May 22, 2024

Nuclear Powers France and England: Own Interests

Europe's two nuclear powers have long been modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Nuclear power should be national.

British Vanguard-class nuclear submarine, with nuclear weapons on board Photo: British Ministry of Defense/dpa

Berlin taz | Besides the United States, NATO has two nuclear powers: France with 290 nuclear weapons and Great Britain with an estimated 225. Figures determined by SIPRI, an Ordnance Research Institute That's a smaller number than the US's 5,224 and Russia's 5,889. However, they are certainly significant for Europe in the context of growing threats from Russia and doubts about future US loyalty to the alliance.

Britain's “Nuclear Deterrence” Completely sea-based, nuclear submarines have nuclear missiles, sometimes in Scotland and sometimes at sea. France's “Force de Frappe” 80 percent are sea-based, otherwise operating in long-range bombers. France scrapped its land-based short-range missiles aimed at Germany in the 1990s.

Like all nuclear powers, Britain and France's nuclear doctrine is nationally defined. The decision to use nuclear weapons rests, as usual, with the Prime Minister in London and the President in Paris. Great Britain developed its nuclear arsenal alongside the United States and defined its nuclear capabilities from the outset as part of the common NATO deterrent. Instead, France has always defined and developed its nuclear program independently. Even when it returned to NATO's military structures after a long hiatus in 2009, it explicitly excluded nuclear weapons from joint command structures. To date, it is not even a member of NATO's Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).

No “Europeanization” of French nuclear weapons

In an emergency, NATO has British nuclear weapons, but not French nuclear weapons. Trump's threats to his allies have so far been seen as state doctrine in France, and could raise similar concerns if right-wing populist Marine Le Pen becomes president in 2027.

Nevertheless, post-Brexit, France remains the EU's only nuclear power. And this means that the eyes of EU politicians who want “European sovereignty” are automatically turned towards Paris. Shortly after Britain's departure from the European Union, in February 2020, President Emmanuel Macron Keynote address to soldiers in Paris The extension of French interests worthy of protection into Europe is effected. “Our nuclear power strengthens Europe's security through its presence,” he said, calling on willing European partners for “a strategic dialogue on the role of the French nuclear deterrent in our collective security”.

However, this did not open the door to the “Europeanization” of France's nuclear arsenal, but was interpreted at the time as a veiled request that EU partners could share in the costs. After decades of disarmament, both France and Great Britain are now in the very expensive process of modernizing and increasing their nuclear arsenals. Both governments have long struggled with high budget deficits, which can only be tackled at the expense of other government spending.

France allocates one-eighth of its annual military budget to its nuclear weapons, investing 37 billion euros over the period 2020-25. Great Britain has planned a budget equivalent to 70 billion euros for the period 2022-32 and wants to increase the number of its nuclear weapons again from 225 to 260.

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