15. März 2024

Event Report | Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in a Nuclear World: France’s Perspective

21st February 2024

On 21 February 2024, the programme “Gender and International Politics” of Polis180 hosted an online event on the intersection of France’s feminist diplomacy and nuclear arsenal. The event is part of the group’s wider series ‘feminist foreign policy: an ongoing journey through global policies,’ which sheds light on different regions and their approaches to feminist foreign policy. 

The speakers were:

To start the event, moderator and event co-organiser Paula Schumacher provided the audience with some brief political context. She summarised France’s shift to nuclear testing in the 1960s, and how France is one of the world’s P5 member states today. She stressed that the adoption of a feminist diplomacy in 2019 should see France implement gender equality as an aspect in all decisions but that the possession of a nuclear arsenal is not compatible with feminist values as expressed by many feminist intellectuals and academics. This is because the testing and use of nuclear weapons disproportionately harms women and girls, as well as the fact that women are underrepresented in nuclear decision-making processes. Finally she mentioned that the discourse behind nuclear weapons is gendered and influenced by patriarchal concepts of masculinity.

Schumacher then handed over to the panellists, asking each of them to what extent nuclear armament and disarmament efforts can be considered feminist concerns. Rouach was the first to present her views. 

For her, issues of nuclear armament and disarmament are not gender neutral. On the contrary, they impact women’s health disproportionately and lead to social stigma when women are exposed to radiation. Moreover, nuclear disarmament is a matter of human rights, which are “always at the heart of feminist approaches and fights”. The militarism that is behind nuclear proliferation is linked to toxic, violent masculinity and the broader perception that nuclear weapons are gendered, as noted by renowned academic Dr. Toni Haastrup. This makes such weapons inherently incompatible with feminist values. 

Collin also commented on the gendered impacts of nuclear arms. He also highlighted the work of feminist activism, relaying how in 1999 Angie Zelter, Ulla Roder and Ellen Moxley were cleared of their criminal charges after damaging a Trident nuclear submarine installation. According to Collin, more needs to be done to accelerate gender equality in the field of nuclear weapons and disarmament.

Kappelmann agreed that female activists have made an important contribution to nuclear activism. He cited the work of WILPF in the 19th century and at the International Women’s Congress in the Hague in 1915 laid the groundwork for feminism in nuclear disarmament. He also shone a light on the considerable activism taking place in countries in the Global South that have been impacted by nuclear testing. 

Then, Schumacher asked each panellist questions more specifically related to their areas of expertise. Again, Rouach started the discussion, with an introduction to the key principles behind France’s feminist diplomacy. France’s international strategy for gender equality outlines the main concepts, namely the three Rs (rights, resources and representation) used by Sweden in its pioneering 2014 policy. The strategy’s aims include making women’s lives around the world better, ending gender based violence, ensuring women’s sexual health and rights are upheld and funding international gender equality projects of the ODE (France’s development agency) and supporting feminist NGOs. Rouach observed that it is one of the best policies of its kind in terms of accountability. She presented France’s efforts to include abortion rights in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights during its EU Council Presidency in 2022 and its co-organisation of the 2021 Generation Equality Forum as positive examples of the country’s political advocacy for gender equality. Rouach believes this is a positive counterpower to the rise of anti-gender global movements. She emphasised that France is the world’s leading funder of feminist organisations but needs to make further efforts in gender representation and mainstreaming in diplomacy. 

Collin then presented information on the state of France’s nuclear arsenal and how its commitment to feminist diplomacy impacts its role as a nuclear-armed state. France conducted 210 nuclear tests in its former colonies in Algeria and French Polynesia from 1960-1996. This arsenal then began to decrease after the end of the Cold War. Today, it is the fourth largest in the world, with a budget of 6,350,000 euros in 2024. Nuclear spending is set to increase over the next 15 years, as France aims to modernise its arsenal. Collin explained that the President can call a ‘final warning,’ permitting the use of nuclear weapons 20 times more powerful than that released over Hiroshima. He also noted that France voted against a nuclear resolution designed to assist survivors of nuclear testing and restore environments contaminated by nuclear testings and use, based on the TPNW, in 2023. 

Like Collin, Kappelmann noted the colonial underpinnings of the global nuclear order. Restructuring this order would mean rethinking the whole nuclear order. He stressed that feminism can be a useful tool here, depending on the feminism. He affirmed that feminism is a heterogenous movement, with the trend for liberal feminism focusing on the representation of women rather than questioning the need for deterrence. Disarmament and deterrence are, in his view, “effectively conflictive”. Kappelmann surmised that activists and academics have played a key role in connecting feminism and disarmament but this connection is not often made by policy- and decision makers. 

Rouach expanded this discourse by presenting the potential challenges and opportunities for a nuclear-armed state like France in adopting a feminist foreign policy. She noted that France’s feminist diplomacy does not mention defence, despite the fact that France is a major contributor to the global arms market. The fact that nuclear weapons are not mentioned in many National Action Plans on the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda underlines the fact that traditional notions of security clash with feminist foreign policy. In France’s case, this creates double standards, such as the gap between its budget for defence and security and the (noticeably lesser) funds allocated to gender issues. In terms of opportunities, Rouach argued that France to become a leader in the promotion of FFP on a global scale, leading to more potentially inclusive strategies of security. Such a paradigm shift could be a chance to build alliances with like-minded countries and international organisations. This use of soft power could also see the reallocation of funds from nuclear projects towards feminist causes, promoting long-term stability and reducing reliance on military solutions. Finally, she called on France to address its colonial legacy, by starting a dialogue on reparations for victims of its nuclear testing.

Collin gave us an insight into his involvement in the TPNW negotiations. He enthused about the efforts of Costa Rica, New Zealand, Ireland and Mexico to ensure the prioritisation of gender equality during the process. In his view, one of the reasons behind the Treaty’s success is the equality granted to governments and NGOs during the negotiation period, which gave women the chance to share their experiences and advocate for their needs. He noted the regrettable absence of gender provisions in previous treaties. 

Jannis Kappelmann spoke about FFP on the global stage and specifically about the German case. FFP exists as a concept in at least 12 countries, including those outside of the Global North and Europe. There are disparities between these ideas, such as different understandings of what FFP should entail and with few, such as Spain and Germany, making specific references to nuclear weapons. Kappelmann commented that, as a host to other countries’ nuclear weapons, Germany is very cautious in connecting its nuclear policy with Feminist Foreign Policy. 

To round off the event, speakers answered audience questions. One such question was how the French public perceives nuclear weapons and how this changed after the invasion of Ukraine. Collin believed that nuclear deterrence is broadly seen as positive, but that support dwindles when the consequences of such weapons are discussed. He also stated that the topic has become more prominent within the EU as a whole, with a Trump reelection making this event more urgent and problematic. According to Kappelmann, German opinion polls also vary widely on this issue. In response to a question on the importance of female representation, Rouach emphasised the importance of representing women who face different consequences of nuclear weapons in nuclear debates.

In conclusion, Collin noted that FFP is certainly more prominent in public discourse than it was 15 years ago, with Kappelmann speculating on whether it will become more intersectional. 

Event report written by Lara Brett

Event organisation from Paula Schumacher, Lara Brett & Lara Franken


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