Ukraine: “Faced with a nuclear attack, France is not ready”

Following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian deterrence forces, including the nuclear arsenal, to be put on high alert. A few days earlier, the head of the Kremlin warned those “trying to interfere” with the actions of Russian troops “that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead to consequences (…) previously unknown.” Anxiety about a nuclear attack is growing in Europe. According to Benoît Pelopidas, founder of the Nuclear Knowledges program at Sciences Po and author of the book Rethinking the Nuclear Choice (Presses de Sciences Po, 2022), France has relied on nuclear deterrence rather than defense.

Challenges. Is France ready for a nuclear attack?

Benoit Pelopidas –If a nuclear strike is understood as the explosion of several warheads (the front part of the projectile, containing the lethal charge, editor’s note) Nuclear in territory, that is, France is not ready for a scenario other than a terrorist attack. Already in 1954, the National Civil Protection Service noted that fifteen thermonuclear bombs were enough to destroy France. The Russian arsenal today includes 4,500 nuclear warheads, not counting 1,500 awaiting dismantling, and we remain vulnerable to this kind of attack. This is partly due to the invention in the early 1960s of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which fly about 20 times faster than the previous generation of launch vehicles – bombers. This makes it almost impossible to intercept the missile after launch. The invisibility of the submarines that carry some of these missiles makes it impossible to destroy the missile before it is launched. The hypersonic missiles that Russia possesses today continue this acceleration dynamic, which increases vulnerability and reduces decision time. As for missile defense systems, France does not have a national system of this type, and American systems still perform very poorly in tests, which excludes the possibility of interception protection from a massive attack.

Switzerland has 360,000 nuclear shelters, which became mandatory during the Cold War to protect itself if attacked. Isn’t it the same in France?

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