President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would cut France's nuclear arsenal to fewer than 300 warheads, seeking to balance defense of the nation - he mentioned the threat from Iran - against budgetary and changed strategic considerations.
In his first major speech as president on the French deterrent, Sarkozy also urged the United States and China to fully commit to a treaty banning tests of nuclear weapons. ...
Sarkozy's decision to reveal the rough size of France's arsenal - the Defense Ministry said the exact number of warheads is still secret - appeared aimed at prodding other nuclear powers to be equally transparent.
While the drop in the number of warheads isn't dramatic (according to the article, The Federation of American Scientists puts the current number of French nuclear warheads at 348, with the US holding 3,575 and Russia 3,239), it is still a reduction. Further, President Sarkozy wants more than just a token reduction from the other powers, and that is as significant a challenge as his call for transparency:
Sarkozy used his announcement of French weapons cuts to drive home calls for other nations to also dismantle nuclear test sites and for negotiations on treaties to ban short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground missiles and to ban the manufacturing of fissile material for nuclear weapons. He also pressured to China and the United States to ratify a nuclear test ban treaty they signed in 1996. France ratified it a decade ago.
[French defense expert Francois] Heisbourg said ratification by China and the United States would "put pressure on countries that have been building things that look like test sites, like the North Koreans or, indeed, the Iranians." ...
He also said a global treaty banning intermediate-range missiles could put severe pressure on India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea - which all have either tested nuclear weapons or are thought to have programs to develop them - to join the ban or "pay a political price."
Will the US meet the challenge? Well, certainly not this administration. Last March it awarded a contract for the development of new-and-improved nuclear warheads (see my post here for the details). And President Bush has made it clear that he has no intention of abiding by treaties already ratified by the US, much less of ratifying the 1996 treaty.
Still, President Sarkozy (who made it clear he also is worried about a nuclear Iran) has at least opened the door a bit, for which the rest of the world should be grateful. Hopefully the next US administration will walk through that door.
Labels: Nuclear Weapons