France and Germany began Europe's long, hard look toward a post-nuclear conventional balance this week. And they agreed to fight the inroads of English in their countries by more education in each others' languages. In addition, in their 48th biannual summit since World War II, Bonn agreed to invest in Paris's pet dream of a space shuttle, and Paris pledged to live up to its promise not to pollute the Rhine River. France also agreed to provide up-to-date information on radiation levels from its nuclear-power plants near the German border.
The summit leaders -- West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and France's Socialist President Fran,cois Mitterand and conservative Premier Jacques Chirac -- tried to think through what comes after the superpowers' likely withdrawal of intermediate-range ``Euromissiles.'' In the weeks since the United States and Soviets tentatively agreed to such arms control in Iceland, Western Europe has shown nervousness about the Soviet military superiority this would leave on two levels: short-range nuclear missiles and conventional forces.
On the missile issue, little came out of the Frankfurt meeting. But both sides made it clear that they hope to reduce the East-West conventional disparity by asymmetrical troop reductions rather than by a Western buildup. ``In the question of conventional arms control the course must be set,'' Dr. Kohl said. ``We Europeans must now bring our security interests emphatically to bear.'' In line with this view, the two sides specified that the forum chosen for discussing conventional cuts should include France. France joined in the Stockholm conference that recently agreed on ``confidence-building measures'' in Europe. But it has not participated in the desultory 12-year Mutual Balanced Force Reduction talks in Vienna between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Fueling concern about conventional imbalance in Europe is the premonition -- new since Iceland -- that cheap nuclear weapons cannot forever substitute for expensive conventional forces in Europe. For 20 years, NATO has relied on the threat of nuclear escalation to counter the Warsaw Pact's superior conventional numbers. Over the same period, France has tacitly relied on the US nuclear umbrella to guarantee that Paris's 1967 withdrawal from the NATO military alliance would not dangerously tip the East-West balance. Now these assumptions are being challenged -- and France's closer military coordination with West Germany is one result.
In other bilateral relations, Kohl announced West German participation in the preparatory phase of the French Hermes space shuttle. Indications are that if Bonn gets a greater voice in directing the project, it will eventually provide needed funds. The Germans seemed gratified by new French promises on environmental issues. Most important was an effort to bridge what the French view as German hysteria and the Germans view as French indifference to safety issues following April's Soviet nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The Germans also welcome the French promise to adhere to Paris's 1976 agreement to reduce the dumping of salt waste into the Rhine River to 1 million tons per year as of 1987.
In cultural affairs -- the intended focus of the summit, but one that got superseded by more pressing issues -- the two sides sounded a cultural council to ``begin a new stage in cultural cooperation and to strive for a mutual interweaving of cultures.''
One primary aim is to promote French language training in Germany and German language training in France. These languages have fallen behind English in popularity in both nations.