When Franc decided to warn the world that yes-indeedy it is a nuclear power and so any terrorists contemplating attacking her should take notice and remember that there would be a cost -- everyone wrote it off as empty bluster. Victor Davis Hanson wrong in National Review that this was another sign that Europe was finding herself to be without defense against the threat of terrorism.
I think that's probably right. However, let's think for just a minute about the other possibility. What if using nuclear weapons in response to a truly major terrorist attack (and I think we'd have to be talking about a nuke, dirty bomb or major chemical/biological attack) really is on the table for France?
In a sense, it would make a lot of sense. Everyone was quick to point out that France in particular and Europe generally does not have the military capacity and will to sweep into a country via conventional means the way the US has in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, instead of their lack of conventional means being proof that they wouldn't use nukes, perhaps it's the reason they would.
For a long time now, studies have shown that policeman who are at the very lowest end of the size and fitness standards for a major urban police force tend to use their guns far more than officers at the upper end. The logic is pretty simple. Not only is a 6'5" 250lb officer less likely to be physically assaulted, but when assaulted (assuming it's not by someone else already wielding a gun) he's a lot less likely to feel that he needs to escalate by drawing his sidearm. However, a 5'8" 140lb officer is much more likely to feel that he's out classed by an assailant, and draw his weapon. Large officers are more likely to try to subdue suspects with their night sticks. Smaller officers and female officers are more likely to draw their guns and threaten to shoot.
Just because countries like France and Germany have negligible military capacity doesn't mean they have any less will to exist. If anything, they're probably more insecure in certain ways. Certainly, up to this point, old Europe has been content to sit back and assume that because they're so tolerant no one would think of attacking them. But if push really comes to shove and they find themselves convinced that they face a major military threat from terrorists or a terrorist supporting regime, they may be far more likely than the US to simply nuke first and ask questions later.
After all, we have the military capacity to go into a country like Afghanistan, drive out the Taliban, and stay around to try to establish democracy. For a country like France, it might be far easier (and seemingly lower cost) to simply turn the country into a glassy crater.