French and British Nuclear Forces in an Era of Uncertainty

  • Yves Boyer
Part of the Issues in International Security book series (IIS)


Britain and France have always been considered as special players in the nuclear deterrence game. Their respective arsenals have never exceeded a very small fraction of the USSR’s and the United States’ strategic forces; Britain’s and France’s rationales for having nuclear weapons have been based on criteria tailored specifically for medium nuclear powers. Moreover, in sharp contrast with both superpowers, the development costs of the French and British nuclear forces have been very high, penalizing conventional forces in the case of France and leading to a growing dependence on the United States in the case of the United Kingdom (UK). Finally, although Paris and London have been able to draw advantages from the possession of nuclear forces, they have never been in a position to offer an explicit nuclear guarantee to their European allies, thus leaving the United States as the sole provider of extended deterrence within the framework of the integrated military structure of the Atlantic alliance.


Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Force North Atlantic Treaty Organization Ballistic Missile Nuclear Deterrence 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    These figures are calculated on the basis that four UK Polaris ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) possessed three multiple reentry vehicles and that their substitutes will have eight multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) per missile. The comparisons for France are based on the French arsenal as it was in July 1985 (five Le Redoutable SSBNs, each with sixteen M-20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles equipped with 1-megaton warheads; L’Inflexible SSBN with sixteen M-4 missiles, each with six MIRVs; eighteen S-3D intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs); and eighteen Mirage IVPs) and what it will be in 1995 (six SSBNs with M-4 missiles, eighteen S-3D IRBMs, and eighteen Mirage IVPs).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jean-Pierre Chevènement, LeMonde, July 13, 1990.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    House of Commons, Examination of Witnesses: J. Sharp and M. Kaldor, May 9, 1990.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Radomir Bogdanov and Andrei Kortunov, “Une dissuasion minimale: utopie ou perspective role?” Les Nouvelles de Moscou, June 4, 1990.Google Scholar
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    Pascal Boniface, “Quels composantes stratégiques pour la France?” Relations Internationales et Stratégiques, no. 3, 1991.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The S-3Ds were significantly improved between 1980 and 1983. They replaced S-2 IRBMs. The S-3D is equipped with the TN-61 warhead of 1 megaton and penetration aids.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The S-45 would be a light ballistic missile weighing 9 tons; it would be fitted with a 300-kiloton warhead, and if required it would have the capacity to carry several warheads.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    House of Commons, session 1989–1990, Defence Committee, tenth report, “Defence Implications of Recent Events,” London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Pascal Boniface, “Quels composantes?”Google Scholar
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    Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1990.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Lawrence Freedman, “British Nuclear Capabilities,” CREST internal study, June 1990.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    House of Commons, session 1989–1990, Committee of Public Accounts, ninth report, Ministry of Defence, “The Annual Statement on Major Defence Projects,” London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.Google Scholar
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    Alan Clark, “Origins and Validity in Twentieth-Century Military Alliances,” King’s College, London, December 10, 1990, The Independent, December 11, 1990.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Under the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces Ariennes Strategiques (FAS), both the strategic components of the Arm de l’Air, the three squadrons of the prestrategic Mirage 2000N (i.e., forty-five operational planes—seventy-five planes have been ordered) of the 4th air wing, and the nuclear ammunition depots, will be regrouped.Google Scholar
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    “La Force Arienne Tactique en 1989,” declaration of Général d’arme Arienne Pessidous, Air et Cosmos, April 29, 1989.Google Scholar
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    Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1989.Google Scholar
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    “Joint Declaration of 22 States,” CSCE summit, Paris, November 19, 1990.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    “Remember the Bomb?” New York Times, September 26, 1990.Google Scholar
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    France tested six nuclear devices in 1991. According to parliamentary reports, warheads for the M-5 and the ASLP missiles have to be tested. In 1991 it became apparent that France would limit nuclear tests to three or four per year. A consequence of this limit is that ways other than actual testing will be needed to validate warhead concepts. Cooperation on developing such ways may be sought with the United States (M. François Hollande, Assemblée Nationale no. 2255, October 1991, Rapport fait au nom de la commission des finances, de l’économie générale et du plan, annexe 39, Défense). Google Scholar
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    Le facteur nucléaire et la coopération franco-allemande, Jean Klein, IFRI; J. Klein is quoting Karl Kaiser’s texts, particularly “Von der nuklearen Abschreckung zur abgestuften Konfliktkontrolle,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 2, 1990.Google Scholar
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    Le Figaro, February 2, 1990.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yves Boyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre d’Etude des Relations entre Technologies et StratégiesParisFrance

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