency and reciprocity.
Nuclear disarmament: the plan of action proposed by France.
- Ratification of the [CTBT] by all States (China and the United States signed it in 1996, but have not yet ratified it).
- Commitment by the nuclear powers to dismantle all their nuclear test sites in a transparent and open manner before the international community.
- Launch, without delay, of negotiations over a treaty on the prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
- Immediate moratorium on the production of this material.
- Adoption by the five nuclear powers recognized by the [NPT] of transparency measures with regard to their arsenals.
- Opening of negotiations on a treaty prohibiting short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground nuclear missiles.
- Accession of all States and commitment to implement the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
[Carrying out] missions for the fight against proliferation and control over disarmament agreements will be among the objectives of both the armed forces and civil security, taking into account the predictable increase in control activities. Priority will be given to means of safely destroying illegal … nuclear installations, as well as to means of defence and protection.
France will continue to maintain its nuclear forces at a level of strict sufficiency. It will be permanently adjusting [its nuclear forces] to the lowest level possible that is compatible with its security. It will not seek to acquire all of the means made possible by its technological capacity. The level of its forces will not depend on the level of other actors equipped with nuclear weapons, but on its perception of risks and its efficiency analysis of deterrence for the protection of our vital interests.
The level of sufficiency will continue to be the object of both a quantitative assessment, concerning the number of [nuclear weapon] holders, missiles [and] weapons, and a qualitative [assessment] taking into account the defences French forces are likely to face.
Keeping the credibility of our deterrence will largely depend on the scientific and technical means necessary for preserving our nuclear capacity across time. Our ability to ensure in the long term, in an independent manner, the production of reliable and safe weapons must be guaranteed.
In the absence of nuclear tests and installations for the production of fissile material for explosive purposes, the simulation programme is thus a key element of deterrence. It is not aimed at developing new types of nuclear weapons but at preserving their adaptation according to the weapon ageing process, the evolution of defences as well as scientific and technical mutations.
Using the results obtained in the last campaign of tests, this programme aims to ensure nuclear warheads’ guaranteed functioning despite the lack of nuclear tests.
The credibility of the deterrence depends also on the guarantee assured to the President of the Republic that he/she can, at any moment, give orders to nuclear forces.
The technological and industrial priorities deriving from the national security strategic objectives until 2025
Nuclear sector. The capacity to conceive nuclear weapons, to develop and produce them and to ensure their safety continues to be a domain of sovereignty. This priority must lead to the establishment of laboratories, scientific centres and centres for the production of human, technical and industrial resources necessary for the nuclear deterrence strategy.
Nuclear deterrence continues to be a fundamental pillar of French strategy. It is the ultimate guarantee of its security and independence. Its only object is to avoid an aggression originated by a State against the vital interests of the country, regardless of the origin or form of such aggression. Considering the diverse situations that we could face in the context of globalization, the deterrence credibility lies in the possibility for the head of State to dispose, in an independent manner, of a sufficiently large range of options and sufficiently diverse means.
This implies modernizing the two components, ballistic missile and airborne missile. Even if there is currently no threat of a direct aggression against France, the capacity of our country to preserve its freedom of action despite any form of blackmail against our vital interests must be guaranteed. France will have the resources to keep its capacities for as long as nuclear weapons will be necessary for its security. However, France will continue to take the initiative in the field of nuclear disarmament
. It will be particularly active in the fight against the proliferation
of nuclear … weapons, as well as of missiles that could deliver such weapons.
[emphasis in original]
In 2009, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of France stated:
France has always fully supported the [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban] Treaty and has met its commitments in favor of nuclear disarmament through strong action.
- Thus, by dismantling its centre for nuclear tests in the Pacific, completely renouncing to such tests.
- Thus, by proposing the implementation of an immediate moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons pending negotiations that could swiftly lead to a treaty interdicting the production of this material …
… The multilateral logic is at the centre of the efforts for non-proliferation …
To conclude, I would like to make a solemn call to the nine States whose ratification is still necessary for the entry into force of the treaty … Through their ratification, they will send a message of hope strengthening the international regime for non-proliferation and collective security.