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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

French preemption strategy?

A reader sent me a copy of a UPI story in today's Washington Times that strongly suggests France may be embracing something like the Bush Doctrine. Journalist Lisa Bryant writes
"France may soon jettison its Cold War-era policy of nuclear deterrence for a more U.S.-style, proactive doctrine....If the report is true, the French shift would echo a policy change formulated by the Bush administration in 2002."
There's not much of substance cited, as the story is quite reliant upon a story from the French paper Liberation (described in the story as left-leaning). The report claims that the changes are pending (which means they are not reflected in current policy documents that emphasize second strike capabilities of French nuclear forces) and would involve tarketing of rogue state WMD -- though apparently not terrorists.
"For the first time," the newspaper [Liberation] reported, "nuclear forces aren't only targeting states with atomic weapons, but powers capable of using chemical or biological weapons against France."
The real meat of the story comes in two brief quotes from a report from the French Defense Ministry. Unfortunately, the article link to the report is dead.
"Nuclear deterrence remains our fundamental guarantee," it says at one point. "At the same time, the general military strategy includes actions of pre-emption, protection and action-pre-emption to face, with necessary flexibility, other types of threats."

Outside France, the document says at another point, "we must identify and prevent threats as early as possible. In this framework, the possibility of pre-emptive action can be considered, once an explicit threat ... is recognized."
The story devotes almost as much space to fairly strong official denials:
French officials yesterday cited a series of statements made in recent months and years, including a 2001 address by Mr. Chirac. "Our nuclear forces are directed against no country, and we have always refused the chance that nuclear weapons could be considered a battle weapon employed in a military strategy," the president said at the time.

"Nothing has changed at all," said Jean-Francois Bureau, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, in a telephone interview. "If anything, we've underscored our strategy of deterrence."
Despite these denials, the story cites one outside expert to support the journalist's angle. Francois Heisbourg, described in the story as the head of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, apparently thinks it is a big change:
"The French policy over the last 40 years has been centered on nuclear deterrence, and on force projection," Mr. Heisbourg said. "When you put pre-emptive action up there, on about the same level, it's obviously not a minor thing."
To me, the brief article doesn't convincingly demonstrate that France is about to embrace the Bush Doctrine.

Most importantly, if an "explicit threat" is required, that may not be very different from "imminent threat," which is already acceptable interstate practice.

Also, though this may be reading too much into the story, it looks more like the French are simply contemplating multiple targeting options. This would mean a change on the order of what the US did during the Carter administration (PD 59), allowing counterforce rather than counter-city targeting.

This would be a move, strictly speaking, away from deterrence, but it would not be the same as the Bush Doctrine, emphasizing strikes against threats before they fully develop. Instead, it would be more of a war-fighting posture, linking French nuclear weapons to its overall defense posture.

Then again, the Chirac quote also seems to deny this.

So far, I haven't found this story anywhere other than the Washington Times, which always makes me leary.

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