Macron under fire for saying France won’t respond like that if Russia launches nuclear attack on Ukraine – POLITICO

PARIS — Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments on the French response to a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine have drawn fire from observers and political opponents at home.

During an interview with French television channel France 2, the French president said on Wednesday that Paris would « obviously » not use nuclear weapons in response to a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine.

“France has a nuclear doctrine, which is based on the vital interests of the country and which are clearly defined. These would not be at stake if there was a nuclear ballistic attack in Ukraine or in the region,” the French president said.

The French president has since been criticized for breaking the habit of remaining vague on the subject of nuclear deterrence, at a time when Russian leader Vladimir Putin made nuclear threats.

« [Nuclear] the credibility of deterrence rests on saying nothing about what we would have to do,” former French President François Hollande told FranceInfo radio, adding that we had to “say as little as possible and be ready to do as much as possible”.

As the leader of the EU’s only nuclear power, Macron’s comments that he would not respond to a nuclear attack in Ukraine « or the region » are unlikely to reassure EU member states belonging to NATO such as Poland, Romania or Slovakia. Article 5 of the NATO treaty stipulates that members must come to the defense of other members in the event of an attack.

Putin raised the specter of nuclear war in a major escalation last month, threatening to use « all weapon resources » at his disposal to win.

While the United States remained vague on how it would react to a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine, it was however clear that Russia would face a full-scale conventional force response.

Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research think tank, questioned Macron’s « curious » decision to spell out the limits of France’s nuclear doctrine and the timing of the declaration.

« In my opinion, the correct answer should have been: I will not play this game… and Mr. Putin must be aware that he will lose anyway, » he tweeted.

During Wednesday’s interview, the French president said the less talk about deterrence « the better », but then clarified what would happen in the event of an attack on Ukraine. Asked by the France 2 journalist if France would refrain from deploying nuclear bombs in response to a Russian nuclear attack on Ukrainian soil, Macron replied « obviously ».

« When I heard him speak, I almost fell off my chair, » said Conservative MP Jean-Louis Thiériot, vice-chairman of the National Assembly’s Armed Forces Committee.

“It is a political error. One of the tenets of nuclear deterrence is that there is uncertainty as to what is considered vital interest,” he said.

Thiériot thinks Macron’s message may have been aimed at the country’s voters, who are worried about France’s military support for Ukraine and the possibility of nuclear war.

The French president made no statement about what France’s conventional response might be if Russia uses nuclear weapons. On Monday, the G7 countries issued a statement warning that Russia would face « serious consequences » if it did so.

The comments risk further undermining France’s efforts for strategic autonomy and a Europe that defends itself and does not rely solely on the United States for protection.

Lili Bayer and Stuart Lau contributed reporting.

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