my life, I have thought of France in a certain way. ... My mind assures me that
France is not really herself unless she is in the front rank; that only vast
enterprises are capable of counterbalancing the ferments of disintegration inherent
in her people; that our country, as it is, surrounded by the others, as they
are, must aim high and hold itself straight, on pain of mortal danger. In
short, to my mind, France cannot be France without greatness."
With these words, General Charles de Gaulle led off the
first volume of his war memoirs, The Call
to Honor. As well as any others, they explain his single-minded
determination to thrust France back into a position of leadership in the world.
The latest manifestation of that determination became a
reality a short time ago. From Paris came word that first elements of France's
Force de Dissuasion had become operational. While it will be some time before
the force is molded into an effective retaliatory instrument, there can be no
doubt that France is well on its way toward joining the United States, Russia,
and Great Britain as an atomic power of consequence.
This development is viewed on our side of the Atlantic with
a mixture of fear, scorn, and suspicion—fear that a fourth power now has its finger
on the atomic trigger; scorn over the puniness of the French force in
comparison with our own; and suspicion over de Gaulle's motives and intentions
in perfecting it. Our main reaction has been to dismiss the whole business as
the aberration of a prideful and conceited old man.
But the Force de Dissuasion is no aberration. It represents
something more than conceit and something less than pride. Viewed in
perspective, it turns out to be a carefully thought-out answer to French
strategic imperatives in the 1960s and '70s. General de Gaulle appears to have
grasped the fundamental fact that, as McGeorge Bundy has observed, "The
problem of defense in the nuclear age is as much psychological as
The chief architect of the Force de Dissuasion is retired
Air Force General Pierre Gallois. A brilliant intellectual, Gallois for a
decade has campaigned tirelessly for the creation of a national deterrent. His
book, The Balance of Terror—Strategy for the Nuclear Age, sets forth why he
believes such a retaliatory capability is essential for France. One may
disagree with his conclusions, but it is difficult to dispute the logic and
subtlety of his thesis.
is divides the time since the end of World War II into
three distinct periods. The first extends from 1945 to 1953. From the end of
the war until the explosion of the first Russian A-bomb, in September 1949, the
United States enjoyed an atomic monopoly. And from then until the first Russian
H-bomb test in August 1953, the US held an almost overwhelming nuclear
advantage. Unfortunately, of its own accord, it "neutralized the
advantages its scientific achievements had won for it." A combination of
"ideology, moral constraint, formalism, pusillanimity, even real terror,
paralyzed" the effective utilization of its advantage. America chose not
"to pursue a roll-back policy —which was, nevertheless, the Soviet policy,
despite their evident military inferiority." For a time, the US even
abandoned its efforts to maintain the status quo J in Europe. It so hedged its
nuclear monopoly with moral and psychological constraints that the Soviets
"realized that if the new, all-powerful arsenal was ever to be
brandished—or even used—it would only be to defend objectives that were
absolutely vital." Gallois believes that during this period both sides
were, in a sense, dupes of the atom—"the Soviets, in their ignorance, not
fearing it; and the Americans not realizing the advantage their monopoly might
have given them." Thus it was that, during these years of uncontested atomic
supremacy, "the West lost the control it had had, or the influence it
directly or indirectly wielded over nearly a billion human beings."
Gallois prophesies that "history will judge severely [our] incomprehension
The second period commenced with the Russian development of
a deliverable thermonuclear device in 1953-1954. Our loss of monopoly
complicated but did not really alter the strategic picture, however, for by
that time we had recognized the Soviet imperialistic thrust, had met it in
Korea, and had organized to resist it in Europe. NATO had been established
under an American nuclear umbrella. Since US territory was still invulnerable
to Soviet offensive capability and our instruments of reprisal remained beyond
Russian reach, the status quo, in Europe at least, was maintainable.
