In spite of the common view that the ‘Force de Frappe’ is a creation of President Charles de Gaulle after 1958, the governments of the Fourth Republic actually started the process which led eventually to the build up of an independent nuclear deterrent. During his trip to Canada in July 1944, de Gaulle, then the leader of the Resistance, was informed by three French scientists in Ottawa about the Manhattan Project. Even before the bombing of Hiroshima he had decided to create the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (ordinance of 31 October 1945). The aim was to promote ‘scientific and technical research for the use of atomic energy in the various areas of Science, Industry and National Defence.1 We know how the French nuclear policy evolved under the Fourth Republic and in which circumstances a military nuclear option was taken. Pierre Mendès-France was the first head of government who considered in December 1954 the possibility that France might go nuclear but he was dismissed before he could implement such a policy. Two years later, Guy Mollet gave the impulse to a significant research and development programme after the fiasco of the Suez Affair. One of the motivations for this move was the desire to assert French interests in European and Atlantic fora. Félix Gaillard, the penultimate Prime Minister of the Fourth Republic, announced in Spring 1958 that a nuclear test would take place in the Saharan desert.
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