Truly remarkable. Reuter's, Thursday, January 19, 2006, France Defends Right to Nuclear Reply to Terrorism, here. Shocked responses in Europe, here. The Financial Times has a good front page story on Friday, January 20, 2006.
(Update, January 29, 2006. The major US newspapers seemed to have passed over this speech in embarrassed not-quite silence. But here is a comment by the lawyer and thriller-writer, Allan Topol, in the Washington Times, January 26, 2006, here.)
France defends right to nuclear reply to terrorism
By Elizabeth PineauThu Jan 19, 9:11 AM ET
France said on Thursday it would be ready to use nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack against it, reaffirming the need for its nuclear deterrent.
Deflecting criticism of France's costly nuclear arms program, President Jacques Chirac said security came at a price and France must be able to hit back hard at a hostile state's centers of power and its "capacity to act."
He said there was no change in France's overall policy, which rules out the use of nuclear weapons in a military conflict. But his speech pointed to a change of emphasis to underline the growing threat France perceives from terrorism.
"The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using in one way or another weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part," Chirac said during a visit to a nuclear submarine base in northwestern France.
"This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind."
Chirac, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said all of France's nuclear forces had been configured with the new strategy in mind and the number of nuclear warheads on French nuclear submarines had been reduced to allow targeted strikes.
It was the first time he had so clearly linked the threat of a nuclear response to a terrorist attack.
Chirac, 73, did not say whether France would be prepared to use pre-emptive strikes against a country it saw as a threat.
France has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s and experts believe it has some 300 nuclear warheads.
"Against a regional power, our choice would not be between inaction or annihilation," Chirac said in his first major speech on France's nuclear arms strategy since 2001.
"The flexibility and reactivity of our strategic forces would enable us to exercise our response directly against its centers of power and its capacity to act."
France has tightened security since Islamist suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in attacks on London transport last July, and following the Madrid bomb blasts which killed more than 190 people in March 2004.
Despite its strong opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, France remains a target for Islamist militants because of its intelligence links with the United States and Britain.
Last July, national police service chief Michel Gaudin said a radical Algerian Islamist group, the GSPC, had been in contact with al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, about launching attacks in France.
Since the end of the Cold War, questions have been raised about the usefulness of the nuclear program, which makes up some 10 percent of the overall defense budget.
Chirac's government is under pressure to cut spending as it struggles to bring its public deficit below the European Union's deficit limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product.
"Our country's security and its independence have their price," Chirac said.