In 1960, France became the fourth nuclear-armed state when it tested its first large nuclear device in Algeria, then a French colony. France conducted 17 nuclear weapons tests in Algeria in total. Following Algerian independence in 1962, France created two new test sites in French Polynesia and conducted another 193 atmospheric and underground tests between 1966 and 1996. France then signed the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and ratified the agreement in 1998. France is one of the five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Since the end of the Cold War, France has reduced its stockpile of nuclear weapons from an approximate high of 540 to its current arsenal of around 290. The country deactivated its land-based missiles at Plateau d’Albion in 1996 and imploded the silos, so it no longer has a nuclear triad. France maintains a constant at-sea presence through its nuclear-powered submarines, assuring it a second-strike capability, and is in the process of modernizing its air- and sea-based nuclear forces, as well as their delivery vehicles.
France’s nuclear forces are not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) integrated military command structure, so France retains independent decision-making responsibilities. However, France is the only remaining nuclear-weapon state in the European Union (EU), following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU on January 31, 2020. The British withdrawal from the EU, coupled with President Donald Trump’s attacks on the NATO alliance, has fueled a discussion on the strength of Europe’s nuclear deterrent within the bloc. President Emmanuel Macron was quick to articulate in a speech on France’s nuclear forces after the UK’s exit that, “France’s vital interests now have a European dimension.”
Recent Analysis on France
- NATO 2030: What the new Strategic Concept should say about nuclear weapons September 30, 2021
- Fact Sheet: U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe August 18, 2021
- Fact Sheet: France’s Nuclear Inventory March 27, 2020
- Fact Sheet: Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) March 5, 2020
- A quick guide to the JCPOA Dispute Resolution Mechanism January 22, 2020
- Op-ed: Abandoning Open Skies: Trump Would Be Squandering More of Our Security Inheritance October 22, 2019
- Trump’s Withdrawal From the Open Skies Treaty Jeopardizes US National Security October 17, 2019
- New Language in the 2019 report on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments.” August 22, 2019
- Greenpeace stunt highlights gaps in French nuclear safety July 3, 2018
- Fact Sheet: The Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) May 5, 2017