Russian entry into the nuclear club, Gallois asserts, made
future Korean-type engagements impossible. Due to the danger of escalation,
localized conflicts of this sort were "excluded from the list of possible
confrontations. . . . To pursue a strategy of territorial expansion or
political annexation, other methods must be employed—less brutal, more subtle,
and in no case likely to lead to classical warfare."
In 1957, a third technological factor, the development by
the USSR of the ICBM with an H-bomb warhead, radically altered the equilibrium
between the two great powers. For the first time, US territory became
vulnerable to direct nuclear attack. Gallois believes that this development
created a balance of terror which imposed "if not universal peace, at
least the integrity of the Great Powers and, to a certain degree, respect for
their respective vital interests."
Thus was born the diplomacy of thermonuclear dissuasion.
In the world of yesterday, Gallois declares, "One began
a campaign once a fly-swatter landed on the nose of the French Consul in
Algiers." But when two nations are armed with atomic weapons, confrontations
become a deadly business. The consequences of a major nuclear exchange are out
of all proportion to any possible advantages of victory for either side.
"If nations were ever to resort to [such] weapons, the stake of the
conflict would automatically become a capital one." Peace, then, depends
upon the capacity to wage nuclear war.
Dissuading an adversary from resorting to force is not a new
approach to relations among nations. In 1934, speaking in the House of Commons,
Winston Churchill outlined its essentials: "Pending some new
discovery," he said, "the only direct measure of defense upon a great
scale is the certainty of being able to inflict simultaneously upon the enemy
as great damage as he can inflict upon ourselves." Dissuasion failed in
those days because an evaluation of risks by the initiator of a conflict was
seldom out of proportion to the stakes of the dispute. But risks are high, the
penalties immediate, and recourse to force unattractive where nuclear weapons
This is not the case, however, in confrontations between a
possessor and a nonpossessor of these devices. The former can always impose
his will on the latter unless he is dissuaded from doing so by another atomic
power. But can any nation guarantee another against thermonuclear blackmail?
Since the possible penalties are so severe, Gallois does not think so. No
aggressor would take seriously threats of intervention on behalf of a protégé.
Under the circumstances, a national nuclear capability becomes essential for
all leading states, France in particular. This has become the official French
position. It was reflected by General de Gaulle in his April 17 press
As long as the ambitions of the Soviets and the nature of
their regime hold over the free world . . . the threat of a terrible conflict,
France is in danger of destruction and invasion, with no certitude that her
American allies, themselves directly exposed to death, would find themselves
able to protect her from them.
For France to deprive herself of the means capable of
dissuading the adversary from a possible attack while she is able to have them,
would be to attract the lightning after having thrown away the lightning rod.
Also, this would mean that she would confide herself for her defense, and,
therefore, for her existence, and in the end for her policy, to a foreign,
and, for that matter, an uncertain protectorate.
No! We deserve better than that.
There are, of course, other factors prompting France's entry
into the nuclear business. Foremost among them is her desire to sit once again
at the councils of the mighty. Moreover, entry into the atomic club will
materially assist France to realize her long nurtured ambition of organizing
Europe under French hegemony. With Germany prohibited from possessing an
atomic arsenal and Britain excluded from the Common Market while she has one,
the stage is set for France to play the leading role on a resurgent Continent.
"The President of the Republic," writes French
pundit Raymond Aron, "has never hidden the nostalgia which he feels for a
Europe capable of defending itself by itself and therefore playing an
independent role on the world scene. ... At least he has always preferred and
always will prefer a Europe which could arbitrate world conflicts to a Europe
reduced to being nothing but a partner in the Atlantic pair."
On the negative side, de Gaulle bitterly resents the de
facto exclusion of France from a role in Western decision-making since World
War II. The Anglo-American partners have proceeded, more often than not,
without consultation or advice from their Continental ally. This attitude was
understandable when France lay prostrate. But it hardly reflects the realities
of today. Yet the attitude continues. If anything it has grown worse. Even
Britain's voice has been muted in recent years. "American strategic policy,"
wrote Alastair Buchan not long ago, is being "evolved with less
consultation . . . than at any other time in the history of the Alliance."
