Department or Program

International Relations

Additional Department or Program (if any)

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Paul K. MacDonald


Why did the Nixon administration decide to offer nuclear assistance to France in 1970? Although France withdrew from NATO in 1966, and President Richard Nixon publicly claimed that the U.S. would act as the “nuclear umbrella,” the Nixon administration initiated a secret nuclear assistance program of information sharing on ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons technology, and nuclear weapons safety to the French government. Given that atomic assistance inadvertently raises the likelihood of nuclear proliferation, the current literature suggests that nuclear assistance should be a rare occurrence and thus fails to provide a compelling explanation for why, and under what condition, a state may be willing to offer nuclear assistance to an ally. Through an examination of archival and secondary sources, I argue that the U.S. formulated its nuclear assistance policy to France in response to particular opportunities and incentives that were connected more to bilateral relations with France at the time than theories related to the threat or normative environment. This thesis challenges the current literature’s expectations and calls for a new analytical approach towards understanding the dynamics of nuclear assistance.