Chirac’s statement that he will retaliate against nuke attacks by terror states is to be commended. He’s teaching the Mullahs an important lesson – if you nuke France (even through proxies), we will nuke you, then you die. This policy of deterrence worked with the USSR, and it may work with the Mullahs. Bush, Blair and the new Israeli PM should follow Chirac’s lead.
Speaking at a nuclear submarine base in eastern France, Mr Chirac said: “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.”
He added: “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.” Mr Chirac said there was no change in France’s overall policy which rules out the use of nuclear weapons in a military conflict.
However, he said his country’s nuclear forces had been adapted to deal with the threat of terrorism. In particular, the number of nuclear warheads on French nuclear submarines had been reduced to allow targeted strikes.
“Against a regional power, our choice would not be between inaction or annihilation,” Mr Chirac said. “The flexibility and reactivity of our strategic forces would enable us to exercise our response directly against its centres of power and its capacity to act.”
For “a regional power”, read “Iran”.
Deterrence is strictly personal – the rulers of fear states need to be convinced that if they launch a first strike, they will be killed in a second strike. I’m guessing that in the political battle in which Iran, Russia and China are trying to stop sanctions against the Mullahs’ nuke program, the Iranians told the French that if they pushed for sanctions then, in the future, Muslim “terrorists” might nuke France. This is plausible because France can ignore the oil embargo the Mullahs have been threatening everyone else with – France is not very dependant on oil.
France has a respectable second strike capability (my ellipsis):
France currently has two nuclear weapons systems: submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried by nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and medium-range air-to-surface missiles carried by Mirage 2000N and Super Étendard aircraft.
The SSBNs can deliver 288 100 kiloton warheads out to 4,000 kilometers, and the bombers can deliver 60 300 kiloton warheads using stand-off missiles with ranges of 300 kilometers. That’s sufficient to wipe Iran off the map.
Chirac’s clear statement of deterrence is the first realistic action taken by any state to dissuade the Iranians from building nukes, and the US, UK and Israel should follow his lead.