France is to enact a historic shift in military strategy by targeting its nuclear missiles on "rogue states" that have weapons of mass destruction, it was reported yesterday.
In the longer term, the strategy will "take into account" China as a potential threat, according to the newspaper Libération. It said the new doctrine - the fruit of several years of reflection by the defence ministry, will be announced in the next few weeks.
The cost of maintaining France's nuclear capability absorbs 10 per cent of its £23 billion annual defence budget. Many in the military think the money would be better spent on conventional forces and equipment for a rising number of humanitarian tasks.
France's Cold War goal was to prove its independence from America and Nato by having its own deterrent against Soviet attack.
It is not clear how the new strategy would be received in Washington - as yet another French attempt to exclude the US from Europe's defence or a welcome recognition of the continuing strategic value of nuclear arms and the dangers of rogue states. France is also looking at developing "mini-nukes" capable of destroying military installations without serious civilian casualties.
In unveiling such a new strategy, M Chirac would bring France into line with America, which has said it might one day be necessary to use nuclear force against nations with weapons of mass destruction.