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Nuclear weapons

Nuclear weapons

Published on February 1, 2010
Speech by Pierre Sellal, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, at the “Global Zero” conference¹

Paris, February 2, 2010

Thank you Ambassador Burt for your kind introduction. I am honoured to have the opportunity to say a few words before such an impressive gathering.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One lesson which can be drawn from history is that policy-makers don’t take decisions in the realm of war and peace, armament and disarmament, because of a plan agreed in a diplomatic conference. They do it because it is in their country’s national security interest, and because the strategic, regional and internal context allows for it.
The elimination of nuclear weapons will not be decided to fulfil visions, however generous, ambitious and necessary they are; it will happen when political and security conditions enable it to happen.
This reality was recently reaffirmed by the Security Council in UNSCR 1887: our common goal is to work towards a safer world, and to create the conditions which will make nuclear weapons less, and ultimately un-necessary.

This does not mean that we should condone inaction. On the contrary. France has taken unprecedented unilateral measures regarding nuclear disarmament, and we believe that likewise concrete progress by all States will enhance international security and ours.

So, what shall we do in the upcoming years, not in a distant future, to create collectively the conditions which will allow for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, in accordance with Article VI of the NPT? And how do we make sure that this world will guarantee peace and stability, without leading to an arms race in bio-, chemical or conventional weapons?

First, we should put a resolute stop to proliferation. Let’s be clear: if we fail to solve the Iranian nuclear issue, we risk nuclear cascade in the region and nuclear anarchy in the world, which would put an end to the dream of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as to our shared objective of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. The Iranian crisis also highlights the need for strengthened IAEA verification and the reaffirmation of the role of the UNSC. All this is at stake in the Iranian issue, and this is why the international community needs to find an early negotiated solution to it.
Second, we should in parallel promote real nuclear disarmament, based on deeds rather than words.

In December 2008, my predecessor came here; he stated, "We need a vision and we need action". One year later, what does the situation on the disarmament scene look like?

In Prague last year President Obama stated very strongly his ambition for a world without nuclear weapons, as well as his commitment to pursue aggressively ratification of the CTBT, the conclusion of a new Post-START agreement with Russia, and the commencement of negotiation on a new disarmament treaty, which would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

This major speech, as well as the historical UNSC summit on Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament which followed on 24 September, have led to considerable optimism in the disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation community, including in France.

This was the vision. But on the action side the situation is less rosy.
Of course, we see very encouraging prospects for a new START agreement between the US and Russia. But, apart from difficulties on verification provisions, we also see that the new agreement will leave out stockpiles and non-strategic warheads and will probably set an objective, around 1,500 strategic operationally deployed warheads, quite far from the 1,000 total warheads each by 2018 that you proposed in your "Global Zero" plan.

The prospect for a swift US ratification of the CTBT is moving away. And there is no concrete sign of a prompt Chinese ratification – or either by the other remaining States.

After the consensus decision of the Conference on disarmament in May last year to resume its work and to launch negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, thus ending a more than 11 years stalemate, we see unfortunately Pakistan preventing the commencement of negotiations on this essential Treaty.

Last year also, DPRK announced a second nuclear test, the second one in the history of the NPT. And Iran continues to violate her obligations, to challenge the international community and its authority, creating more and more anxiety in the region.

This bleak picture should not lead us to pessimism. Rather it is for France a cause to show even more determination.

If we want serious progress on nuclear disarmament, we have to address it seriously and concretely. President Sarkozy has made ambitious proposals in March 2008, endorsed later on by the EU in December 2008:

-  The first logical premise to advance disarmament is to stop arming and to prevent a build-up. This means stopping the production of fissile material for weapons and declaring an immediate moratorium on the production of these materials as well as on nuclear tests. All nuclear powers should swiftly join the four nuclear weapons States, among them France, which have already declared such a production moratorium.

