The Unelected Strangers with a Finger on the Button

Writing about global nuclear security is usually focused on the US and Russian nuclear arsenals and the tensions between these two countries. Eric Schlosser covered the topic well in his book Command and Control (2013) and in articles such as Almost Everything in Dr. Strangelove Was True (New Yorker, 2014). However, as alarming as the situation between the superpowers is, we have to pay attention also to the lesser superpower wannabes who have acquired smaller nuclear arsenals. They may be small, but they are dangerous enough to cause as much trouble as the larger arsenals of the two giants. Their strategic plans and their independent actions during a crisis might be the source of a conflict that would trigger the involvement of the US and Russia.

Veteran French politician Paul Quilès brought up this topic on his blog this week by discussing command and control plans within the French government, as he found a new documentary contains new shocking and worrying revelations about the way nuclear strike decisions would be handled during a crisis.  

Paul Quilès is the author of Nuclear: A French Lie (Nucléaire, un mensonge français) and he has held several cabinet posts during his career in national politics, notably Minister of Defense (1985-86). For the Parti Socialiste he was in charge of defense strategy (1995-2008) and he is presently mayor of Cordes-sur-Ciel, member of Mayors for Peace and a signatory of the Global Zero campaign.

A Shocking and Worrying Revelation
A translation of:

On March 22nd, the public television network France 5 will broadcast in prime time a film about French nuclear deterrence. The film is entitled France, the President and the Bomb, and it contains surprising and disturbing revelations about what would happen in the event the president of the republic was not able to give the order for la frappe nucléaire [the French word for a nuclear strike].

The documentary explains (from 42:00~) that in case of war and the incapacity of the president of the republic, the authority to order a nuclear strike devolves to a designated individual previously appointed in secret by the president, someone undoubtedly situated “en province” or far from the capital. This would take place outside of any procedures for devolution of authority inscribed in the constitution.

Thus an individual, a man or woman, could find himself or herself from one day to the next suddenly given this power to decide to kill millions of people, without any constitutional authority.

If this information is correct, some clarification and explanation are owed to the public. If it is not accurate, this would be a discredit to this report which aimed to inform the French public on this important matter.

While we insist on having the symbolic power that comes with having a nuclear deterrent, and on making the president responsible for preventing nuclear apocalypse, we can only be shocked and indignant about the disdain for public opinion on these matters concerning the security of French citizens. This information underscores the need for a real public debate over the need for a nuclear deterrent.

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