French President Emmanuel Macron answered questions about Paris’s nuclear weapons policy in a Wednesday television interview. He indicated that Moscow detonating a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would not cause Paris to use its nukes. Macron is facing criticism for his remarks.
Paris’s current nuclear policy only allows for the deployment of its ultimate weapons in self-defense. In the interview, Marcon expressed a nuclear attack on Ukraine would not directly threaten France.
On France 2, Macron was asked “Would France consider a tactical strike by Russia as a nuclear strike?” He replied: “France has a nuclear doctrine. It lies in the nation’s fundamental interests that are clearly defined. They wouldn’t be questioned should there be a ballistic nuclear attack.”
Kasja Ollongren, defense minister of the Netherlands, criticized Macron, Saying "[p]art of our deterrence is also not to speculate publicly on what kind of response, in what kind of situation, they would get." She continued, "I would not comment on different possibilities and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’."
The Financial Times reported that NATO officials were unwilling to give a public statement on Marcon’s remarks. However, speaking privately they said it was alliance policy not to spell out when nuclear weapons would be used. An official added that a conventional strike on Russia was a likely response to Moscow using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Marcon was also attacked by politicians at home. Former French President François Hollande said on FranceInfo radio, Marcon should "say as little as possible and be prepared to do as much as possible." He added, "[nuclear] dissuasion’s credibility relies on not saying anything about what we would have to do."
Jean-Louis Thiériot, vice president of the National Assembly’s armed forces committee issued a sharper rebuke. "When I heard him speak, I almost fell off my chair. It’s a political mistake. One of the principles of nuclear dissuasion is that there’s an uncertainty as to what is considered a vital interest," he said.
Marcon Tweeted Thursday, "We do not want a World War." When asked about the president’s remarks, Macron’s office said Paris’s nuclear policy has not changed. "Nuclear deterrence is the prerogative of the head of state and his appreciation in a given moment of what is necessary to preserve our vital interests," the official said.