Preventing a build-up also means dismantling facilities dedicated to the production of fissile material for weapons and nuclear testing sites, and to do it with maximum transparency, as France did. This is an essential step to create confidence and to ensure a sustainable disarmament process. One cannot seriously disarm while retaining these facilities and thus keeping all options open.

We also need to get States which have not yet done so to ratify promptly the CTBT, and by negotiating as quickly as possible an FMCT.
-  Second, we need to reduce arsenals – all nuclear arsenals. The priority is clearly the pursuit of the reduction of the two largest arsenals, Russia and the US being commonly deemed to still retain 95% of all nuclear weapons on earth. We therefore welcome Presidents Medvedev and Obama’s commitment to conclude very soon a new agreement.

But the other nuclear powers should also reduce their arsenals. We hear proposals for them to take no-increase commitments. But what would be the value of such a commitment, should the strategic context change? Not much. Declaratory policies, such as "no first use" will also remain unverifiable and reversible. Only the cut-off treaty can guarantee the non-increase of nuclear arsenals.

-  We also need more transparency and confidence-building efforts from all Nuclear States. The first logical step should be to declare how many weapons they have in total, as France has done.

If we are serious about nuclear disarmament, all these concrete steps should be implemented by all nations.

On this, France is leading by example.

Of course, we hear some people grumbling about our supposed reluctance to commit to nuclear disarmament, or about our attachment to our nuclear deterrence. As a matter of fact, the French nuclear deterrence has been protecting our country very well for 50 years.
The American nuclear deterrence has also protected well the US and her non-nuclear allies in Europe and Asia, and will continue to do so. In Prague, President Obama recalled that, while working towards nuclear disarmament, the United States would maintain, as long as nuclear weapons exist, a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defence to her allies.

We share this conviction. France is fully committed to fulfilling all the objectives of the NPT. The best proof of our commitment to nuclear disarmament is our concrete record.

In 2000, the NPT RevCon produced a set of measures to be taken, known as the "13 steps": France has already implemented 10 out of 13, indeed all of those which are applicable to her. We have even gone further.

We have reduced by half our nuclear arsenal in ten years. The latest ambitious reduction was decided by President Sarkozy in March 2008, and immediately implemented. We would like all other nuclear powers to take the same path that France, as well as the UK, have forgone for over a decade, leading to a posture of strict sufficiency – what the four US statesmen have called the "base camp" and what the Evans-Kawaguchi Commission describes as the "minimization point".

We have adopted in our doctrine a stringent limitation of the circumstances in which nuclear weapons could be used, consistent with the requirements of the ICJ and the UN Charter.

We ratified the CTBT 12 years ago, together with the UK.

We have stopped producing fissile material for nuclear weapons since the mid-1990s and we have declared a moratorium.
We have consented major transparency gestures. In his speech at Cherbourg in March 2008, President Sarkozy announced the total of our nuclear arsenal: less than 300 warheads. No other nuclear State has announced its total arsenal. President Sarkozy also decided to allow visits by international experts in 2008 and 2009 to our former facilities dedicated to the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
These are the facts.

But disarmament is a shared responsibility for all States, nuclear weapon States as well as non-nuclear. To create the right conditions for a world without nuclear weapons means fostering progress by all countries in all different areas of disarmament, reducing conventional imbalances, working to solve international tensions and improving collective security.

Because if we don’t complement nuclear disarmament with credible disarmament in all other fields (whether biological, chemical or conventional, missile defence and space), it might lead again to a destabilizing scenario of arms race. So we should in parallel enforce existing disarmament norms, for instance by establishing a verification regime for the Bio convention, working for the universal ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Ottawa convention banning landmines. We should also strive to establish new instruments: for instance, France and her European partners have proposed to launch negotiations on a treaty banning short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground missiles.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must pursue a path that is grounded in action, in the strategic reality and in the responsibilities of all nations. Because we will be judged by our citizens on our deeds to concretely improve our collective security. It is our common task, one France is fully committed to, and yours too, to make collective security a reality.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you very fruitful debates and a beautiful stay in Paris./.

¹ M. Sellal spoke in English.

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