The General has forcefully set about redressing the balance.
American dominance is no longer tolerable to him. Europe, he maintains, must
assume responsibility for its own destiny.
To de Gaulle, the overriding reality in today's world is the
nuclear one. Atomic power, not ideology or intentions, has enabled the United
States and Russia to dominate events. A fortiori, if France is to play a
leading role, she must have an atomic capability of her own. To paraphrase
Clemenceau, nuclear weapons are far too important to be left exclusively in the
hands of foreigners.
Underlying all of the foregoing is yet another factor of
compelling importance. The research, development, and production of the
instruments of dissuasion is a tremendous animator of technology. In today's
world, if a nation is to ascend to the front rank, she cannot afford to fall
behind in the technology race. Nor does France intend to. Indeed, it has been
unkindly suggested that if the threat of Soviet aggression which impels
construction of the Force de Dissuasion did not exist, de Gaulle would have to
On this side of the Atlantic, we have generally viewed with
alarm this manifestation of nuclear nationalism. Our fears are grounded upon
reasons likely to appeal to Americans but hardly to Frenchmen. They fall into
four separate categories.
• The first relates to the dangers of proliferation. We have
long nurtured an almost pathological aversion to the spread of nuclear
weapons. To us, it seems essential that the nuclear club be closed to new members.
The how of accomplishing this has escaped us, however. To date there has been
no instance of a nation which possessed the intellectual and material means of
developing such a capability refraining voluntarily from doing so. If
anything, the trend is the other way. In the view of the French Foreign
Minister, Couve de Murville: "It is normal and it is inevitable that all
major countries progressively come to possess atomic armaments." President
de Gaulle has wryly suggested that "in politics and in strategy, as in the
economy, monopoly quite naturally appears to the person who holds it as the
best possible system."
• Our next bogeyman is the fear that possession of a small
atomic force might make France trigger‑happy; that it might tempt her to
nuclear adventure-ism. The French point out that the major menace to freedom
has been, and will continue to be, Soviet, not French. General Paul Stehlin,
former chief of the French Air Force, writing in Foreign Affairs, has condemned
out of hand those Americans who seem to "place more faith in the ability
of the Russians to control their tremendous stockpiles of offensive weapons
than they do in my country's capacity to use with wisdom and moderation the
modest armaments it is working so hard to develop for purely deterrent purposes."
• The third US concern, and it would appear a more valid
one, is the reluctance to have more than one finger on the West's atomic
trigger. Since this country will remain, even if a French force is built, the
essential guarantor of peace, direction of the nuclear power of the western
world should, it is asserted, remain exclusively in our hands. Walter Lippmann
has drawn the analogy of a fast-moving car on a twisting mountain road.
"Only one man can sit at the wheel.
• While the other passengers may not wholly like him . . .
or . . . think he is a very good driver, it is still safer for all concerned
than if there were two or three drivers trying to grab the steering wheel at
the same time."
To this, Raymond Aron retorts that it "is expecting a
lot" for European countries "to have complete faith in the
driver." After all, "What do they know of [his] intentions?"
The United States assumption that only it is capable of
exercising prudent leadership in an atomic world has become a bone in the
throat of the French. "If 'nuclear wisdom' comes with the possession of
nuclear weapons," chides General Stehlin, "the Europeans are ready to
let grace descend upon them."
In this context, General Stehlin volunteers a jibe or two at
the US-proposed multilateral nuclear force. "This system," he
declares, "does not strike me as either rational or wise since it . . .
would require the unanimous consent of all members." This would likely
"paralyze the force." Such an arrangement hardly squares with a
one-man-at-the-wheel philosophy. Instead of reinforcing our leadership
position, such programs, due to lack of realism, tend to erode it. They raise
questions as to this country's qualifications to lead and its true intentions.
"Without in the least doubting the good faith of the United States—which
would be manifestly unjust" writes General Stehlin, "many of us in
that part of the old world which has not been engulfed by the Soviet tide
wonder how much trust the Russians place in the American promises of
commitment for, in the last analysis, that is the angle from which the problem
of deterrence must be viewed."
