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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: France
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Updated: October 2015

This profile summarizes the major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that France subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of France, as well as its proliferation record. This profile is one of a series focused on the arms control record and status of key states, all of which are available on the Arms Control Association’s Website at http://www.armscontrol.org.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Biological Weapons Convention

- - -


Chemical Weapons Convention



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty



Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

-Recognized as one of five nuclear-weapon states.

- - -


Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

-Party to all five protocols.



Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty



Outer Space Treaty



Ottawa Mine Ban Convention



Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)



CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -


International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism


- - -

*Passed with reservations, for list see:http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/cppnm_reserv.pdf

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Australia Group: Member.

Missile Technology Control Regime: Member.

Nuclear Suppliers Group: Member.

Wassenaar Arrangement: Member.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: Yes, entered into force in 2004.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Participant.

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Participant.

Proliferation Security Initiative: Participant.

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: France has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

Biological Weapons:

Little is known about past French biological weapons activities, which reportedly included research on anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, ricin, rinderpest, and salmonella. [1] France is not suspected of having a current offensive biological weapons program, and under France’s 1972 Law on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, it is illegal to produce or stockpile these weapons. [2] They are believed to have stopped their program after World War II. [3]

Chemical Weapons:

During World War I, France produced and used mustard gas and phosgene. France maintained stockpiles of these weapons at the beginning of World War II, but did not use them. After World War II, France resumed offensive chemical weapons research and testing, and in the 1960s they manufactured Sarin and VX nerve agents. However, France destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons prior to 1988. [4]

Conventional Weapons Trade:

France is a major conventional weapons exporter. A September 2007 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that only the United States and Russia surpassed France in global arms sales between 1999 and 2006. France tallied $26.9 billion in arms agreements for that period, while the United States and Russia completed transactions worth $123.5 billion and $54.3 billion, respectively. [5] A 2011 CRS report found that from 2007 to 2011, France made nearly $11 billion in arms trade agreements with the developing world, making them again the third-leading supplier of arms after the U.S. and Russia. [6]

The French government has stated their support for an Arms Trade Treaty, which is being negotiated at the United Nations from July 2-27, 2012.

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview:

As of 2014, France is estimated to have about 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine launched ballistic missiles(SLBM). The other warheads would outfit the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée (ASMP) missiles carried by Mirage 2000N, Super Étendard, and Rafale planes.  France currently operates four Triomphant class nuclear submarines.

Delivery Systems


  • Ballistic Missiles: In 1996, France decided to eliminate its nuclear-armed land-based ballistic missiles, leaving it with only submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

  • Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles: At the end of 2010, France deployed the M51 SLBM on its four ballistic missile submarines. [7] The older models of the French SLBM are M4A/B and the M45. [8]

  • Cruise Missiles: France has both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The nuclear version is the Air-Sol-Moyenne Portée (ASMP). France has transferred conventional cruise missiles to other countries, including the French-British Black Shaheen missile, a version of the Scalp cruise missile, to the United Arab Emirates. France tested the Scalp cruise missile in 2010. It has a range of 1,000 km. [9]


  • France’s submarine force consists of four Triomphant class submarines. Both Le Terrible and Le Vigilant carries sixteen M51 missiles while the other two submarines carry M45 missiles [10].  Both of these missiles have a range of 6000 km and deliver 100 kilotons warheads.  France is expected to upgrade its remaining submarines by 2017 and to replace the M51.1 missiles with the M51.2 by 2015.

Strategic Bombers

  • The French Air Force currently operates Mirage 2000N and Rafale aircrafts.  These aircrafts are capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads.  Additionally, the French Navy operates Super Éntendard aircrafts, which are also capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads [11]. All planes carry ASMP cruise missiles to deliver 300 kt warheads.  The French military is expected to replace its entire Super Éntendard fleet with Dassault Rafale planes by 2015, and some of its Mirage 2000N with Rafale planes by 2018. [12]

Nuclear Doctrine

France reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. It has reaffirmed a 1995 pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT unless it is facing an invasion or sustained attack against its territories, armed forces, or states with which it has security agreement and the attack is in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state. At the same time, French President Jacques Chirac suggested in January 2006 that nuclear weapons would be an option for responding to states that conduct “terrorist” or any type of weapon of mass destruction attack against France.

Paris declared that it took steps in 1992 and 1996 to extend the time it take to launch nuclear weapons.  It is believed that France needs several days in order to launch nuclear weapons.

