Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 5, Part 4

Chapter 5: Unseen targets in the U.K. and France
Part 4: A tenable rationale

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Awaiting disarmament by U.S. and Russia

Looking ahead to the 2010 review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds sole authority over the country’s nuclear policy, has proposed active nuclear disarmament while at the same time affirming the country’s policy of nuclear deterrence. Meanwhile, little debate about the nation’s nuclear capability is heard among the French.

When I visited the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), a think tank with offices in a residential area of Paris, I was met by Bruno Tertrais, 46. Mr. Tetrais was involved in formulating nuclear policy while working at the Ministry of Defense and was a member of the Presidential Commission on the White Paper on Defense and National Security that prepared a white paper that was released last year.

“I’m in favor of disarmament,” he said, “but if we eliminate all our nuclear weapons the strategic balance will break down, and the world will be unstable. I don’t believe the world would be safer if France were to just eliminate its nuclear weapons.”

When asked about pursuing a security strategy that is not reliant on nuclear weapons, Mr. Tertrais said, “In a world without nuclear weapons, only the U.S., which represents 50 percent of the world’s military spending, would remain as a global power. But if the U.S. and Russia, which have about 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, could cut them down to the level of the U.K. and France, it would have a political impact.”

Not only France is waiting for the U.S. to initiate major cuts to its arsenal.

In the center of London between the Houses of Parliament and the Thames River lies King’s College London. Lawrence Freedman, 60, vice principal and an expert in nuclear strategy, said, “The U.K. has already cut its nuclear weapons enough. The U.S. and Russia must move forward with nuclear disarmament.”

Until a climate conducive to multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations can be created, minimal nuclear deterrence will be maintained for the next few decades. That is the rationale of the British government, which plans to update Trident, its nuclear capability consisting of nuclear missiles deployed on nuclear submarines.

Is there no philosophy under which the role of nuclear weapons is limited? What about the declaration of no first use, which is being debated by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), an organization chaired jointly by former foreign ministers of Japan and Australia?

In Paris, Mr. Tertrais shook his head. “That would shake the foundation of nuclear deterrence, which is intended to instill fear,” he said.

The U.K. and France are believed to possess 460 nuclear warheads between them. Just exactly who are they frightening with that deterrence? From that standpoint, there are those who support the debate on no first use.

“It is definitely worth debating. The days when Western Europe faced off against the nations of the Warsaw Pact and their strong conventional forces are gone,” said David Hannay, 73, former British ambassador to the United Nations.


Declaration of No First Use Policy
Under a declaration of no first use policy, countries that possess nuclear weapons declare that they will not use them in a preemptive attack, and their use is limited to counterattacks. Supporters say that reducing the political role of nuclear weapons and the degree to which they are relied on militarily will lead to nuclear abolition and non-proliferation. Meanwhile, others argue that the security provided by the “nuclear umbrella” will be weakened.

(Originally published on June 25, 2009)

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