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The French touch on disarmament

By Jean Francois-Poncet / January 3, 1980



The French understand why their country is determined to have is own security capabilities. But they wonder whether France is doing enough for disarmament. When he went in person to New York to explain the French positions on disarmament from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly in the spring of [1978], the President of the Republic did not only demonstrate France's interest in this problem, he also proposed a new approach to it. He put forward an original and coherent doctrine.

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Are France's proposals too timid, or, on the contrary, too ambitious? It is always difficult to answer conflicting criticisms. I prefer to let the facts speak for themselves.

When we proposed to reform the disarmament negotiating machinery, we were told that we would never succeed in doing away with the two greatest powers' co-chairmanship of the Geneva committee, and we were urged not to make this a condition for our participation. We stood firm, and it is indeed on a new committee, with new procedures, a new composition and a new spirit, that France is sitting today. We did not do so for reasons of prestige but because we were convinced that only through such a change could disarmament be pulled out of the rut in which the previous committee has become trapped. The fact that China is considering in its turn taking up its seat on the committee confirms that this was an indispensable and important reform.

We launched the proposal for an international satellite monitoring agency. Skepticism was expressed in many quarters. The idea was indeed revolutionary. I find that it is now taken into account by the international community. After two sessions, the group of governmental experts formed at the request of the United Nations Secretary General has concluded that the project is desirable and feasible.

I could say that same of our proposal for an international institute for disarmament research. The United Nations advisory board on which we are effectively represented by Senator Taittinger has just approved in its October [ 1979] session the principle of setting up such an institute. France is proposing, as you know, to give an advance demonstration of what may be expected of it by organizing a seminar on "Science for Disarmament."

But our most important proposal, made in May, 1978, concerns Europe: the proposal to hold a conference on disarmament in Europe. Starting with the adoption of a coherent range of confidence-building measures, our idea is to prepare to enter, in a second stage, into genuine negotiations for the limitation and reduction of conventional arsenals on the scale of our continent.

Here again, our proposal initially caused surprise. But here again, ideas have developed. Many European governments have expressed their interest in it and their belief that it could pave the way for a fruitful dialogue on security, confidence, and disarmament in Europe.

Attached though we naturally are to our proposal, we are not ignoring those put forward by others, and I am thinking in particular of those made one year after ours by the War- saw Pact countries. We note with interest that on several points there is positive convergence between theirs and ours. As the different proposals are further elaborated on, we should like this convergence of viewpoints to become more marked, bringing, not a lower common denominator, but indeed, I hope, mutual enrichment.