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Can France Still Afford its Nuclear Deterrence?

Book Circulation

Courtesy Kenny Cole/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist on 3 November 2016.

France has a deep and abiding relationship with nuclear technology. French policy-makers have based France’s energy and military independence around nuclear programs. However, as the French government attempts to justify its budget policies in the lead-up to the presidential election in April 2017, calls for a public debate on the cost of military nuclear deterrence are increasing.

This debate encompasses three main questions. Should France still base its global defence strategy on nuclear deterrence? If yes, how should nuclear deterrence be conducted? Finally, how should the state efficiently budget for this strategic investment?

Questions about the future of the nuclear program come from the growing cost of France’s nuclear deterrent. France’s nuclear arsenal is currently fully operational but will soon require a complete modernisation. Within the next 30 years, French forces will need new submarines, aircraft and missiles. To achieve this, France’s current military nuclear expenditure of €3.4 billion a year, which equals 10% of the French Ministry of Defence’s total budget, will need a significant increase. By 2025, nuclear deterrence will cost French taxpayers an estimated €6 billion a year or more. Where will future French governments find €120 billion over 20 years?

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North Korea’s Testing Decade

North Korean Monument

Courtesy Gilad Rom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on 7 October 2016.

A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.

Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.

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Obama’s Year of Iran

Sailors from USS Kidd assist an Iranian-flagged fishing dhow

Sailors from USS Kidd assist an Iranian-flagged fishing dhow. Official U.S. Navy Imagery/flickr.

PRINCETON – As US President Barack Obama begins his second term, he will have to devote much of his attention to figuring out how to get America’s domestic finances in order. But foreign-policy issues loom large as well, and, notwithstanding the ongoing conflict in Syria and the possible spread of war across Africa’s Sahel region, the consensus in Washington is that 2013 will be the “year of decision” on Iran.

Obama began his first administration with an offer to engage with the Islamic Republic; as he memorably put it in his first inaugural address in 2009, “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” He repeated that commitment, although much more obliquely, in his second inaugural address: “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.” » More

Iran in 2013: the Year of Not Living so Dangerously?

President of Iran Addresses General Assembly

President of Iran addresses UNGA. Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr.

Despite eight months of negotiations with the E3+3, Iran remains committed to its highly-controversial nuclear program. Talks over the past year followed a similar pattern to previous discussions, with the E3+3 failing in its attempts to establish the true nature of Tehran’s ambitions. Negotiations were also conducted against the backdrop of growing political unrest across the Middle East and the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Yet despite continued frustration and the growing threat of conflict, 2013 might turn out to be the year in which negotiations take a turn for the better.

In terms of improving dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran appears determined to pick up where it left off in December 2012. Despite failing to agree upon a framework for the future inspection of Iranian nuclear facilities, both sides will resume talks on February 12th. Back in August, the IAEA also reported that Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium had remained unchanged since May, when Tehran converted supplies for medical purposes.

Another source of inspiration may come from the re-election of Barack Obama. In remarks made shortly after his victory, the U.S. President reiterated the importance of negotiating with Iran. Along with promises to push for the resumption of direct dialogue with Tehran, Obama also openly suggested that Iran might be able to maintain a low-scale nuclear program on condition that it provides credible evidence that it is being used for peaceful purposes. » More

Iran’s Electoral Strategy

Former US embassy Iran

The former US embassy in Tehran. Photo: Örlygur Hnefill/flickr.

WASHINGTON, DC – Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have again hit a wall, but the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears unconcerned. Indeed, Khamenei seems convinced that neither the United States nor Israel will attack its nuclear facilities – at least not before the US presidential election in November.

Ironically, while Khamenei is no fan of democracy, he relies on the fact that his principal enemies are bound by democratic constraints. Khamenei controls Iran’s nuclear program and its foreign policy, but the US and Israel must work to reach consensus not only within their respective political systems, but also with each other. » More

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