Chirac threatens nuclear attack on states sponsoring terrorism

President Jacques Chirac has dropped a political bombshell by threatening to retaliate with nuclear strikes against any state found to be responsible for a large-scale terrorist attack on France.

In the biggest shift in French nuclear doctrine for 40 years, M. Chirac revealed that the force de frappe - the French nuclear deterrent - had already been reconfigured to allow it to destroy the "power centres" of any state which sponsored a terrorist assault.

He also raised once again an idea that he first floated in 1995 that the British and French nuclear deterrents should be rededicated to the defence of the entire European Union. In future, he said, France should regard its allies and its sources of strategic supplies - in other words oil - as covered by its nuclear umbrella.

The President insisted that fundamental French nuclear policy would remain unchanged. There would be no battlefield use of nuclear weapons and no "first strike". Nonetheless, his speech yesterday at France's main nuclear submarine base, at Ile Longue, near Brest, in Brittany, took French defence policy into uncharted waters.

He appeared to imply that any large-scale, state-sponsored terrorist attack on France - whether or not it used weapons of mass destruction - would invite a closely targeted nuclear response from France.

"The leaders of states who use terrorist methods against us, as well as those who consider using in one way or another weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would expose themselves to a firm and appropriate response on our part," President Chirac said.

"This response could be a conventional one. It might also be of a different kind."

"Against a regional power, we should not have to choose between inaction and obliteration... the flexibility and reactivity of our strategic forces should allow us to respond directly against his power centres, against his capacity to act.

"All our nuclear forces have been reconfigured accordingly. To this end, the number of warheads has been reduced on some missiles on our submarines."

France's nuclear submarines were previously said to have 16 missiles, with six warheads each. Reducing the number of warheads implies the use of smaller nuclear charges, more easily aimed at specific targets.

President Chirac's motives appear to be a mixture of the personal, the electoral and the strategic. Opinion polls suggest that France no longer regards him as a significant player in world or domestic events, and his speech yesterday appears to be an attempt to thrust himself back into the limelight as an experienced world statesman with a finger on the nuclear button.

He may also calculate that the nuclear issue will play badly for his hated former protégé, the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who remains favourite to replace him in the presidential elections next spring.

M. Sarkozy is among a number of figures in France who have begun to question the cost of the French nuclear deterrent, which is estimated at €3bn (£2bn) a year, or 10 per cent of the defence budget, at a time when French public spending faces drastic cuts to meet EU targets.

Beyond all that, however, M. Chirac was attempting to devise a new justification for a nuclear force which he regards as one of the components of France's global influence and one of the proudest achievements of the De Gaulle era.

He was also responding to those - at home and abroad - who suggest that France has no right to lecture would-be nuclear powers such as Iran while it retains its own weapons of mass destruction.

Some commentators suggested that M. Chirac's switch of nuclear policy could take France into dangerous territory. By talking of closely targeted attacks on regional "power centres", the President was making it sound as if the country's "never-to-be-used" nuclear arsenal might be used after all.

The Communist deputy Jacques Brunhes said M. Chirac's position was extremely dangerous: "It can only encourage states which have signed the non-proliferation treaty to opt for military uses of nuclear technology."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there