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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Jan van der Made

France 'massively upgrading' its nuclear weapons: report

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) attends the official launch ceremony of the new French nuclear submarine "Suffren" in Cherbourg, north-western France on July 12, 2019. ludovic MARIN / AFP

Nuclear-armed countries increased spending on atomic weapons arsenals by a third in the past five years, according to a new report. France is just one of nine countries racing to modernise stockpiles against a backdrop of growing political tensions around the globe.

France is engaged in a "massive multi-year nuclear weapons upgrade" according to a report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), spending €300 million more on them than the year before.

"It can launch nuclear weapons by aircraft as well as by submarine and is investing billions in developing more sophisticated systems to be able to launch them," according to Alicia Sanders-Zakre co-author of the 85-page report Surge: 2023 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending.

France's total spending on nuclear weapons, some €5,3 billion in 2023 alone, amounts to "more than €10,000 per minute," Sanders-Zakre told RFI.

Clearly, the French government "didn't listen to calls from some major cities, including Paris, to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons", she says.

But within the ranks of the world's nuclear powers, France appears modest.

Jointly, the world's nine nuclear-armed states jointly spent €85 billion on their arsenals last year, says the ICAN report.

This is an increase of €10 billion from a year earlier, with the United States accounting for 80 percent.

The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

List of the five biggest spenders on nulcear weapons in 2023. The others are India (€2.5 billion), Israel (€1 billion), Pakistan (€930 million) and North Korea (€796 million). © Screengrab ICAN report "

According to the report, the US share of total spending, €49.9 billion, "is more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together."

The next biggest spender was China, at €11 billion, followed by Russia, spending €7.7 billion, while Britain's spending rose significantly for the second year in a row, swelling 17 percent to €7.5 billion.

France follows with its €5.3 billion, but is still far ahead of nuclear newcomers India (€2.5 billion,) Israel (€1 billion), Pakistan (€930 million,) and North Korea (€796 million).

"It's clear that there is a global nuclear arms race underway," Sanders-Zakre says, which, instead of providing global security constitutes "a global security threat to people all over the world."

The use of nuclear weapons has impacts across borders and boundaries and "can really lead to devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences", she points out.

In 2023, France spent more than €10,000 per minute on its nuclear weapons forces.


INTERVIEW: Alicia Sanders-Zakre Policy and Research coordinator with ICAN

Jan van der Made

"As long as these countries continue to invest billions of dollars every year in building up weapons of mass destruction, they're not investing in actual global security solutions" like climate strategies, global health or combating world hunger, she says.

The chief of ICAN Melissa Parke echoed this sentiment in an interview with French news agency AFP.

She slammed "the billions of dollars being squandered on nuclear weapons" as "a profound and unacceptable misallocation of public funds".

She highlighted that that money was more than what the World Food Programme estimates is needed to end world hunger.

"And you could plant a million trees for every minute of nuclear weapons spending," she said.

"These numbers are obscene, and it is money that the state says is going towards weapons that... will never be used," she said, pointing to the nuclear deterrence doctrine.

The investments are not only wasteful but also extremely dangerous, she warned.

According to the Arms Control Association, the world's nuclear-armed states possess a combined total of about 13,080 nuclear warheads. © Arms Control Association

Geneva-based ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its key role in drafting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which took effect in 2021.

Seventy countries have ratified it to date and more have signed it, although none of the nuclear weapons states have come on board.

"Instead of investing in Armageddon, the nine nuclear-armed states should follow the example of almost half the world's countries and join the treaty... and make a real contribution to global security" Sanders-Zakre insists.

A separate report was also released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), stressing the "continuing deterioration of global security over the past year".

The impact from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza could be seen in "almost every aspect" of issues relating to armaments and international security, researchers found.

"We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history," SIPRI director Dan Smith said, urging the world's great powers to "step back and reflect. Preferably together."

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