15 February 1963 - Speech made at the Ecole Militaire
On the occasion of an inspection of the institutions of staff college training, General de Gaulle set out the consequences France should draw from the existence of nuclear weapons for the organisation of her defence.
There is no point concealing from you the emotion I feel at finding myself, once more in my life, here where in the past I have had so many occasions to encounter ideas, participate in work, engage in reflections which have undoubtedly contributed in great measure to the tasks I have subsequently been called upon to perform in the service of France.
Nor do I wish to conceal from you the satisfaction I have felt in meeting you all, that is to say all the various branches of staff college training and the National Defence Institute. I have seen these branches in full activity and in full expansion. Naturally, I am delighted to find it so.
Wherever I have passed among you, I have encountered in your work and in your concerns the overwhelming issue of the day, by which I mean nuclear weapons. Since I have the opportunity to speak to you, it is only natural that I should explain to you in a few words the underlying conceptions guiding the head of state and the government in the matter of defence as they see it, as they are responsible for organising and, potentially, directing it. Long ago, the emergence of metal weapons gave birth to the great hegemonies of antiquity. After them came the barbarian invasions and the feudal system that followed. Then the advent of fire-arms made possible the rebirth of centralised states. This resulted in the great wars, the wars of Europe, where each of the great powers of the period sought to dominate in turn : Spain, England, France, Turkey, Germany, Russia. The emergence of fire-arms also sparked off and made possible colonisation, in other words the conquest of vast regions : America, India, the East, Africa. Finally, the power of the motor emerged as a factor in combat, by sea, air and land. It was this that made it possible to bring the First World War to and end. It was this that furnished the conquering ambition of Nazi Germany with an instrument. It was also this that gave the free world what was required to crush that ambition.
Today, the development of nuclear weapons has in its turn brought about a complete upheaval in terms of the security, and hence the policies, of states, even in times of peace. The upheaval would be all the greater in time of war. Imagination itself cannot encompass what might be the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, except to realise that, in any event, such a use would lead to a total subversion in human society. We are all aware that the intrinsic capacities of nuclear weapons are such that any people against whom they might be used, even only in restricted fashion, would suffer if not destruction at least unprecedented suffering, even were that people, as the bombs were falling among them, to succeed in annihilating the enemy that had launched them.
Under such circumstances it is clear there is no independence imaginable for a country that does not have its own nuclear weapon, because if it does not have such a weapon it will be forced to rely for its security, and consequently for its policy, on another country which does. It is true that certain countries of the world imagine that they can wrap themselves in neutrality, that is to say stand aloof in their corner in the event of world conflict, believing that it this way they will be overlooked by destiny. In reality, however, they will only be able to await their fate without being in any way able to alter it.
For France, whose geographical situation, whose historical raison d'être and political nature all rule out neutrality, for France which has no intention of handing over responsibility for her own fate to a foreign nation, no matter how friendly, it is absolutely necessary that she should have the wherewithal to act in any war, in other words that she should have nuclear arms.
The question of whether the total power of those arms will be equal to the total power of the arms of any adversary, and the question of whether our country could prosecute a global conflict without alliances - and, clearly, the answer to both those questions must be negative - in no way alter the elementary need for us to have our own nuclear weapons, to employ them, if necessary, as we see fit and, equally naturally, to combine the use of such weapons with the analogous weapons of our allies as part of a common effort.
These are the principles. How might they be applied ?
The existence of nuclear weapons, from their first appearance during the war with the Hiroshima bomb and their subsequent growth which can only be adequately described as uncontrolled, the existence of such weapons, I say, not only profoundly alters the conditions of state security and policies. It also causes an immense uncertainty to hover over all battles, over their nature, their rhythm, their development.
If an exchange of strategic nuclear weapons between two camps, each directed by the two principal states in conflict, is capable of causing the destruction of those two states, it follows that, whatever their intentions may be, there is absolutely no way to predict if, why, where, when, how or to what extent the two nations, assured of mutual destruction, might wish to trigger such an exchange. If the exchange of tactical nuclear weapons will necessarily cause the annihilation of the battle-fronts and the neighbouring populations, the battle-fronts being those of the two integrated armed forces directed by the two states just mentioned, and if this exchange of tactical nuclear weapons must necessarily lead to the release of strategic nuclear weapons and, as a consequence, to terrible destruction in the two principal nations, there is absolutely no way to predict if, why, where, when, how or to what extent the two nations who possess such tactical weapons might wish to employ them.
The state of uncertainty in which we French find ourselves in this matter and, on the other hand, the fact that if the battle of Germany, the first battle in the war, went badly, whether it were to any degree a nuclear battle or not at all, the immediate consequence would be the destruction or the invasion of France and, at the same time, the loss of any bridgehead for the free world in Europe. We, however, are resolved, whatever may happen, not to be annihilated as a state and as a nation without having defended our homeland, body and soul, on the ground and we are further convinced that in so doing we would create a chance of final victory ; all of these considerations therefore prompt us to possess our own nuclear arms at our own disposal for any nuclear strike. They prompt us also to possess the means of intervening, on land, sea and in the air, wherever circumstances would appear to us to dictate, and to possess the means of offering national resistance to the invader on our own territory, should this prove necessary.
Such are the conceptions which, I repeat, have led the head of state and the government to draw up the defence plan, the organisation plan and the arms plan currently in force or in preparation. All this aside, however, it goes without saying that staff college training and defence planning overall must find new impetus in all this. These necessities are imposing on the French command structure a new era of initiative, authority and responsibility. Whether it be in conceiving the military scenarios in which we might find ourselves at all levels, whether it be in preparing the weapons, officers, troops and services, or whether finally and, I would almost say, most importantly, for those who would have the honour of commanding in the midst of cataclysm, it be in holding themselves in intellectual, moral and technical readiness, the role and duty of staff college training are essential beyond any shadow of doubt.
I have confidence in you, gentlemen, and in the commanders responsible for leading you, to fulfil this role and accomplish this duty.
Gentlemen, I have the honour to salute you.