West Germany is tilting toward France, according to diplomatic sources here. For the last 30 years Bonn has put equal emphasis on relationships with both Washington and Paris.
``Always with the United States, never without France,'' is how some leading West Germans like to define their foreign policy. From Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Kohl, West German chancellors have carefully avoided ever having to choose between those two close partners of their country.
But now, urged by the Reagan administration to support its space-based defense research program, and by French President Franois Mitterrand to join Eureka (a West European space technology research program aimed at civilian applications), West Germany is leaning toward the latter.
France is also going beyond its traditional, purely national strategic concerns and moving toward integrating itself militarily with West Germany.
Of course, France's nuclear striking force would be no substitute for the US nuclear umbrella extended over West Germany. But it is precisely because deployment of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) would leave Western Europe unprotected -- since it aims at shielding only the United States against Soviet missiles -- that the extension of France's nuclear umbrella to cover West Germany could come, politically, at the right moment.
Furthermore, all major French political parties have recently argued that in case of war, France should commit its forces to the defense of the German borders. ``Our border is no longer on the Rhine but on the Elbe,'' former President Val'ery Giscard d'Estaing said recently.
A delegation of West German officials and industrialists recently visited the US in order to ascertain the extent to which West Germany would profit from participating in SDI (or ``star wars''). West German, as well as Italian, British, and French industrialists are worried that Western Europe would be left behind in the technological race with Japan and the US unless they develop their own space technology fairly soon, including research in laser, semiconductors, and computers.
Whereas participating in the SDI program promises West European industrialists fat, short-term financial rewards, it is far from certain that it will allow them to gain access to advanced US high technology which comes from the research project.
``For four years the Reagan administration has been tightening regulations governing Europe's access to US military technology, lest it be leaked to the Soviets. The recent spy scandals in Bonn may not have encouraged the American defense industry to confide its dearest secrets to the West Germans,'' says a leading West German industrialist here.
The members of the West German group, which recently toured the US, have not yet made their findings public. But many of them felt privately that ``the growing and deliberate blocking of West German companies' access to US advanced technology in recent years is not about to be relaxed,'' to use the words of one senior West German diplomat.
``The threat posed by the SDI to all technological, to all economical, and our political independence is very grave indeed,'' says one British diplomat who ``has never in 30 years had occasion to diverge from the Americans.''
French defense officals are convinced that SDI technology will have a dramatic impact on conventional weapons as well. One French official says, for that reason, ``Western Europe must launch its own Eureka project, so that some day its fallout might benefit Western Europe's conventional weapons.''
A West German diplomat in Paris puts it this way: ``We are in favor of the SDI on condition that it does not intensify East-West tensions.'' He proposes that ``one entire sector of this research be entrusted to West Germany. Having said that I guess I have said a lot,'' he adds with a smile.
He indicated that these conditions could not be fulfilled since the announcement of Reagan's SDI, Soviet-American relations have worsened, not improved. Also, the US has not indicated that it was willing to throw a whole sector of SDI research into German hands.
``As contributors to the SDI we are expected to play the role of junior partners and of subcontractors,'' says a leading Italian defense industrialist.
While Bonn is officially mum, and bids for time with regard to its participation in SDI, in recent weeks French and German experts have been working quietly and intensely to put several key space technology research programs on track.
``West European industrialists are taking Eureka very seriously,'' says a British diplomat in a position to know. Right now these European industrialists are looking at marketable products and at means of financing their project. President Mitterrand offered 1 billion francs ($125 million) in government funds as a starter for the Eureka project for 1986. Chancellor Helmut Kohl has agreed to throw $300,000 into the pot.
``Whereas France can afford publicly to snub the US, West Germany has to avoid hurting American feelings, and must play its cards more carefully,'' says one diplomatic observer in Paris. ``For as long as possible, Bonn will stop short of saying no to SDI.''
In the meantime, a West European conference concerning Eureka will be held in Hanover, West Germany, Nov. 5. Some specific projects may be launched with West Germany and France jointly taking the financial and technological lead, several French, Italian, and West German sources here say.