• Last of the US reservations relates to the size of the
Force de Frappe. Puny by SAC standards, it is presumed over here that the
French force will be unlikely to deter anyone. But this notion fails to take
into account the limited purpose for which the force was created and the
strategy governing its use. Additionally, it ignores our own actions and
experience of recent years.
To begin with, it must be clearly understood that the Force
de Dissuasion is not intended, nor could it be used, as an instrument of
aggression. Size does preclude that. But size does not preclude self-defense even
against the Soviet colossus. The French rationale is based upon the
made-in-America concept of "the old equalizer." Stated in modern
terms: God made big nations and God made little nations, but Dr. Teller made
them all the same size again. Put another way, so long as the size of a
thermonuclear force is proportional to the value of the stake it is defending,
it can dissuade a potential aggressor. Thus, while the USSR might be willing to
lose twenty million of its population and a third of its industrial complex to
annihilate the United States, it would hardly be willing to pay such a penalty
for the dispatch of France. From this stems a corollary principle, that the
lesser the prize, the smaller the dissuasive force needed to defend it. This is
the philosophic underpinning of the small force approach.
An additional supportive factor is the avowed countercity
strategy of the Force de Frappe. The French dismiss counterforce as wholly
unsuited to their purposes. Even if they knew the location of Russian
launching sites, they see little advantage in attempting to delineate military
from civilian targets. The purpose of dissuasion is to convince an aggressor
that no prize is worth the penalty. The more dread the reprisal, the more
certain that dissuasion will succeed. And so the French strategy is openly and
avowedly anti-city. Its targets are Moscow, Leningrad, and other centers of
population in the USSR. De Gaulle has repeatedly underlined this with warnings
that "the French atomic force . . . will have the somber and terrible
capability of destroying in a few seconds millions and millions of men. This
fact," he believes, "cannot fail to have at least some bearing on the
intents of any possible aggressor." Considered in this light, even a
small force, if viable, will have a tremendous dissuasive effect insofar as
French vital interests are concerned. And even in the unlikely event an
aggressor were willing to absorb a French reprisal, he would still be faced
with the very real danger that his adventure might incur American intervention.
The logic of proportionality seems to elude American
policy-makers, even though the present equilibrium between the US and Russia
is based upon a substantial disparity of nuclear means. Moreover, less than
two years ago this country allegedly went to the brink of nuclear war over a
small Soviet missile force in Cuba. And currently we are touting a multilateral
Polaris surface fleet which would not be much larger but certainly more
cumbersome and vulnerable than its nationally controlled French counterpart.
Before leaving proportionality, a fascinating hypothesis
advanced by Gallois is worth thinking about. "If, for instance, in
November 1956," he writes, "the Hungarian government had possessed
the means to inflict only three 'Hiroshimas' on the USSR, it is probable that
the fear of such a retaliation would have imposed negotiation and a new modus
vivendi between Budapest and Moscow, and that neither repression nor occupation
would have occurred." Considering our own reaction in the Cuban missile
crisis, his surmise seems reasonable.
A small nuclear force can pack a tremendous dissuasive
wallop. All this proves, of course, is that thermonuclear terrorism can be a
two-edged sword. If the victim possesses the means to execute the criminal
concurrently with the crime, the chances are the crime will never be committed.
The strategy of dissuasion, like cost/ effectiveness, can be
mathematically formulated. Credibility may be postulated as the product of the
value of the military means employed times the will of the threatened power to
resist. If either factor turns out to be zero, the dissuasive effect of the
force will likewise be zero.
On the element of will to react, de Gaulle scores high.
Doubts, where they exist, relate solely to the adequacy of the dissuasive
force. One detractor has unkindly suggested that "the French have de gall
but not de weapons to make dissuasion work." To be sure, the Force de
Frappe will have its limitations (as does SAC). But, presently and as planned,
it shapes up as an impressive retaliatory instrument.
