Is there debate on keeping the French nuclear deterrent, like there is in the UK?



In the UK, there has been a lot of debate recently about whether to renew Trident, their nuclear deterrent. Most arguments are based on cost, usefulness in the modern world, and nuclear disarmament ideology.

I'm wondering whether a similar discussion or controversy exists in France about their nuclear capability (I get the impression that there is not). And if not, what are the reasons for this difference in attitude? Also, how does the cost of both programmes compare?


Posted 2016-07-21T09:51:42.223

Reputation: 273

1According to Wikipedia, the costs of the most recent class of strategic nuclear sub in each country are eerily similar: EUR 17 B vs. GBP 15 B. The UK probably spends less on other components: it has no airborne platform and US missiles (France developped its own, which considering the small size of the French nuclear arsenal necessarily means a much higher per-unit cost). – Relaxed – 2016-07-21T14:18:21.607



No, there is currently not much of a debate on this. I am not aware of any poll on the topic either, and I am unable to say what would be the answer if french people were asked about giving up nuclear weapons altogether. The cost argument and the fact that not much is needed for dissuasion would probably make people ok with reducing the stock, though (this is a guess, not a poll).

The reference to history in the other answer is irrelevant, since the suez crisis does not influence current public opinion whatsoever.

The first historical character we should look at is the général de gaulle. Although he left because of interior politics, his foreign policy is still very popular. In short, it consisted in getting the bomb so that France could be independant from both the us and the soviet union. To some, it also ensured that no one could interfere when we (french people older than me) chose to have a socialist president (François Mitterrand) in the 80s.

The second relevant character to look at is Jacques Chirac. Same pattern, he has been blocked time and time again by a socialist prime minister for interior policy reasons. However, he (and Dominique de Villepin) is also remembered for refusing to invade Irak in 2003. Other countries in that case are germany and russia. This decision was very popular and got even more so with time. It was possible (according to the public opinion) because France was not fully dependant on nato for its defense, which meant in part having the bomb. Every nato country besides France and germany did go in Irak.

Recall that the same Chirac was criticised a lot when he made a nuclear test.

Another factor which is hard to measure but could be taken into account is that the argument "we should reduce public spending " is less powerful in the french psyche than in the anglo saxon one.


Posted 2016-07-21T09:51:42.223

Reputation: 3 171

Maybe you should answer the question: "No", in big and bold, and then add the precisions you already wrote. Otherwise, you make some good points. – SdaliM – 2016-12-10T12:45:04.437


There is quite a consensus about the question : France want to stay an independant nuclear power. Some politician have suggested to abandon this, but it's far from a popular opinion.

Nuclear capability is a fundamental component of the french military strategy and foreign policy.

Think about it : without independant nuclear capabilities, does France would still have have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council? It's an important tool to stay relevant (and independant) in the diplomatic game.

It's also rooted in history : If France had nuclear capabilities at the time, they probably wouldn't had to withdraw during the Suez Crisis (that probably strengthened the political will to become an independant nuclear power).


Posted 2016-07-21T09:51:42.223

Reputation: 121

3"Would France still have a permanent seat in the UNSC?"... Well, yes, it's permanent! – A. Darwin – 2016-07-24T19:49:27.617

The UK was an independent nuclear power at the time of Suez, and they still withdrew, right? – user1018464 – 2016-07-26T08:56:09.427

@user1018464 : the political situation was quite different in France and in the UK. The fact remain that at the time, France was dependant on the USA for their nuclear protection, and the USA was apparently not ready to support France in this case. – Tryss – 2016-07-27T08:42:53.177

@A.Darwin : because things never change? The big 5 keep their seats, because they are powerfull. If the power balance of the world change, the UNSC will change (or become irrelevant). Of course it won't happen overnight, – Tryss – 2016-07-27T09:02:17.047

1I wouldn't be so sure. Permanent seats in the UNSC are specifically defined by the UN Charter, which can only be modified ( art.108 of the Charter itself) if 2/3 of the UN member States and all the permanent members of the Security Council agree. Basically, unless the next French President decides otherwise (for whatever reason), France will always be a permanent member of the UNSC. – A. Darwin – 2016-07-27T14:14:14.767

1@A.Darwin : But if UNSC (and the UN in general) don't reflect the state of the world, it will become disfunctionnal and irrelevant. If in 50 years, Brazil and India (as an exemple) are far more powerfull and influencial than France or the UK, do you really believe they will accept that France and UK have a permanent seat and veto power, while they have none of that? There is already important criticism of how it works, but imagine if the country with veto were not the most powerfull : the UNSC would be considered as a joke – Tryss – 2016-07-27T16:27:19.883

2According to the current Charter, it is easier to add new permanent seats than to replace one country with another. As an example, France and the other current permanent members could accept that Brazil can have veto power without renouncing to that power themselves, so that Brazil could get a permanent seat. On the other hand, it is impossible (according to the Charter) for Brazil to remove France from the permanent members of the UNSC, even if 150+ countries agree, unless France accepts it. – A. Darwin – 2016-07-27T18:37:28.783