Speech of General Norlain (English)

Conférence Bâle 12-13 avril 2019    Basel Peace Office
« Security without nuclear weapons, initiatives for disarmament »
Air Force General (ret) Bernard Norlain
(unofficial English translation)



We can observe that in the world of today, with its new security issues, nuclear weapons have never had so little strategic relevance. And yet, in this constantly changing world, and where the predominant approach to security is based on obsession and terror. The risk of failure is like the black swan from the book by Nassim Taleb – depicting an event the likelihood of which is low, but the results of which would be extreme. We are stubbornly basing our security on an unvarying framework of nuclear deterrence, even though we are constantly reminded about how changeable is the texture of history and how often events surprise even those people who make history.

”   Let’s be careful not to go into the future backwards ”   said Paul Valery.

  1. Unnecessary nuclear weapons

The world is no longer binary, as it was during the Cold War, but multi-polar and fundamentally unstable. In this new context where geostrategy and geopolitics are closely nested, the security challenges facing Europe and the world are radically different from those of the past world. These challenges are part of a global system whose main trends are called:

* Interdependence, characterized by a weakening of the nation states and at the same time the tensions linked to identity. One of the consequences of this is the new crisis of migration.

* Multipolarity, which saw the emergence of new powers and the recompositing of strategic balances. This new strategic context is characterized by its complexity and instability, aggravated by the disappearance of arms control regimes, particularly nuclear ones. The world, especially Europe, is thus threatened with a new nuclear cataclysm.

* Environment – with climate change, diminution of natural resources and population increase placing severe stress on the environment. This generates additional sources of tension and conflict.

* Digitization, which creates a very mobile world, in perpetual change, without geopolitical references and which opens new geostrategic spaces: cyberspace but even more so the cyberworld. Not to mention the dazzling development of artificial intelligence that conceals the eventual advent of inhumanity and the development of life sciences.

To all these security challenges, nuclear weapons cannot bring any relevant answer. They can only bring geostrategic instability and alarmingly increase the risk of nuclear war.

However, the nuclear countries are currently embarked on a new nuclear arms race and are making, as proclaimed by the American biologist and geographer Jared Diamond, ‘Nuclear war as a primary risk facing the world.’

It is time to re-establish international security on a new basis than the illusory ones of nuclear deterrence.

As Karl Jaspers spoke of the concept of nuclear deterrence “It is a fallacy to say that the idea of atomic war is horrible enough to make it impossible to trigger

  1. Security without nuclear weapons

In order to stop sheltering behind the illusory guarantee of security constituted by the nuclear weapons and to instead engage in a serious dynamic of nuclear disarmament, will require the development of a global project of security and of security assurance.

This project must be divided into three components, political, military and environmental.

A political component at first based on a reaffirmed commitment to multilateralism.

Revival of the arms control process, strengthening of the role of the UN, accession to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, reopening dialogues in particular between Europe and Russia are some of the ways to achieve stability in international relations.

A military component that must be based on the consideration of new threats and stop making nuclear weapons the cornerstone of defense and security policies.

Conventional deterrence, cyber defense, the fight against the militarization of space , the fight against terrorism and the establishment of legal and ethical standards in the military applications of Artificial Intelligence are the themes and principles on which the redesign of defense and security policies.

An environmental component aimed to face climate change, the end of diversity, the increase in the world’s population and the proliferation of urban megacities, the scarcity of natural resources and the pollution of the planet.

Of course this rapid inventory is not intended to be complete but is based on an well-known principle but more necessary than ever, setting fort that security cannot be based only on military or diplomatic side but that it must be based on a global vision of security issues, which is not limited to interstate relations as it is still too often perceived.

The prerequisite is to give up nuclear weapons. However, if the nuclear arms race continues to accelerate as it does now, it can only lead one day to their use, whether intentionally, or by miscalculation or by accident.

  1. Initiatives for disarmament

Regarding nuclear weapons, it is clear today that the taboo of “non-use” is about to shatter. The new American doctrine announced by Donald Trump is an evolution of nuclear doctrine that dangerously lowers the threshold of use of the 14 000 existing nuclear weapons, and leads the world closer to the cataclysm. Most nuclear powers, despite a lenient discourse on the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, have made technological or strategic choices that increase this risk.

The only effective way to prevent nuclear war is not to accumulate, modernize and make nuclear weapons more usable, but to eliminate them.

Therefore, the organization to which I belong, Initiatives pour le Désarmement Nucléaire, present or support several measurements that would contribute in the short term to reduce the danger of nuclear war; in the medium term, to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons; and in the long-term, to eliminate them in a multilateral, progressive and controlled process.

