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Under the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, the President is commander of the Armed Forces. As such, and through subsequent decree law, he commands both the strategic and tactical nuclear forces, and a decision to employ either requires his explicit approval. There are at present no treaties or external obligations which would limit the authority of the French Government over the use of nuclear weapons.


The French decision to become a nuclear power dates back to the 1950's and the Fourth Republic; France developed a nuclear weapons capability under De Gaulle and the Fifth Republic. The initial goal of France's nuclear program was to develop a strategic nuclear capability which would enhance France's political prestige and its military security. Militarily, the force served largely as a mechanism to help guarantee that any Soviet attack on Europe would be met with a nuclear response, thus hopefully dissuading the Soviets from attacking Europe with their superior conventional forces. The French strategic nuclear force consists of 18 land-based intermediate range ballistic missiles, 48 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and weapons carried on the Mirage IV aircraft.1

Only late in the 1960's did French strategic thinking begin to accept the need for a flexible nuclear response capability, already doctrine for the United States and the other NATO allies. Flexible response called for a broader range of choices of responses to a Soviet attack. In the late sixties, France thus undertook to develop a tactical nuclear capability and delivery system. This system—the Pluton surface-to-surface missile on a mobile launcher with a range of 60 to 70 miles—is now being deployed with French Army units near France's border with West Germany. When fully deployed the system reportedly will include 120 missiles with 10 to 15 kiloton warheads.? France probably also has some Mirage and Jaguar aircraft configured for a tactical nuclear role.



The Constitution of the Fifth French Republic provides that the President of the Republic is the commander of the Armed Forces:

Article 15. The President of the Republic is commander of the Armed Forces. He shall preside over the high councils and committees of national defense.3

* Prepared by Stanley R. Sloan, Analyst in European Affairs, Foreign Affairs Division, Sept. 19, 1975. 1 International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Military Balance 1974-75. London, 1974. Pp. 76–77. 2 Pretty, R. T. and Archer, D. H. R., ed. Jane's Weapon Systems, 1974–75. London, Jane's Yearbooks, 1974. Pp. 36–37. 3 Translations from DeVries, Henry P. Materials for the French Legal System 12 (1969).

Article 16 of the constitution is more specific about the nature of the President's responsibilities to the Republic and the Nation:

Article 16. When the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the Nation, the integrity of its territory, or the fulfillment of its international commitments are threatened in a grave and immediate manner and when the regular functioning of the constitutional governing authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take such measures as the circumstances require, after consultation with the Premier, the presidents of the assemblies, and the Constitutional Council.

He shall inform the Nation of these measures in a message.

These measures must be actuated by the desire to insure to the constitutional governing authorities, in the shortest possible time the means of fulfilling their assigned functions. The Constitutional Council shall be consulted regarding such matters.

Parliament shall convene as of right.

The National Assembly may not be dissolved while the extraordinary powers are being exercised.4

While the Constitution thus clearly made the President the ultimate arbiter of French defense policy, the Premier was responsible for the execution of national defense. His responsibilities in time of war were elaborated in decrees of July 18, 1962. These decrees left some ambiguity as to who would actually make the final judgments concerning the use of the strategic nuclear forces. And so, on January 14, 1964, a further decree specified quite clearly that the strategic nuclear forces, then coming into being, would be under the control of the President. As one French defense expert has written: "The decree conferred in effect the power of final decision on the President of the Republic as 'president of the defense committee and commander in chief in matters concerning the engagement of the strategic air forces, that is to say the French nuclear force de frappe. "5 The Premier would assume the responsibility only if the President were disabled.

