The Financial Times reports this morning that:
“Jacques Chirac, Franceâ€™s president, has threatened to use nuclear weapons against any state that supported terrorism against his country or considered using weapons of mass destruction.“.
According to the FT Chirac’s actually words were:
â€œThe leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,â€ he said. â€œThis response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.â€
Now these words were not just any words, and the speech was not just any speech, since as the New York Times indicates, the Ã‰lysÃ©e Palace explanation is that M. Chirac’s speech reflected changes that had been adopted as part of a routine review of nuclear doctrine, a review which is carried out every five years. So not only is this a policy statement, it was also
the first time that a French president had publicly spelled out the possibility of nuclear retaliation for state-backed terrorism. In the past, France has said nuclear weapons could be used if its “vital interests” were at risk, while deliberately refraining from identifying those interests.
“In French doctrine, nuclear weapons are meant to deter attacks against ‘vital interests,’ to create uncertainty among potential attackers about what these interests could be,” said FranÃ§ois Heisbourg, special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “But here, things get defined. That’s a change.”
Not only could this change of policy not have come at a more sensitive time in view of what is currently taking place in Iran, it could not, in my opinion have been more barbaric, since (and surely M Chirac must know this) the victims of nuclear attacks are not states, but people, normally innocent ones, and if he doesn’t know this he should try asking the relatives of the former inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hopefully such threats will never be acted on (which doesn’t do anything to rescue the ethical standing of those who issue them), but the more immediate potential economic consequences that upping-the-anti with Iran in this crude fashion could have are outlined both here and here.