When in trouble, reach for nuclear submarines. President Nicolas Sarkozy, derided by the French as a lightweight,
rushed off at the end of March to launch Le Terrible, the fourth in France’s fourth generation of such submarines. Thus he seizes the torch of “massive retaliation” from his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who said that a state-terrorist onslaught on France or even the EU might require a nuclear missile lobbed into the perp’s presumptive backyard, wherever that might be. Le Terrible is itself powered by a nuclear reactor, and the range of its sixteen missiles, each armed with three warheads, is just under 5,000 miles, so M’sieu Ahmadinejad had better watch his tongue, otherwise it might be Tehran frappe.
Le Terrible’s deployment brings France’s full menu of warheads to 348, of which 288 are on submarines and fifty on air-launched cruise missiles. There are ten old-fashioned bombs.
On his way out of office, at the end of 2006, Tony Blair took the same line as Sarkozy. A Britain without up-to-date nuclear-armed subs, he proclaimed, would be the sport of every bully on the block. “Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance,” Blair told Parliament. He cited Iran and North Korea as prime present dangers. Mind you, Britain’s current nuclear guardians–the Vanguard subs–are scheduled to go out of service in 2022. It will apparently take seventeen years to design and build the new subs. Double this to allow for screw-ups (more on screw-ups below) and we won’t be seeing Britain’s last, best line of defense deployed until about 2050. By then global freezing will have rendered subs moot anyway.
Now, a familiar pattern is for retired statesmen and high functionaries to retire and then spend their sunset years denouncing nuclear weapons and “the balance of terror.” Not Jimmy Carter, I’m glad to say. You’d think that after years talking up peace and the benefits of peaceful negotiation, Carter would reel in shock if someone said, “I want our next nuclear sub to bear your name.” But he didn’t. Bill Clinton tied down the Connecticut vote by OK-ing another Seawolf nuclear sub to be built at Groton and called the Jimmy Carter. As in, “Today Tehran is a smoldering, irradiated ruin after receiving a salvo of nuclear missiles from the Jimmy Carter.” It was probably Clinton’s idea of a joke after Carter had said that he really loved Al Gore’s loyal and loving relationship with Tipper, so similar to his with Rosalynn.