27 April 2000

Press Briefing



France was determined to continue its activities in support of disarmament and non-proliferation in keeping with its political commitments, Hubert de la Fortelle, head of the delegation of France to the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT), told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today. During the Conference, Mr. de la Fortelle launched the brochure "Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: French Policy", marking the first time the French Government had attempted to explain in clear terms its policy on arms control.

"What you have in these hundred pages or so is a rather comprehensive review of the French security policy", Mr. de la Fortelle continued. The brochure opens with a detailed examination of France's military budget, which had decreased from 2.9 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) to 2.1 per cent over the last 10 years. Relatively, the proportion of France's nuclear defence budget had decreased by nearly 60 per cent. "The decrease is considerable in all categories", he said. That was important because France and other European countries faced the challenge of attempting to build defence and security policy at the same time. It was important to note that the United States had not cut its defence budget as deeply as European countries.

Between 97 and 98 per cent of the world's nuclear weaponry was concentrated in the United States and Russia, he said. The remaining 2 or 3 per cent was shared between France, the United Kingdom and China. "This means that the crux of nuclear disarmament is mostly in the hands of the United States and Russia." In that regard, France warmly welcomed the recent Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II) negotiations. But it was not yet time for the remaining nuclear States to join multilateral negotiations; they would have to decide for themselves when the time was right.

In its attempt to reduce its nuclear arsenal, France had now reached the point of minimum deterrence, or what the brochure calls "strict sufficiency". With that policy, France had sought to maintain its nuclear arsenal at the lowest level required to ensure its own security. "As for further reduction, all will depend on the world climate and the nature of potential threats in the future", Mr. de la Fortelle said. Sadly, the world of the new millennium appeared to be full of uncertainties and even dangers. "I leave it to you to answer this difficult question: after 10 years, is d,tente in good health?"

He next drew correspondents' attention to the European Union's common position on security and defence. Fifteen countries, two of which were nuclear- weapon States, had agreed upon what could be called a "milestone" in the field of international security. That agreement would hopefully play an important part in the successful conclusion of the current NPT Review Conference. One of the most important aspects of the common position was its acknowledgement of the creation of nearly 110 international "nuclear-free zones". Other important points included the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty. It was also hoped that this common position would help other countries with issues dividing them to find their own commonalties.

A correspondent pointed out that the brochure contained a chart of France's reduction in the number of nuclear delivery vehicles. How did the figures therein translate into the number of actual warheads still in that country? At what state of alertness were those weapons? Answering that question in the way that he said some of his American colleagues would answer, Mr. de la Fortelle said: "The number of our delivery vehicles is public, but the number of our warheads is highly classified." As to the degree of alertness of France's nuclear system, he said that it was not on what was commonly called "hair-trigger alert", but he would not elaborate further. "We want to keep the exact details confidential."

Another correspondent wondered whether the American or Russian Governments had adopted a policy of nuclear "strict sufficiency". "As far as I know, neither Government is using that policy, although I could be wrong", Mr.de la Fortelle said, "but I won't speak for them". France, for its part, had never participated in an arms race; its nuclear arsenal was never intended for a "phased battle", so there had never been the concept of escalation. Therefore, the policy of strict sufficiency was seen as an "evolving concept" which could be re-evaluated as time went on.

If it was true that France excluded completely the concept of nuclear battle, what was the difference between that position and ruling out any use of nuclear weapons, another correspondent asked?. If any use were ruled out, what deterrent would France have? "When I say we don't want a battle, I mean we don't seek a nuclear exchange", Mr. de la Fortelle said. France's position on deterrence was completely different: it was mainly for preventing nuclear attacks. "If, as a last resort we were to use our nuclear weapons as deterrence, it would be one shot and that would bring us close to the end of the world."

As for the NPT Review Conference, Mr. de la Fortelle hoped it would yield a realistic and pragmatic look at the past and the future. While this might be difficult to achieve, it was not impossible. "It will depend on the good will and political will of all the participants."

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