Wednesday, March 12, 2008


France's nuclear diplomacy
By Michelle M. Smith and Charles D. Ferguson

The recent war games in the Gulf with France, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are connected to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's nuclear diplomacy. Sarkozy has been leveraging France's leading civilian nuclear technology to gain diplomatic, commercial and military advantages with countries in the Middle East, as well parts of Africa and Asia.

In response, nonproliferation experts have voiced their unease at the idea of exporting potentially nuclear bomb-usable technologies to proliferation-prone regions. In particular, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, recently expressed concern that Sarkozy's aggressive sales campaign in the Muslim world was moving "too fast." A number of German politicians have advised France to "weigh the risks," especially when it comes to nuclear deals with the Libyan regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Despite these fears, Sarkozy's nuclear energy proselytizing will not convert any new countries to acquiring nuclear weapons any time soon, if ever, and France will face financial and technical hurdles in building many nuclear power plants in these countries.

Since taking office last May, Sarkozy has signed deals worth billions of dollars to build nuclear power reactors or offer technical advice to a number of Arab states, including Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Indonesia and Turkey also have considered the purchase of such technology from France. Although the French nuclear group Areva reported strong annual profits in 2007 and pledged to double in size within the next five years, serious constraints limit the realization of the global promises made by Sarkozy and Areva's chief executive, Anne Lauvergeon. Aside from the obvious political and financial barriers that complicate the construction of nuclear power plants, many practical difficulties stand between France and its ambitious goals in the developing world.

With the exception of a regional uranium enrichment consortium proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, few of the states Sarkozy visited have plans to develop indigenous enrichment facilities. Overall, this is good news for nonproliferation because as long as individual countries do not enrich their own uranium, they are much less likely to acquire bomb-usable materials.


Pertinent Links:

1) France's nuclear diplomacy

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