Sarkozy's nuclear affairs

IssueMarch 2011
Comment by Dominique Lalanne

The UK nuclear future

The current UK nuclear force involves maintaining only one submarine at sea at any time, equipped with half its maximum quota of missiles. This situation worries France because it allows for the real possibility of a disarmament process in the UK.

This is not only a matter of warheads but also a matter of doctrine. The policy of nuclear deterrence dictates that the “security” of the country is to be preserved thanks to the ability to make an instant nuclear strike. The challenge is to change this doctrine for a new international policy. The UK has not made any major change of doctrine yet, but its minor changes are real. This is the real reason for the Anglo-French treaty signed in London in November 2010. France wants to perpetuate nuclear deterrence; if the UK were to change its policy, it would invalidate the idea that nuclear deterrence is necessary.

Therefore, France thinks it better to help the UK in a modernisation programme. This is the reason for building a new X-ray accelerator in Valduc and for welcoming UK teams to work on new nuclear warheads. In the future, this treaty opens the possibility of wider co-operation, involving the US, for fusion research at its National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory in California, and the Mégajoule nuclear fusion project, with which the UK would also be associated.

Possible steps forward

There is a proposal for a global Convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons (NWC). This has the strong support of UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon. At the UN general assembly in October 2010, almost three quarters of the states voted in favour of such a convention. The last NPT review conference, in May 2010, mentioned the convention as an interesting proposal, and nuclear states are obliged to make a statement in 2015 on the steps they will have taken towards nuclear disarmament. For France this is too much, so president Sarkozy wants a meeting of the five permanent members (P5) of the UN security council this September in Paris to make sure that no recognised nuclear weapons state will propose any genuine nuclear disarmament step.

Certainly the first step would be to accept the idea of a NWC and immediately start on an initial related action – de-alerting. This change of policy would be a real disarmament step. Without it a disarmament process is impossible.

The new Abolition 2000 campaign proposes coupling a demand for a NWC to de-alerting as a possible first step, in order to show that elimination is possible.

Armes nucléaires STOP wants to make this campaign effective in France and has proposed it to the French International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons organisations for the French presidential elections in 2012. The minimum goal is to promote the complete removal of missiles from submarines, making the alert time for a nuclear strike weeks rather than days or minutes.


A campaign combining a focus on a Nuclear Weapons Convention with de-alerting could also be developed in the UK. Although it is probably difficult to plan it jointly with the one in France, it could easily be done in parallel. When the P5 summit meets in Paris this September, a common counter-summit could be organized. Armes nucléaires STOP makes this their proposal for organising in Paris. This could be carried out in collaboration with appropriate British NGOs. It is time to awaken a debate on a NWC in both countries. This is the best way to a possible disarmament process.