The nuclear part of it has been in the works for quite some
time. French scientists have been in the forefront of the atomic-energy field
from the beginning. Indeed, many fundamental contributions, such as the
discovery of radioactivity by Becquerel, and its isolation into elements by
the Caries, were made by Frenchmen. The Perrins, de Broglies, Joliot-Curies, to
name but a few, significantly expanded the world's atomic horizons. World War
II, unfortunately, interrupted their labors, but research was commenced again
in 1945 with the establishment of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique
(CEA—French Atomic Energy Commission) by General de Gaulle, then President of
the Provisional Government. At first, the Agency directed its attentions to
prospecting for nuclear ores, setting up laboratories, and training scientists,
engineers, and technicians. It was not until 1955 that a program for the
development of atomic energy for military purposes was launched.
In February 1960, France exploded her first atomic device
over the Sahara. Three more atmospheric tests followed. After 1961, she
conducted a series of underground tests. These led to the development, testing,
and production of a deliverable plutonium bomb of around sixty kilotons. This
weapon will be the mainstay of the Force de Dissuasion until such time as the
infinitely more powerful fusion bomb becomes available. That will not be for
several years, however.
Many critics question whether, in the meantime, the
relatively small power of the French weapon can deter anyone. Sixty kilotons,
they say, will not be likely to impress the Russians who have managed to
produce a 100-megaton monster of their own. The French are mindful of the
disparity but not overly disturbed by it. Since theirs is an anti-city device,
it need not possess the bang to destroy targets such as hardened missile sites.
Three times as powerful as the bomb which annihilated Hiroshima, the French
bomb's destructive force is ample to inspire terror and respect, to make an
aggressor stop and think.
The problem will be one of short duration, in any event.
Toward the end of the decade, more powerful fission bombs will become
available. And by 1970, deliverable fusion weapons should be ready. Development
of the latter has been delayed due to the requirement of enriched uranium as
the explosive element. Because she was unable to secure a supply from the
United States, France has been forced to provide her own. A gas-diffusion plant
is under construction at Pierrelatte. It is scheduled to commence production
in 1967. By then most of the preliminary work on an H-bomb should be completed.
Tests will likely commence soon thereafter at the French nuclear site in the
One of the major difficulties in developing nuclear weapons
is shrinking them down to deliverable size. We were plagued with this problem.
No doubt the French are too. But there can be little doubt that they will
succeed eventually. Whether these thermonuclear weapons will constitute the
explosive half of a credible deterrent, however, depends upon the availability
of effective delivery systems. In this sphere the French have pursued a bold
policy which is already paying off handsomely.
The first-generation strike force is built around the Mirage
IVA bomber. This aircraft was conceived in 1957—prior, it should be noted, to
General de Gaulle's return to power. It was specifically designed as a
strategic bomber by Générale Aéronautique Marcel Dassault, although it evolved
directly Out of the successful development by Dassault of a Mach 2 interceptor,
the Mirage III.
The bomber is a straightforward scale-up of the fighter,
about one and a half times its size. The configuration of the two is
essentially the same. This approach was decided upon as the fastest and most
expeditious way of producing a strategic bomber.
Powered by two SNECMA Atar 9K afterburning turbojet engines,
producing 15,000 pounds of thrust apiece, top speed of the Mirage IVA is Mach
2.2. Its profile includes a high-altitude cruise for much of its mission at
Mach 1.7. Wing span is 38 feet 10 inches; length, 77 feet; height, 18 feet 3 inches.
Its crew of two sits in tandem beneath a largely metal canopy, designed to
withstand kinetic heating effects at high speeds.
The Mirage IVA utilizes the most advanced construction
techniques. Machine-tapered skin constitutes ninety-five percent of its
structural weight. At 66,000 pounds, it is one of the smallest and cheapest
strategic bombers anywhere.
Principal drawback of the aircraft is its limited range.
