French weighed nuclear threat in Bosnia

Paris - French military chiefs considered threatening to use short-range nuclear missiles in the former Yugoslavia when its United Nations peace- keepers faced the possibility of being overrun by Bosnian Serbs, according to a new book.

The defence ministry said that its specialists had yet to read Initiation a la Force de Frappe Francaise (Introduction to the French Strike Force) by Marc Theleri, published this week, and could not comment.

The book's publishers, Stock, said that the author, writing under a pseudonym, was a retired colonel long-assigned to nuclear affairs and known for articles on strategic issues in specialised publications.

Mr Theleri says the idea of threatening to use Hades nuclear missiles in Bosnia began when French peace-keepers were isolated in an undefendable position in the northern Bihac pocket in 1994 amid heavy fighting between Serbs and the rival Muslim forces.

According to Mr Theleri, the French army went as far as to put a "last- warning brigade", equipped with Hades surface-to-surface missiles, on operational alert in France. But the missiles, which carry 80-kilotonne nuclear warheads and have a range of up to 240 miles, were never shipped to the conflict zone.

The navy also prepared the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, stationed in the Adriatic, to receive planes equipped with medium-range "stand-off" nuclear missiles, he wrote. The idea was revived when French troops in Sarajevo, cut off and vulnerable to attack, began to suffer losses from Serb fire in 1995, Mr Theleri said.

He does not say whether French political authorities seriously discussed a nuclear option in Bosnia.

After the Serbs took dozens of international peace-keepers hostage, the French won agreement to send a heavily-armed Franco-British-Dutch rapid-reaction force.

The book also says that the French air force had a Cold-War plan to send a nuclear bomber to hit Moscow on what was euphemistically termed a "non- return" - or kamikaze - mission.

France's nuclear force was created by the late President Charles de Gaulle in the early Sixties and, like other countries' arsenals, its main purpose is to serve as a deterrent.

Unlike United States policy, French doctrine always rejected the tactical use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield.