January 19, 2006

France would use nuclear weapons against terrorism

By Elizabeth Pineau

BREST, France (Reuters) - 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 weapons
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," said Chirac, the first time he had so
clearly linked the threat of a nuclear response to a terrorist

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.

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.

France's Communist opposition party and disarmament groups
said Chirac's comments were irresponsible.

"Far from ridding France of nuclear weapons, the president
is, on the contrary, considering the actual use of nuclear
bombs," the Sortir du Nucleaire group said.

Communist deputy Jacques Brunhes said 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."

With the end of the Cold War, critics have questioned the
use of the French nuclear deterrent, which accounts for 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.