BY suggesting that France is ready to discuss making its nuclear arsenal part of a European nuclear doctrine, French President Francois Mitterrand has mentioned the unmentionable.
Yet by placing the issue of nuclear forces on the European stage, Mr. Mitterrand also has begun to chip away at one of the more blatant contradictions touching France's strong stance for a common European defense.
The complete independence of France's nuclear arsenal has been a central pillar of French defense doctrine - and indeed of a French conception of the country's role in Europe and the world - since Charles de Gaulle. Mitterrand, like Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing before him, has summarily rejected even simple musings on any revision of that doctrine.
Until now. Opening a national debate here Friday night on the treaty revisions agreed at last month's European Community summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, Mitterrand said time was pressing to take up the issue of nuclear forces at the European level.
Noting that only two members of the EC, France and Britain, possess nuclear weapons, Mitterrand said, "Is it possible to conceive a European [nuclear] doctrine? This will very quickly be the major question of a common defense policy."
The French leader was careful not to answer his own question, preferring to call for discussion of the issue. Simply putting the question is sure to raise a heated controversy in France, among conservative Gaullists and other nationalist forces such as the increasingly Europe-wary Communist Party.