There are 12 of these measures, but it would be too long in my speech to list them all. I’ll summarize them in five points (details in appendix):

  1. Make further unilateral reductions in nuclear weapons

2 . Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies

  1. Decrease the alert level of nuclear forces to the lowest possible level
  2. Engaging a United States-Russia Mediation Process for the Withdrawal of US Tactical Nuclear Weapons Deployed in Europe in Exchange for the Total Withdrawal of Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe
  3. Join the mechanism provided for by the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

The complete list of measures advocated by our association is of course more detailed.


In conclusion, nuclear disarmament must be part of a global vision of security. This vision must take into account the new security challenges facing our world.

In a geostrategic context that has become unstable and threatening, the fight for peace that we all are fighting for, is more than ever necessary and urgent.




Five Urgent Steps to Prevent a Nuclear Catastrophe

Proposed by the French Nuclear Disarmament Movement

‘Initiatives pour le Désarmement nucléaire’ (IDN)


1 June 2018


According to the former US Secretary of Defense William Perry, the risk of nuclear war has never been higher since the Cold War. For decades, nuclear deterrence has been justified as an instrument meant to prevent war thanks to the fear of devastating reprisals in case of aggression.


Today, recent evolutions of nuclear doctrines, such as the Nuclear Posture Review of the Trump administration, as well as technological choices or risks (cyberattacks, artificial intelligence) contribute to breaking the taboo of ‘non-use’ of nuclear weapons. They lead to a dangerous lowering of the threshold of use of the some existing 15,000 nuclear weapons, pushing the world towards a cataclysm: resort to less detectable cruise missiles or even hypersonic missiles; miniaturization of warheads; scenarios of nuclear escalation in case of conventional, chemical, biological, or even cyberattacks; greater vulnerability to the danger of accidental, unauthorised or terrorist use or by hacking, etc.


For the French nuclear disarmament movement ‘Initiatives pour le Désarmement nucléaire’ (IDN) like for many states, leaders and experts, the only effective way of preventing nuclear war consists not in accumulating and modernising nuclear weapons or making them more useable, but in prohibiting and eliminating them.


This is why IDN proposes several measures which would result: in the short term in reducing the risk of nuclear war; in the medium term in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and in the long term in eliminating them in a multilateral, gradual, and verifiable process. Here are the five most urgent of those measures.


1) Carry out new unilateral reductions of nuclear arsenals:
Several nuclear powers, including France, already implemented unilateral reductions of their national stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The UK renounced the airborne component of its deterrent and only maintains the submarine-borne

component. France already eliminated its land-based component and could gradually renounce its airborne component, deemed expensive, vulnerable and useless. Similarly, after having modernised its submarine-based missiles, it could further reduce their number and that of the warheads equipping them (as the UK is doing).

2) Make “further progress in diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies” as provided for in the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):
The provisions of Article VI of the NPT as well as documents adopted in 1995, 2000 et 2010 aim at nuclear disarmament as part of general and complete disarmament. The goal of the NPT is to increase global security with non-proliferation and disarmament measures.

3) Reduce to the lowest possible level the degree of alert of nuclear forces:
About half of the some 4,000 nuclear weapons deployed by the US, Russia, France, and the UK are constantly placed in maximum alert, which would allow strikes in minutes following detection of incoming missiles. Inherent to this status is the risk of starting an accidental, erroneous or unauthorised nuclear exchange. In particular, weapons must be separated from their means of delivery to give decision‐makers enough time to stop the doomsday escalation.

4) Start a mediation process between the US and Russia for the withdrawal of US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe in exchange for the total withdrawal of Russian nuclear tactical weapons from its European territory:
Such weapons are designed to be used on European soil and in the framework of nuclear escalation between the US and Russia. Far from ensuring the security of NATO allies, they turn the European countries that host them (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherland, and Turkey) into targets of nuclear attacks. Their neutralization in central storage, as a first step, and then their withdrawal would facilitate the negotiation of new reductions of US and Russian strategic arsenals. Such an initiative could be launched by France and the European Union on the occasion of the next NATO Summit on 11-12 July 2018.

5) Join the mechanism offered by the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW):
This treaty, adopted by 122 states at the UN and expected to enter into force at the end of 2019, but boycotted by the nuclear powers, fills an important legal gap: after biological and chemical weapons, it established a norm of prohibition of nuclear weapons, the last category of weapons of mass destruction that was not prohibited. This treaty offers nuclear-armed states two options for membership: either they eliminate their nuclear weapons and join the treaty, or they become parties to it and announce to the other states parties a plan for their verifiable disarmament (possibly negotiated with the other nuclear powers).