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Clarification of the French Position on Nukes

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on June 7, 2009

President Obama and French President Sarkozy June 6 in France

In a former post I mentioned that France at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) meeting in NYC this past May was “an interesting player” and had not supported the final document of the meeting.  I was not implying that France is pushing back a nuclear weapon free world movement.  A May 16 article in the Washington Post, which quotes Rebecca Johnson, is wrong about the French.  The article reads:

In this month's talks, the strongest resistance came from France. It said it would not yield to any legally binding commitments to undertake further reductions in its nuclear arsenal or to allow international inspections of its nuclear stockpile. "The French are feeling anxious because Obama and [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown have both said they want to see a world free of nuclear weapons," she [Rebecca Johnson] said. "France wants to keep nuclear weapons."

I do not blame the Post for getting this wrong or Rebecca, who has decades of NPT insider experience.  It is hard to understand France's position on zero.  Even Le Monde reported Sunday June 7 that France has apprehensions about the nuclear weapon free world movement. Le Monde reporter Natalie Nougayrède said she spoke to French officials about President Obama’s trip to France this weekend. She reported that "the French also have reservations about the ambition proclaimed by Obama of a nuclear weapon free world- just this slogan is not enough to force countries like Iran and North Korea to renounce their contested activities."

The French are not resisters of the arms control movement. France is not against the idea of a nuclear weapon free world, but believes that we must make the world more secure in order to achieve zero. In the meantime, France will keep its deterrent and take steps to reduce the threat of nuclear weapon use.

U.S. President Obama is saying virtually the same thing.  In Prague April 5, he said:

I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This goal will not be reached quickly --perhaps not in my lifetime...the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons…Make no mistake: as long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary…

France plans to support most of the same steps towards zero that President Obama plans to support.  France is the most transparent nuclear weapon state in terms of publically stating the number of nuclear weapons it has (by Mitterrand and Sarkozy).  France is also irreversibly dismantling its fissile material production sights, which costs far more than closing them down. 

This is not a time to point figures at which state is taking the most concrete steps towards zero.  It’s time to work together with states inside and outside the NPT on taking them.


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