Further decrees issued on December 10, 1971, acknowledged the command parallel between France's strategic and tactical nuclear capabilities. The decrees provided in part that the "ministre des Armees" in time of war would "insure the command of all military operations, under the particular limitations concerning the strategic nuclear force and the tactical nuclear arms for which special procedures are defined." ? It is logical to assume that-as with strategic nuclear forces—the decision to use tactical nuclear weapons remains in the hands of the President. As one analyst sees it: “** * tactical atomic weapons will be directly related to the overall French strategy of nuclear deterrence which is now moving away from all-or-nothing thinking toward a flexible or graduated response strategy designed to test out the enemy before resort to strategic nuclear arms. Control over the use of tactical nuclear arms will therefore remain in the hands of the head of state and will not be delegated to field commanders." 8

France has also provided for continuing civilian control over nuclear weapons during conflict. As Kohl has said of the Mirage system: "As a security measure, there are two distinct command chains between the President, the commander of the CAS (Commandement des Forces Aeriennes Stratégiques) and the Mirage IV pilots. Separate sets of orders must be issued to activate the planes and later the atomic weapons. Detailed war plans apparently exist to send the planes first to points over friendly or neutral countries for aerial refueling, before they proceed to preselected Soviet targets. The planes are also equipped with "black boxes” that can be activated directly by remote control signals from the civilian political authority to neutralize the atomic bombs, as an added safety measure." 9

4 Ibid.

5 Girardet, Raoul. Problemes Contemporains de Defense Nationale. Paris, Dalloz, 1974. Pp. 160 (CRS analyst's translation).

6 Kohl, Wilfrid L. French nuclear diplomacy. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1971. Pp. 182.
7 Girardet, op. cit. p. 161 (CRS analyst's translation; italic supplied).
8 Kohl. op. cit. p. 191 (italic supplied).

It can be assumed that equally rigid controls have been provided for France's tactical nuclear force as well as her submarine and landbased strategic missile fcrce.

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There are at present no external constraints through treaty or other obligations which inhibit a French decision to use nuclear weapons. France had in the past flirted with the possibility of nuclear cooperation, first in terms of a United States-United Kingdom-French nuclear triumvirate in the late 1950's and then in terms of a European force based on the French force de frappe in the early 1960's. Both options would have limited France's decisionmaking independence. But the French opted for national independence in nuclear defense questions by leaving NATO's integrated military structure in 1967. The development of a French tactical nuclear capability nonetheless poses serious problems both for France and NATO. The various tactical nuclear forces in NATO are closely coordinated, but the French force, in the absence of some working arrangements with West Germany and NATO, remains located in France, useful only if Soviet forces have already penetrated far into West Germany. France may at some point in the future be willing to work out cooperative arrangements with NATO and the West Germans that would permit more rational stationing of the Pluton system and closer coordination with employment plans of the other NATO countries. To do so, of course, would place some qualifications on French freedom to employ the system.

Kohl. op. cit. p. 182.



Although the location in the Soviet Government of the authority to initiate the use of nuclear weapons is not spelled out in published Soviet sources, Western experts on Soviet military affairs believe that power rests in the Communist Politburo. In the present situation, where the collegiate power of the Politburo is dominated by the Communist Party's General Secretary, the key figure is Leonid Brezhnev. There is no available information about contingency arrangements whereby the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons under specifically defined battle conditions can be delegated to subordinate officials or field commanders. Soviet strategy calls for a capability not only to deter its potential enemies from attacking it but to wage a nuclear war and win it.

The location in the Soviet Government of the authority to order the use of strategic or tactical nuclear weapons is not spelled out in published Soviet sources.

The Soviet constitution deals with the question of authority over military policy and operations only in the most general terms. Article 14 reads in part as follows:

The jurisdiction of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as represented by its gher organs of state administration embraces:

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b. questions of war and peace. *** g. organization of the defense of the U.S.S.R., direction of all the Armed Forces of the Ŭ.S.S.R., determination of directing principles governing the organization of the military formations of the Union Republics.1

Some aspects of the relationship between the Communist Party, the effective center of political power in the Soviet Union, and the military are shown ly section VÌII of the “Rules of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” The section, which is entit ed, "Party Organization in the Soviet Army," reads as follows:

64. Party organizations in the Soviet Army take guidance in their work from the program and the rules of the CPSU and operate on the basis of instructions issued by the Central Committee.

