News

France weighed nuclear threat in Bosnia, book says
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 14:34:27 PST (Reuter / Bernard Edinger)
Copyright 1997 by Reuters

PARIS (Reuter) - French military chiefs considered threatening to use short-range nuclear missiles in Bosnia when its U.N. peacekeepers faced the possibility of being overrun by Serbs, according to a new book.

The Defense Ministry, questioned by Reuters, said its specialists had yet to read ``Initiation a la force de frappe francaise'' (Introduction to the French Strike Force) by Marc Theleri, published this week, and could not comment.

Publishers Stock said the author, writing under a pseudonym, was a retired colonel long assigned to nuclear affairs and known for articles on strategic issues in specialized publications.

Theleri says the idea of threatening to use Hades nuclear missiles in Bosnia began when French peacekeepers were isolated in an undefendable position in the northern Bihac pocket in 1994 amid heavy fighting between Serbs and rival Muslim forces.

Bangladeshi U.N. troops who later replaced the French faced near starvation because of a Serb siege of the Bihac area.

According to Theleri, the French army went as far as to put a ``last warning brigade'' equipped with Hades surface-to-surface missiles on operational alert in France.

But the missiles, which carry 80-kiloton nuclear warheads and have a range of up to 240 miles, were never shipped to the conflict zone.

The navy also prepared the aircraft carrier Clemenceau in the Adriatic to receive planes equipped with medium-range ``stand-off'' nuclear missiles, he wrote.

The idea was revived when French troops in Sarajevo, cut off and vulnerable to attack, started to suffer losses from Serb fire in 1995, Theleri said.

After the Serbs took dozens of international peacekeepers hostage, the French won agreement to send a heavily armed Franco-British-Dutch rapid reaction force. A NATO-led air bombing campaign later in the year broke Serb will to fight on.

Theleri does not say whether French political authorities seriously discussed a nuclear option in Bosnia. There was no public debate on the issue and former policymakers have not referred to it in recent memoirs.

The book says the French air force had a Cold War plan to send a nuclear bomber to hit Moscow on what was euphemistically termed a ``non-return'' -- or kamikaze -- mission.

It says that while maps long omitted the location of Russia's prime land-based missile base, recently closed, aerial photos of the site taken by a French commercial satellite were available in stores in the United States.

The backbone of the deterrent has now shifted to missile-firing submarines, which are far harder to detect.

France's nuclear force was created by President Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s and, like other countries' arsenals, its main purpose is to serve as a deterrent rather actually be used except in ``doomsday'' scenarios.

Unlike U.S. policy, French doctrine always rejected the tactical use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield.

Theleri says the main French targets in case of an East-West showdown were Minsk, Kiev, Kaliningrad, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow.

But an attack on Moscow by a nuclear-armed Mirage IV bomber, long France's only nuclear delivery vehicle, would have been a ``no-return'' mission since the plane did not carry sufficient fuel to fly home, he wrote.

If it survived, the aircraft might have tried to ditch in Sweden or Finland, he said.