France conducted 210 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Feb. 13, 1960, and the last test took place Jan. 27, 1996. France was the fourth country to conduct a nuclear weapon test.

Fissile Material

Chirac announced in February 1996 that France no longer produced fissile material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for weapons purposes. He also vowed that France would dismantle its fissile material production facilities for arms. As of 2011, France is estimated to have approximately 26 metric tons of HEU and 6 metric tons of plutonium for weapons purposes. France also possesses HEU and plutonium for its civilian nuclear power program. In its most recent IAEA disclosure, France said it had 56 tons of plutonium and 4.6 tons of HEU for civilian use. [13] France is one of the few countries that continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, and the accept fuel from foreign countries for that purpose. Currently, approximately 24 tons of foreign owned plutonium, mostly belonging to Japan, is stored in France.

Proliferation Record

In 1957, France signed a major nuclear cooperation agreement with Israel even though it was generally understood that Israel was interested in potentially developing a nuclear arsenal. France halted the agreement in 1960.

France built the Osirak reactor in Iraq despite warnings from other governments that the reactor might be used to support a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Paris declined to rebuild the reactor after Israel bombed the plant in 1981.

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

France has signed protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America, South Pacific, and African nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. France has not signed the protocols for the Central Asian and Southeast Asian zones.

As of 2008, the French government supports the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty, and has affirmed that the Conference on Disarmament is the appropriate forum for negotiations.

France is a state-party to the Open Skies Treaty, which enables unarmed reconnaissance flights over all states-parties territories, and has signed the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. France, along with other NATO members, is refusing to ratify the latter agreement until Russia fulfills commitments to withdraw its military forces from Georgia and Moldova.

France signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans “all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions.” [14] The treaty went into effect August 1, 2010.

France has been a supporter of security nuclear material, [15] and participated in both the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul, South Korea.

France has engaged in negotiations with Iran such as the most recent rounds of the P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear activities, over its nuclear activities, which France suspects are intended to develop nuclear weapons. France supported ratcheting up sanctions on Iran to persuade it to halt certain activities, particularly uranium enrichment. This included a European Union-wide ban on importing Iranian oil that went into effect July 1, 2012.

-Researched and prepared by Alex Bollfrass. Updated by Victor Silva


1. Lepick, Olivier, “French Activities Related to Biological Warfare, 1919-45,” Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research, Development and Use from the Middle Ages to 1945,” Geissler, Erhard, and van Courtland Mood, John Ellis, eds., Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1999.

2. “France: Practice Related to Rule 73. Biological Weapons.” International Committee of the Red Cross, page visited July 2012. http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_cou_fr_rule73

3. “Chemical and Biological Weapons: Possession and Programs Past and Present.” James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies, updated March 2008. http://cns.miis.edu/cbw/possess.htm

4. “France Chemical.” King’s College London, page visited July 2012.http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/warstudies/research/groups/csss/alpha/countries/France/France-Chemical.aspx

5. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006, Congressional Research Service, September 26, 2007, 92 pp.

6. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2003-2010, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2011, 89 pp.

7. “M51 – Missile mer-sol balistique strategique.” Direction generale de l’armement, June 14, 2011. http://www.defense.gouv.fr/dga/equipement/dissuasion/m51-missile-mer-sol-balistique-strategique/%28language%29/fre-FR#SearchText=m51#xtcr=3

8. “Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories.” Arms Control Association, January 2012.http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/missiles

9. Irish, John. “AIRSHOW-France eyes sea-launched cruise missiles.” Reuters, June 20, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/20/airshow-mbda-missiles-idUSLDE75J1PV20110620

10. SIPRI Yearbook 2013, (Oxford: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012), 303.

11. Atomic Archive, "French Nuclear Forces." Accessed June 18, 2013. http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/FRForces.shtml.

12.SIPRI Yearbook 2012, (Oxford: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012), 325.

13. International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report, 2011, January 2012, 49 pp. (http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr11.pdf)

14. Convention on Cluster Munitions – CCM, The Convention, page visited July 2012, http://www.clusterconvention.org/

15. “Events: Nuclear Security Summit (Seoul, March 26 to 28, 2012). France Diplomatie, page visited July 2012.http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/global-issues/disarmament-arms-control/arms-control-and-arms-trade/events-2129/article/nuclear-security-summit-seoul-26

Posted: March 21, 2013