Centre interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux stratégiques (CIENS)

Year 2023-2024 > Semester 1

History of Nuclear Deterrence

This course, run by Fréderic Gloriant and Dominique Mongin, takes place in the first semester on Tuesday afternoons from 4pm to 6pm at 45 rue d’Ulm. The aim is to put the history of nuclear deterrence in the context of international relations, from its origins to the present day. This will involve dating and defining the concept of “deterrence”, and studying its contribution to defense and security policies over the past seven decades. To this end, the course will highlight the scientific and technological – but above all strategic and political – revolution brought about by the development of military applications of atomic energy. The didactic dimension of this course is demonstrated by a chronological and thematic breakdown, highlighting the facts and key players, and drawing on the most recent historical research.

This course counts towards the Geopolitics and Diplomacy minor. It is common to INALCO’s Master 2 “Relations internationales”, the Master ENS/Paris 1 Géopolitique and the Master PSL Peace Studies.

Contact: ciens@ens.fr


In the first semester, twelve weekly classes are scheduled on Tuesdays from 4 to 6 pm, starting September 19, 2023. The syllabus is available in PDF format at the end of this page.

This course is open to all interested students.

September 202319, 26October 20233, 10, 17, 24November 20237, 14, 21, 28December 20235, 12

Validation of 6 ECTS credits for ENS students. For students from other universities with whom this course is shared, the system is different and depends on the syllabus of the course concerned.

All sessions take place at 45 rue d’Ulm, in Salle F (1st floor, near staircase D).


How did the initial discoveries in the field of atomic energy lead, decades later, to weapons of previously unknown power? How did we go from a “super-conventional” weapon to a “political” weapon, whose aim is to inhibit a potential aggressor from taking action, to “dissuade” him? Could the objective of nuclear deterrence have been achieved if it had not been demonstrated beforehand that the new weapon was likely to cause unacceptable damage? Would the same have been true if it had not been proven that these weapons work and are therefore operational,

In other words, “ready to use”, as a last resort and in response to a first strike? Is it possible to speak of a weapon of “non-use”, or is this a misnomer? What do we mean by “strategic autonomy” and “secondary” nuclear powers? What are the challenges posed by the global spread of nuclear weapons and the non-proliferation regime? What about the reality of nuclear disarmament? Can we draw up a typology of “nuclear crises”? Was nuclear deterrence effective during the Cold War, and how useful has it been since? How is this history written? How is it represented in the cultural field? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in this course.

Assessment procedures

The grade awarded to each student for ECTS credits will be calculated on the basis of the following exercises:

A reading note on an emblematic text (archive, literary text, speech, etc.) relating to military nuclear power, selected in consultation with the teacher.

A historical situation exercise, in the form of a fictitious memo to a political decision-maker. The teacher will have provided methodological guidance on this exercise beforehand.

Regular attendance is required: failure to attend more than two sessions without justification will result in the course not being validated.

Teachers’ biographies

Fréderic Gloriant is Director of CIENS and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary History (Nantes University, CRHIA – on secondment to ENS-Ulm). His research interests include the history of the Cold War, Franco-British relations and nuclear and strategic issues.

Books and articles:

Le Schisme franco-britannique : de Suez au veto de 1963, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2023. https://books.openedition.org/pur/190621

France, Germany and Nuclear Deterrence. Quarrels and Convergences during the Cold War and Beyond, Berghahn Books, 2022 (collective work co-edited with Nicolas Badalassi).

“To Adapt to the Cold War Bipolar Order? Or to Challenge It? Macmillan and de Gaulle’s Rift in the Face of the Second Berlin Crisis”, Cold War History, vol. 18, no. 4 (2018), pp. 465-83 https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2018.1434509

“Leçons à tirer de la seconde crise de Berlin (1958-1963) à propos des relations nucléaires actuelles avec la Russie et les Etats-Unis”, Champs de Mars, supplement to no. 30 devoted to “La relève stratégique”, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Sciences Po, 2018, pp. 347-355.

“Londres et la proposition gaullienne de ‘directoire nucléaire tripartite’ de septembre 1958 : réception, conséquences, symbole”, in Jurgensen, Céline and Mongin, Dominique (eds.), Résistance et Dissuasion – Des origines du programme nucléaire français à nos jours, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2018, pp. 235-258.

Dominique Mongin holds a doctorate in history from the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne; his thesis, defended in 1991 under the supervision of Professor Maurice Vaïsse, was entitled “La genèse de l’armement nucléaire français (1945-1958)” (“The genesis of French nuclear armament (1945-1958)”), the 1st historical thesis on the subject in France. He worked successively at the Ministry of Defense (Minister’s Office, Centre des hautes études de l’armement), the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and the Prime Minister’s department in charge of national defense and security issues (SGDSN), before becoming rapporteur for the 2008 White Paper on National Defense and Security. For several years, he has taught at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS-Ulm).


“Histoire des forces nucléaires françaises depuis 1945 (co-written with Marcel Duval), Presses Universitaires de France, Que sais-je? collection, 1993

“La bombe atomique française (1945-1958)”, Bruylant / LGDJ, 1997

“Crises et conflits au XXème siècle”, Editions Armand Colin, 2014

“Résistance et Dissuasion – Des origines du programme nucléaire français à nos jours” (co-edited with Céline Jurgensen), éditions Odile Jacob, 2018

“Dissuasion and Simulation – From the end of French nuclear testing to the Simulation program”, éditions Odile Jacob, 2018

“Les cinquante discours qui ont marqué la Seconde Guerre mondiale”, Archipoche, 2019

“La Direction des applications militaires (CEA/DAM) au cœur de la dissuasion nucléaire française – De l’ère des pionniers au programme Simulation”, CEA, 2020

“Histoire de la dissuasion nucléaire depuis la Seconde Guerre mondiale”, Archipoche, 2021. Edmond Fréville – Pierre Messmer prize from the Académie des sciences morales et politiques (2022).

“Les essais nucléaires en Polynésie française – Pourquoi, comment, et avec quelles conséquences?”, CEA, 2022

Les autres enseignements du même semestre