Despite Storm of Opposition, Chirac Presses Ahead with Nuclear Tests
William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
France's nuclear test in the Pacific has blown up in the face of President Jacques Chirac and his government, but this is unlikely to cause more than a shortening of the test series, programmed as eight.
The scale of the global reaction, and particularly its violent synthesis with the independence movement in Tahiti (representing some 15 percent of the electorate), clearly was unexpected in Paris. But Chirac is a man of his own mind. When he was younger he was called "The Bulldozer."
Americans might appreciate his indifference to the winds of opinion, given that the United States now has the most irresolute and poll-driven government in its modern history and with a congressional opposition equally supine before the latest polls.
Some 59 percent of the French are against these nuclear tests (but 60 percent approve of France's nuclear deterrent submarines, bomber squadrons and missile fields, suggesting that, as usual, the public is inconsistent in what it wants). Chirac's political approval rating in the polls has fallen 20 points from where it was when he took office; it is now at 39 percent.
In addition, the French president's economic policy was challenged by his own economics minister as well as from abroad, and terrorist bombs are going off in Paris. Chirac is unmoved.
His break with former French policy on Bosnia, and demand that the stalemate there be broken and international guarantees of Sarajevo be enforced, was a factor in Washington's decision to override British and U.N. reticence and take the strong new line Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke now is implementing in the Balkans (in Greece, Macedonia and Albania, as well as in dealing with the Croatians and Serbs).
Whether the military really needs the underground tests to verify the latest submarine missile warhead and calibrate weapons for future simulation tests is hotly debated.
So is the actual environmental effect of these tests, although there has been much hypocrisy in this controversy, given that of all the nuclear test explosions thus far conducted in Nevada, Bikini in the central Pacific, the Australian Outback, and in Soviet Central Asia, China, and India - 2,038 in all - the French are responsible for 204, 86 of which were conducted, to negligible international attention, under the Socialist presidency of Francois Mitterrand (as against 30 under Gen. …