Why France's Nuclear Weapons Still Matter

Kyle Mizokami

Key point: Paris wanted its own deterrent, both to protect itself and to keep France "great." Nuclear missile submarines also allowed France to leave NATO for a good number of years while remaining secure.

France was the fourth country to join the so-called “Nuclear Club,” and at the height of the Cold War maintained its own nuclear triad of land-based missiles, nuclear-armed bombers and ballistic missile submarines. Today, France’s sea-based nuclear deterrent is the home of most of its nuclear arsenal, with four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, of French design and construction, providing constant assurance against surprise nuclear attack.

France’s nuclear weapons arsenal began in earnest on February 13th, 1960, with the country’s first nuclear weapons test. The test, code-named “Gerboise Bleue” (Blue Desert Rat) confirmed that France had the know-how to build its own weapons. It also confirmed that France had the nuclear know-how to part ways with the United States and NATO and chart its own course versus the Soviet Union.

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