GENEVA — As leader of the European Union’s only remaining nuclear-armed nation, French President Emmanuel Macron put forward a new doctrine on Friday for France to lead Europe in reducing the global threat of a nuclear arms race.
He said the French nuclear arsenal must be used as a deterrent within a more coordinated European defense policy because the continent cannot remain in “a spectator role” and leave it to China, Russia or the United States to lead — or obstruct — global nonproliferation efforts.
“Europeans must collectively realize today that without a legal framework, they could quickly find themselves at risk of another conventional and even nuclear arms race on their soil,” Macron asserted one week after Britain’s departure from the E.U., which left France as the only nation that has an arsenal of nuclear weapons within the now 27-nation continental bloc.
“They cannot stand by,” the French president said in his lengthy prepared speech to senior military officers graduating from the War School in Paris. “Turning back into a field of confrontation for non-European nuclear powers would not be acceptable. I won’t accept it.”
Macron, seeking to project France’s strength and his own position as a leader uniting the E.U., also announced an increase in military spending — and said his administration would refuse to sign any international treaties that might further reduce the size of France’s nuclear arsenal.
France has fewer than 300 nuclear warheads, Macron confirmed, an amount that is far less than the arsenals of the United States and Russia, which have more than 6,000 each. Nine nations in all — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons.
Their combined stockpile of 15,000 nuclear weapons accumulated since the Cold War includes hundreds ready to launch within minutes that could accidentally release. In 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres led off a major push to cut the stockpiles of arms — everything from “grenades to H-bombs” — that help fuel warmongering around the world.
The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, criticized Macron for proposing a global discussion about nuclear weapons while apparently disregarding an invitation to meet in Paris with Hiroshima survivor and ICAN campaigner Setsuko Thurlow.
“Macron doesn’t know the reality of the detonation of a nuclear weapon,” Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s executive director, said in a statement. “The ones who do know — the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of nuclear testing in Algeria and the Pacific islands — are the true realists; they know the real impact these inhumane, immoral weapons can have.”
In a speech to lay out France‘s plans for its nuclear weapons French President Macron just said Europeans cannot confine themselves to the role of spectators – especially when exposed to a new conventional or nuclear arm race on their own soil. pic.twitter.com/yeU4p6NNLv
— Marina Strauß (@MrnStrauss) February 7, 2020
300 nuclear weapons are more than enough to wipe out entire cities and cause catastrophic consequences for our climate and global food security! @EmmanuelMacron says, “France doesn’t threaten anyone.” But having &modernizing 300 nuclear weapons is an implicit threat to us all. https://t.co/hl6ueW7CSA
— ICAN (@nuclearban) February 7, 2020
Turning away from Washington
Macron’s new doctrine reflects the turmoil among traditional Western alliances. U.S. President Donald Trump has sowed division with traditional American partners at the Group of Seven and NATO summits, escalating tensions over military spending, terrorism, Russia and China.
Last August, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin let the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty lapse, ending a key plank of Cold War-era nuclear arms control and prompting fears of a new global arms race amid rising geopolitical tensions. They refused to even convene any expert-level negotiations that might have persuaded them to resolve their differences.
Now, the United States and Russia might not renew a decade-long, more comprehensive nuclear pact known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, that took effect in 2011. It is due to expire in 2021, and without it and the INF Treaty, the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals would have no legally binding limits for the first time in almost a half-century.
China’s rise as an economic and military world power also commands the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s attention.
“It is both the second largest economy in the world and the second biggest defense spender in the world. China already has hundreds of missiles that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty and recently displayed an advanced intercontinental nuclear missile, able to reach the United States and Europe,” NATO’s deputy secretary-general, Mircea Geoană, told the Hudson Institute in Washington on Friday.
“China is not violating any arms control treaty, because it’s not part of those treaties,” Geoană said. “But as a major military power, it also has major responsibilities. You cannot ask for global status without assuming also responsibilities for world order.”
But the international organizations themselves, such as the G-7 and NATO, that were created in the aftermath of World War II to prevent a third war have come under pressure from the Trump administration’s retreat from multilateralism and from a rise in populist nationalism worldwide.
“At a time when the global challenges our planet is facing should demand renewed cooperation and solidarity, we are witnessing an accelerated disintegration of our international legal order and institutions that structure peaceful relations between states,” Macron said.
And with Trump pushing for European allies to pay for more their own protection under the NATO umbrella, and China increasingly challenging the United States’ economic and military power, Macron said it was now time for Europeans, led by nuclear-armed France, to take up the reins of responsibility in seeking tougher and globally effective nuclear arms controls.
“Global competition between the United States and China is an established strategic fact nowadays, which structures, and from now on will structure, all international relations,” Macron said.
“Strategic stability in Europe requires more than the comfort provided by a transatlantic convergence with the United States. Our security thus depends on our ability to involve ourselves more autonomously in our Eastern and Southern neighborhood,” he said. “With the proliferation of missiles using more advanced technologies, we are also facing an unprecedented situation in which regional powers are or will be capable of striking European territory directly.”
Aside from rallying support for disarmament among its European partners, he said, France plans to stir global efforts against a nuclear arms race by using its status as a nuclear power under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and as one of five permanent, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members, along with Britain, China, Russia and the United States.
“France has a unique track record in the world, in keeping with its responsibilities and interests, having dismantled irreversibly its land-based nuclear component, its nuclear test facilities, its fissile material for weapons production facilities, and having reduced the size of its arsenal, which is currently under 300 nuclear weapons,” said Macron.
“These decisions are in line with our rejecting any type of arms race and our keeping the format for our nuclear deterrent at a level of strict sufficiency,” he said. “This exemplary track record gives France the legitimacy to call for other nuclear powers to make tangible gestures towards comprehensive, progressive, credible and verifiable disarmament.”