Security experts are excited: President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in France on Friday on the nuclear weapons doctrine of France. Does Macron want to share the “Force de Frappe” with EU neighbors?
Emmanuel Macron had been in office for less than two months when the French President had himself tied to a rope and abseiled from a helicopter. Macron landed in James Bond fashion on “Le Terrible”, the “Terrible”, a 138-meter submarine of the French Navy. The President looked through the periscope, explained the black colossus, the atomic drive, and the 16 rockets, the nuclear warheads of which can kill and ruin millions of people from a distance of 8000 kilometers. The destructive power of the submarine’s missiles: 700 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb.
This nuclear “force de frappe” has been the cornerstone of French defense policy since Charles de Gaulle. In addition to “Le Terrible”, three other nuclear submarines, 40 on land and ten Rafale jets stationed on an aircraft carrier with nuclear missiles are said to deter potential enemies of France. “Deterrence is part of our history, our defense strategy – and it will remain so,” said Macron when he promised to completely revamp the French nuclear arsenal in January 2018. He plans to spend € 37 billion on this by 2025.
Macron could expand the nuclear doctrine
If Macron speaks at the “École de Guerre” in Paris this Friday, he could repeat his oath of allegiance to the nuclear arsenal again. But he could also go further and fundamentally change the French nuclear doctrine in his speech to the young officers. So far, France has only kept a “strict minimum” of nuclear weapons, which should just be enough to guarantee the country’s security. The “vital interests” of France are at the center.
But Macron has repeatedly shown greater ambitions since 2017. Does the French President want to put European neighbors under his nuclear shield? Now that France is the only nuclear power in the EU after Brexit? At a time when US military confidence in Europe’s protection is fading? “It is my job to define vital interests in nuclear weapons issues,” Macron said earlier this week during a visit to Warsaw. He will do that in his speech on Friday. “In my view, the interests of our European partners must always be taken into account.” He would also speak about “procedures and modalities” that he would propose to the French partners.
Money for nuclear participation
Individual voices have recently been heard in Germany that give a precise idea of what these procedures and modalities could look like. “Germany should be ready to participate in this nuclear deterrent with its capabilities, that is, material and logistical means,” says Johann Wadephul of the CDU, Vice-Group Leader of the Union in the Bundestag. “Just as in the context of nuclear participation in US nuclear weapons within NATO, it is in Germany’s interest to know what the French are doing with their nuclear weapons and to influence French nuclear strategy.”
But would a French president ever want to give up his sole authority over a nuclear strike? His constitutional rights as commander-in-chief of the French armed forces? Corentin Brustlein, director of the Center for Security Studies at the Institute for International Relations in Paris, can hardly imagine that. “We are a long way from that. And if Macron goes too far in his speech, pulls the cart in front of the horse and his ambition is too great, that would backfire,” he told DW. “To enable European neighbors to participate in nuclear power, to protect everyone with French nuclear weapons – that would not be credible.”
Nuclear power? No thanks!
Brustlein sees two problems: firstly, the French nuclear arsenal is simply not large enough to provide credible deterrence for the whole of Europe. Secondly: “Whatever Macron is up to, he has to make sure that his proposals do not politically weaken the European partners in their home countries.” After all, belief in the power of nuclear deterrence is not as pronounced in Germany as it is in France. The majority of Germans strictly reject nuclear weapons. And even within the grand coalition, Wadepuhl’s call for more nuclear participation should be considered a minority opinion.
“Nuclear weapons and their proliferation remain one of the greatest security risks,” said the SPD parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag, Rolf Mützenich. The goal of the SPD remains to eliminate it. The Left Party even spoke of “dangerous megalomania” and warned against attempts to make Germany a nuclear power.
Will the EU bomb come sometime?
And what about nuclear power in Europe – a common EU army that also stores nuclear weapons in their silos? In the past, the French president has also participated in mind games about EU armed forces. And since his interview on NATO’s “brain death” in autumn, he has repeatedly spoken of the need to strengthen the European “pillar” in the defense alliance, as the United States is no reliable partner. “It would be a revolutionary change in Europe if the states transferred sovereignty over the use of force to a new entity,” said security expert Brustlein. “That would be a European state. This scenario is only conceivable in the long term.”
Even today, Brustlein believes, France’s partners could rely on one thing: “France’s nuclear deterrence also has a European dimension.” France’s heads of state have made this clear over and over again in the past 40 years and Macron will probably repeat it: “France’s vital interests do not end at the French borders.”