ANOTHER VIEW; France's last few tests

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The Independent Online
This week President Jacques Chirac announced his decision to resume the nuclear tests.

Why such a decision?

Because France, a nuclear power, recognised as such by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, is duty bound to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear deterrent on which her independence and defence depend.

Admittedly, France would have preferred not to have been faced with this difficult decision, which the President took only after obtaining the unanimous opinion of all the relevant civil and military experts.

But the suspension of the nuclear tests in 1992 was a little too early, in that it did not allow France to obtain all the data needed for the move to laboratory simulation already made by other nuclear powers. We are clearly embarking on this path and the tests to be conducted will enable France to give up all nuclear testing for good.

When he announced his decision, the President of the Republic set a very strict framework for the tests: there will be eight during a restricted period of a few months - from September 1995 to May 1996 - and these will be the last ones.

The tests will be underground and will take place, like the preceding ones, in the South Pacific. We want, on this point, fully to reassure the states in that region. The tests will be carried out under conditions of absolute security and will have no harmful effects on health or the environment.

All the relevant French and foreign scientific experts will, moreover, be invited, as in the past, to verify on site the absence of any undesirable consequences.

There should be no misunderstanding as to the significance of this resumption of the tests: subject to very strict limits, it heralds no desire to improve the performance of our current nuclear deterrent. There is therefore absolutely no cause for alarm at this decision.

Moreover, it is groundless to claim that this final series of tests might encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The most heavily armed nuclear powers can do so without further tests. We cannot for the moment, but shall be in a position to do so at the end of this series.

Nor can it be claimed that this decision could lead to a resumption of the arms race: France has never taken part in the arms race. From the outset the level of our deterrent forces has always been governed by the principle of strict sufficiency and will remain so.

The decision must be taken for what it is: a technical measure designed to maintain France's nuclear capability, coupled with the intention to sign the international treaty banning all nuclear testing in autumn 1996.

The writer is the French ambassador.