New Article: French Nuclear Modernization

A new report describes worldwide nuclear weapons modernization efforts

By Hans M. Kristensen

The organization Reaching Critical Will has published a collection of articles about the nuclear weapons modernization programs that are underway in the various nuclear weapons states around the world.

My modest contribution is the chapter on France (pages 27-33).

The report – Assuring Destruction Forever – illustrates that although the Cold War nuclear arms race has ended, a global effort to modernize and improve nuclear weapons is in full swing. For some regions (India-Pakistan and India-China) this effort has elements of an arms race, but for most countries it is about extending and improving a nuclear weapons capability indefinitely.

This should remind us why it is increasingly meaningless to assess nuclear arms control progress in numerical terms by comparing the sizes of today’s arsenals with those of the Cold War. Progress increasingly must be measured in constraint: yes, by reducing arsenals further, but perhaps more importantly by curtailing deployments, operations, missions, life-extensions, modernizations and improvements.

Otherwise, the dynamic efforts to extend and modernize the remaining nuclear arsenals may end up working against the nuclear arms control process. Because life-extension and modernization efforts are accompanied by declarations by the nuclear weapon states and alliances about the continued importance of nuclear weapons to national and international security, there is a risk that they will combine to reaffirm and prolong the nuclear weapons era instead of delegitimizing and shortening it.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

4 thoughts on “New Article: French Nuclear Modernization

  1. Thanks for the argument on what constitutes progress in nuclear arms control. It got me thinking.

    I thing you are quite right to suggest that improvements of present nuclear arsenals may well prolong the nuclear weapons era by some extend.

    However, I would argue that these numerical reduction of nukes has its won benefits, such as the reduced risk of theft or unauthorised use.

    It seems that we need to closely watch and asses the costs/benefits of the trade-off made by some countries, in particular the US, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and to modernise existing nukes at the same.

    Further, I still thing that Perkovich/Levis have a good point when they argue that this trade-off gets us to a “vantage point” that is otherwise hard to reach, and from where we might go the remaining way to global zero. It might take longer that way, but we are at least on the way..

  2. I think calling the switch from C-4 to D-5 a modernization is a bit of a red herring. yes the D-5 is “more” modern but if you stop driving your 32 year old car and instead start driving one that is “only” 22 years old have you really modernized? Not to mention the submarines in question are themselves almost 30 years old.

    Putting that in the same league as upgrading from a 32 year old missile on a 32 year old submarine (Delta III with RM-29R) to a brand new submarine with a brand new (though troubled) missile (Borei class with Bulava missile) seems disingenuous.

    Holding an AoA and starting design work does not constitute “modernization” actually building things does. Given DoD’s track record on acquisition programs and the current budget environment the assumption that the new Bomber, ICBM, cruise missile, and SSBN will all survive is quite optimistic to say the least. But since it advances your cause, go ahead and shout it from the mountain tops. A true believe never allows logic or reason to interfere with their beliefs after all.

    Reply: The difference between C-4 and D-5 is not simply about age. The D-5 has significant greater capability both in terms of range, accuracy and payload. HK

  3. Hans, the article was very interesting, but perhaps you might consider for future articles a discussion of the issues surrounding France’s obligations as one of the two providers of the European Union’s nuclear shield (with GB). I’m sure you realize that while there is still a fair pretense of separate states in Europe the legal situation is quite strongly that of a Confederation. I suspect there is pressure on the French government to maintain a level of weaponry consistent with defence of the EU (at least until such time as the Germans are allowed to build nuclear weapons – if ever). Regards and thanks for the article.
    David Wilson

  4. HK,

    Thank you for your reply. I would like to ask one question about it.
    You stated “The difference between C-4 and D-5 is not simply about age. The D-5 has significant greater capability both in terms of range, accuracy and payload.”

    Does this mean that if the US were to introduce a replacement for the D5 that had less capability you would not consider it a modernization? In order to narrow the scope of our discussion I propose a new design missile that has less range (10% or greater) and less payload (still MIRVed but capable of carrying 2 fewer warheads) but with similar accuracy (no more than 5% increase).

    I understand and agree with your point about D5 being vastly more capable than C4 but I would consider the new missile above to be much more of a modernization even though the capabilities are less. Improvements in other areas that do not directly affect the capability of the missile (produce-ability, maintainability, lower cost, etc.) would still provide an improvement to the strategic capabilities of the US.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *