Cover: When Armies Divide

When Armies Divide

The Security of Nuclear Arsenals During Revolts, Coups, and Civil Wars

Posted on Apr 11, 2013

by Brian Michael Jenkins

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This work examines what happened in April of 1961, when the French government was about to conduct the fourth of a series of nuclear tests in the Sahara. Four French Army generals, unhappy that de Gaulle was willing to support Algerian independence, staged a coup to keep Algeria as a French colony. The nuclear test was conducted a few days ahead of schedule — it was not successful — and speculation ever since has been that the test was moved up to keep the weapon out of the rebel generals' hands.

While there is evidence that one of the generals contacted the officer who was in charge of the tests to try to delay them, Jenkins concludes that the generals really never had a plan in place to seize the weapon and that the French government didn't want to delay the test. At the time it happened, the world viewed it as an internal, French problem.

The second, shorter part of the book compares the 1961 events to what might happen today if the military in Pakistan or North Korea splintered, and a rebel group got their hands on those countries' nuclear materials. Jenkins contends that such a scenario today would clearly be an international incident, that neither Pakistan nor North Korea would want any foreign intervention, and that the United States "might not be the only first responder."

Two additional short essays by Dr. Stephen J. Lukasik and Constantin Melnik, a security assistant to the French prime minister in 1961, also review what happened in 1961.

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