France's refusal to join in talks between US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and European foreign ministers in Bonn should surprise no one -- according to the French government.
French officials explain that:
* Following the joint French-West German call Feb. 5 for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing specifically said the next step must be renewed dialogue with the Soviets -- not a summit of Western leaders, which would only redivide the world into hostile blocs.
* France has made clear its "total fidelity to the Atlantic alliance" -- so that the United States should not feel any need for fresh reassurances at this time.
* Both France and West Germany have strong political and economic reasons for maintaining good relations with the Soviet Union and thus cannot afford to follow "le zigzag" of US policies as Mr. Carter shifts from "boy-scoutisme" to "cowboyisme."
* Recent sudden shifts in US policy have strengthened France's determination to be independent, particularly in the key areas of European security and energy.
Security and energy issues are seen as crucial here in Paris. If the US government understood the French position in these two areas, officials explain, then the US State Department would not have been "indelicate" enough to propose the Feb. 20 meeting in West Germany between Cyrus Vance and the foreign ministers of West Germany, France, Britain, and Italy.
On the security question, France is immensely proud of its nuclear strike force centered around five nuclear submarines (with a sixth on the way) and 39 Mirage IV bombers.
In the case of a Soviet nuclear strike, France would retain a devastating ability to hit back -- destroying virtually all of up to 150 urban areas, according to current French estimates.
This French second-strike capacity appears to give the French third place among the world's nuclear powers -- and is seen here as entitling France to claim a special place for itself both within Europe and within the Western alliance as a whole.
Thus it is said here, America showed "typical poor understanding" when the US government gave the impression that it was summoning France to a US-initiated summit where the US would talk to a group of equally secondary European nations.
For the success of East-West "detente," say the French, first there must be "entente" between the West's own ranks. And it seems to the French that the US government either wasn't listening or understanding the message from the French-West German summit last week.
Although President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt condemned the Soviets soundly, the French and West Germans also stressed the need for continued East-West dialogue.
And following the Giscard-Schmidt meeting in Paris, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing specifically ruled out the type of Western summit that Cyrus Vance hoped to hold in Bonn on Feb. 20. The French President said: "Any meeting which would result in creating bloc attitudes in this new situation would not include French participation."
In the French view, the Afghanistan crisis resulted directly from Soviet fears of encirclement as China and the United States draw closer together.
Accordingly, emergency meetings of Western leaders would reinforce Soviet fears of encirclement -- and recreate inflexible bloc attitudes, according to the French.
French thinking runs along parallel tracks in the area of energy supplies.
Common Market finance ministers are meeting in Brussels Feb. 11 to consider the delicate question of how far they can support America's economic sanctions against the Soviets. At the same time, top French foreign office officials will be in Moscow talking about French-Soviet trade relations.
The French-Soviet trade links are expected to continue at a high level because the Soviet Union is an important source of energy supplies, both in terms of natural gas and oil today, and as a possible future source of uranium for France's rapidly expanding nuclear- power industry.
In principle, France has agreed to a "nonsubstitution" policy to provide some support to US sanctions. But France considers sanctions counterproductive since they will harden East-West positions rather than encourage dialogue.