Page last updated at 15:04 GMT, Friday, 21 March 2008

France to reduce nuclear warheads

Nicolas Sarkozy in front of the submarine, the Terrible (21 March 2008)
Mr Sarkozy spoke at the launch of France's fourth nuclear submarine

President Nicolas Sarkozy has said France will reduce its number of airborne nuclear weapons by one third.

Mr Sarkozy said the reduction to fewer than 300 missiles would leave France with "half the maximum number of warheads we had during the Cold War".

But he also insisted he was committed to France's nuclear deterrent, saying it was its "life-insurance policy".

He made the comments in a major defence policy speech after inaugurating a new nuclear-armed submarine, the Terrible.

France is believed to have 348 deployed nuclear weapons, including 288 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 50 air-launched cruise missiles and 10 airborne bombs, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

'Life-insurance policy'

In his first major speech on France's nuclear deterrent since being elected president last May, Mr Sarkozy said military spending needed to be re-examined.

The cuts would reduce France's airborne force of nuclear weapons by a third, he said, leaving fewer than 300 warheads, mostly on board submarines.

Test-fire of French M-51 ballistic missile (9 November 2006)
After this reduction, our arsenal will comprise fewer than 300 nuclear warheads, that's half the maximum number of warheads we had during the Cold War
Nicolas Sarkozy
French President

"By giving this information, France is fully transparent since it has no other weapons than those in its operational stocks," he told an audience at the northern port of Cherbourg.

"Moreover, I confirm that none of our weapons are targeted at anybody."

Nevertheless, Mr Sarkozy insisted he remained committed to France's independent nuclear "strike force" and said those who threatened the country's vital interests could expect a "severe riposte".

He said that while France no longer faced a realistic threat of invasion, it now faced new threats from the Middle East and Asia.

"The security of Europe is at stake," he said, singling out Iran's development of ballistic missiles and its controversial nuclear programme.

At the same time, Mr Sarkozy appealed for other nations to scale back their nuclear arsenals and called on China and the US to finally ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, which they signed in 1996.

He also called for an international treaty banning short and medium range ground-to-ground missiles and another banning the manufacture of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

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