In what one analyst sees as a demonstration of commitment to the United States and NATO, as well as a warning to Russia, France publicly announced Tuesday that its military had recently conducted a nuclear strike exercise.
During an 11-hour sortie involving a Rafale fighter, the French air force test-launched an ASMP or ASMP-A medium-range cruise missile, which can be armed with a nuclear warhead in the range of 100 kilotons.
Tom Rogan, a national security expert writing at the Washington Examiner, noted that the timing of the test is as important — or more so — than the actual test itself.
The test “compliments the U.S. decision earlier this week to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty,” following “Russia’s breach of the INF treaty as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s broader effort to degrade NATO deterrent resolve,” he wrote.
The ASMP is designed for medium-range battlespaces, Rogan noted, so the French test serves as a direct shot across Russia’s bow, so to speak.
That the French chose to use an air-launch platform to conduct the test is noteworthy: “That choice fits with how U.S., British, and French air forces are advancing their effort to penetrate powerful Russian air defense bubbles in the event of a conflict,” he wrote.
The message is clear: France stands ready to deploy its nuclear capabilities against Russia should the need arise, as in, if Russia should use nuclear weapons in Europe or against France directly.
Some analysts may believe that France’s test was unnecessarily provocative but in reality, Rogan notes, it ought to decrease tensions. At present, Russia is doing all it can to undermine NATO’s mutual deterrent resolve, mostly via stepped-up military activities but also via diplomatic putsches into former Soviet bloc nations on NATO’s eastern flank — the Baltics, for example, including Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.
Militarily, by cheating on the INF treaty and by other means including the development of hypersonic weapons, Putin has been working to undermine NATO’s resolve. However, if he understands that it wouldn’t just be the U.S. and Britain his forces would have to contend with, that is liable to keep his aggression in check.
“Remember,” writes Rogan, “Putin is an ambitious realist, not a psychopath. He knows that a full-scale nuclear war between Russia and NATO would mean Russia’s defeat.”
As such, it’s vital that he be reminded constantly that the alliance stands ready not only to resist Russian aggression but to take offensive actions to the next level if need be in order to ensure victory.
“Alongside France’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet — Triomphant, Terrible, Téméraire, and Vigilant — America’s oldest ally is showing new commitment to confronting a shared challenge,” Rogan writes, adding ruefully that NATO would be better served if German Chancellor Angela Merkel would demonstrate similar resolve.