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France first tested a nuclear weapon in 1960, eight years after the UK and four years before China.  The last French tests took place in 1996, just prior to the conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which it signed and ratified in 1998.

Nuclear policy and capabilities

Since the end of the Cold War France has scaled back its nuclear arsenal by 50%, with a reduction in both its overall holdings but also the withdrawal of several weapons systems, including its land-based ballistic missile capability. France is the only nuclear weapon state to have dismantled, in its entirety, a ground-launched nuclear capability.

In 1992, and again in 1996, France reduced its alert levels, in terms of both response times and the number of weapons systems on alert. All of France’s nuclear forces have been de-targeted. France retains a first-use policy.

France’s nuclear stockpile is currently “fewer than 300” warheads, capable of being launched by combat aircraft and submarine, operating on a continuous at-sea basis. Both components have been modernised over the last decade.

France does not participate in NATO’s nuclear planning mechanisms and its forces are not formally assigned to NATO.

This short paper is intended as an introduction to France’s nuclear weapons policies and programmes. It is part of a series of country profiles which are available on the House of Commons Library website.

A more in-depth examination is also available in House of Commons Library, The French Nuclear Deterrent

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