The party organizations of the Soviet Army carry through the policy of the party in the Armed Forces; rally servicemen around the Communist Party; educate them in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and boundless loyalty to the socialist homeland; actively further the unity of the Army and the people; work for the strengthening of discipline; rally servicemen to carry out the tasks of military and political training and acquire skill in the use of new techniques and weapons, and irreproachably to perform their military duty and the orders and instructions of the command.

• Prepared by Edward T. Lampson, Specialist in European Affairs and Pamela Houghtaling, Analyst in European Affairs, Foreign Affairs Division, Sept. 18, 1975.

1 Hazard, John. The Soviet System of Government. Third edition. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 1964. Pp. 223-224.

65. The guidance of party work in the Armed Forces is exercised by the Central Committee of the CPSU through the chief political administration of the Soviet Army and Navy, which functions as a department of the CC CPSU.

The chiefs of the political administrations of military areas and fleets, and chiefs of the political administration of armies must be party members of 5 years' standing, and the chiefs of political departments of military formations must be party members of 3 years standing.

66. The party organizations and political bodies of the Soviet Army maintain close contact with local party committees and keep them informed about political work in the military units. The secretaries of military party organizations and chiefs of political bodies participate in the work of local party committees.2

Section VIII does not reflect the total relationship between the Politburo and the military high command because it deals only with the political role of the party in the Armed Forces. However, a more comprehensive description of the power of the Politburo over the military high command can be found in the book, "Soviet Military Strategy," edited by Soviet Marshal Sokolovskii, published by the Soviet Ministry of Defense, and translated into English in 1963. The pertinent passage reads as follows:

The whole country and the Armed Forces will be led in wartime by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, possibly with the organization of a higher agency of command for the country and Armed Forces. To this higher agency of command may be delegated the same powers the State Defense Committee held during the Great Patriotic War; its presiding officer may be the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and head of the Government to whom the functions of Supreme Commander in Chief of all the Armed Forces may be assigned.3

A leading Western expert on Soviet military affairs, Malcolm Mackintosh, consultant on Soviet affairs to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in a recent article on Soviet military influence on foreign policy, discusses in greater detail the role of the Politburo as follows: Clearly, the Politburo is the decisionmaking body with respect

to both defense and foreign affairs in the Soviet Union, and traditionally the General or First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) has assumed top responsibility for directing Soviet foreign and defense policies. This is as true of Brezhnev today as it was of Khrushchev and Stalin. *** We may assume from what we know of the Soviet system that only the Politburo can make a decision to go to war, to send troops into a foreign country (as in the case of Czechoslovakia in 1968), to deploy combat units (as in case of Egypt in 1970, or to use nuclear weapons.

There is no available information about contingency arrangements whereby the authority to crder the use of nuclear weapons under specifically defined battle situations can be delegated to subordinate officials or field commanders. However, in view of the nature of the potentialities of modern war, this possibility cannot be excluded. It may therefore be of some interest to indicate the names of the top officials dealing with military decisions and to describe briefly the organization of nuclear forces in the Soviet Union. Organization charts of the Politburo and the Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee and of the Ministry of Defense and the Military Council of the Strategic Rocket Forces are provided in appendix A. These charts contain the names of the current incumbents of leading positions in these organizations.

2 Ibid., p. 260.

3 Soviet Military Strategy, edited by Marshal of the Soviet Union V. D. Sokolovskii. Translated and with an analytical introduction, annotations, and supplementary material by Herbert S. Dinerstein, Leon Goure, and Thomas W. Wolfe, The Rand Corp., Santa Monica, Calif. 1963. P. 494.

· Mackintosh, Malcolm. The Soviet Military Influence on Foreign Policy. Problems of Communism. September-October 1973. P. 2 (italic supplied).

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