Despite the fact that it uses even its tail fin to carry fuel, its officially
stated operational radius with internal stores is only 1,000 miles. This makes
it a virtually one-way, one-strike retaliatory weapon, since it could not hope
to reach any Russian target and return again to base. But, if ever the balloon
went up, there would probably be no French base to return to anyway.
The addition of two 550-gallon wing tanks has improved the
Mirage IVA's range somewhat. Procurement of twelve KC-135F tanker-transports
will alleviate matters still further. In-flight refueling will not only extend
range but will also permit the maintenance of a twenty-four-hour airborne
An initial batch of fifty Mirage IVAs is on order. Of this
number, twelve aircraft will remain on airborne alert at all times. Another
twelve will remain on the ground on four-minute alert. A third group of twelve
will be on forty-five-minute standby status. It is expected that the remaining
fourteen aircraft will be in for normal overhauls.
The first units of the Force de Dissuasion are already
operational with the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force). New elements of four
are forming as aircraft are delivered to the Commandement des Forces Aeriennes
Stratégiques (Strategic Air Command). They are being phased into service at
the rate of about two a month. All fifty should be operational by the end of
1965. The force is under the command of General Philippe Maurin.
The Mirage IVA is an extremely versatile aircraft. It can
take off from a 6,000-foot dirt strip hardened by a new chemical spray. While
problems have been encountered with heating and vibration at extremely high
speeds and at low altitudes, these are expected to be overcome in the months
ahead. This should facilitate a low-level, high-speed dash under the enemy
The Force de Dissuasion will be widely dispersed at secret
fields throughout France. Aircraft will be housed individually in
air-conditioned, concrete hangar-shelters located at the ends of runways.
These structures are designed to withstand all but direct nuclear hits.
Development of navigation, ECM, and bombing techniques is
well along. Concerning the latter, the present French bomb is of a streamlined
shape and is carried in the belly with part of it projecting below the
fuselage. It has three stabilizing fins 120 degrees apart. Its configuration
will allow it to be launched at some distance from its target. Until recently,
there had been talk of developing the AS-2 Gamma air-to-ground standoff
missile. With a range of 178 miles, the Gamma would have enabled the Mirage IVA
to attack targets without having to penetrate close-in defenses. This
capability would have extended the operational life of the aircraft considerably.
Informed sources indicated recently, however, that plans for the missile have
But the same sources confirm that a Super Mirage IV bomber
is in the works. It is said to be powered either by two SNECMA TF-106 or two
Pratt & Whitney TF30 turbofan engines, the same ones programmed for the
TFX. These should measurably increase range and over-all performance. An
improved low-level capability will likely be built into the aircraft also.
Twelve of the Super versions are on order.
The first generation of the Force de Dissuasion will be
backed up by 150 Mirage IIIE strike fighters armed with nuclear weapons and a further
seventy-five similarly equipped Etendard IVM carrier-based aircraft.
Succeeding generations will further improve the force. By
1967, the second generation should be operational. It will consist of an
unannounced number of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. They will be
solid fueled with a range in the neighborhood of 1,300 miles. Plans call for
their deployment to widely dispersed hardened underground sites.
In its third generation, the Force de Dissuasion will go to
the sea. Three to five nuclear-powered submarines are to be built. Each will
carry sixteen sea-to-land Polaris-type ballistic missiles armed with
thermonuclear warheads. Individual submarines will join the fleet at two-year
intervals from 1968 onward. They will be operational as an effective force
This then is the Force de Dissuasion. While no SAC, it is
certainly a force to be reckoned with—one likely to cast a formidable nuclear
shadow across Europe and the world in the years ahead.
The author, Richard C.
Peet, is a lawyer who has held professional positions on both Capitol Hill
and in the executive branch of government. He has devoted considerable time to
study and writing on defense matters. A graduate of Tulane University, he is a
former Reserve officer in the Air Force. His byline last appeared in this
magazine in January 1964, with his article on RAP Bomber Command.
Daily Report: The day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag