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Opinion: No Ace out of Chirac's Sleeve

The controversial statements by France's president on the country's nuclear potential have triggered international protests. But Jacques Chirac has by no means played a trump card, says Deutsche Welle's Andreas Noll.

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What does Jacques Chirac have up his sleeve?

Jacques Chirac has a peculiar sense of symbolism shortly after the tenth anniversary of France breaking a nuclear testing moratorium in 1995. Is he playing with nuclear fire? No, says the Élysée Palace and denies that the President's speech was aimed at Iran.

Yet the political daredevil Chirac is aware of how explosive his timing is. Of course, his speech also contained a message to Tehran. We can also escalate matters, it says.

All the same, his expanded nuclear strategy is not a legal provision solely aimed at Iran. The change in France's strategy has been in preparation for at least five years -- in its main features, even before Sept. 11 and with the knowledge of the Socialist prime minister at the time. For this reason, the nation is not divided on this issue.

Whoever shoots first is dead seco n d

The new strategy follows the logic that France's nuclear program for has been losing value for years. Following the end of the Cold War, there is simply an enemy missing, who could harm the territorial integrity of the country.

Chirac besucht Atom-U-Boot

Chirac made his controversial speech aboard the "Le Vigilant" nuclear submarine

Nevertheless, there is always a highly-modern nuclear submarine on stand-by which could delete an aggressor from the map following an attack on France.

The French allocate well over 10 percent of their defense budget, which is growing quickly, to pay for this nuclear luxury. It's a lot of money for a prestige weapon, as power politics offer little possibilities for the bomb.

Until now, France only had the nuclear option of complete destruction. The basic rule -- whoever shoots first is dead second -- applied during the Cold War. But today, it is no longer of concern.

E n suri n g e n ergy provisio n s

Today, though, Paris wants to be able to threaten credibly again. The new nuclear weapons are supposed to be able to strike dead-on, for example, destroying power centers of the opponent without contaminating entire areas.

The delicate point about the whole matter is that these plans are astonishingly similar to the ideas of US President George W. Bush about nuclear precision bombs and Washington's dossiers on preventative warfare. This is incidentally the case with Chirac's announcement that a strategic provision of the country, which is not described in detail, had to be ensured with a vengeance.

You don't need a vivid imagination to think of oil or gas in this case.

Fra n ce is claimi n g the Europea n leadership

But Chirac's strategy of restricted nuclear attacks is not convincing because restricted nuclear warfare is unrealistic. A threat with nuclear destruction is lost upon highly mobile operating terrorists, who are ready for anything, anyway.

Chirac's second message is therefore: the middle-sized power France wants to self-confidently practice world politics and is claiming the leadership in Europe. A common European foreign and security policy becomes an even more distant prospect after this appearance. It's good that Germany has declined Paris' offer of integrating its nuclear weapons into a European security structure.

In the fight against terrorism, Jacques Chirac has once again caused a stir, but unfortunately not pulled an ace out of his sleeve.

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