MANCHING, West Germany — French President Francois Mitterrand disclosed Thursday that France and West Germany are planning to set up a joint defense council.
Mitterrand made this known at a press conference marking the end of the largest-ever maneuvers involving French troops in West Germany, an exercise designed to show that France could come to the aid of its neighbor in the event of an attack by Warsaw Pact forces.
Of the plan to form a defense council, Mitterrand said: "Conversations are taking place. We have made a declaration of intent."
His remarks were endorsed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, who observed the maneuvers involving land and air forces of the two countries.
Kohl expressed a positive view of the exercise, dubbed "Bold Sparrow," saying, "We have demonstrated with 55,000 troops from the West German army's 2nd Corps and 20,000 from France's Rapid Action Force that common freedom must be defended in common."
Over the last 10 days, the French troops had been deployed along the Danube River in Bavaria from western and southern France. Their mission: to repel an aggressor force from "Redland" in the east.
Mitterrand said the movement demonstrated that France is willing to come to the aid of its ally even though France is not a military member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
France keeps 50,000 troops permanently in West Germany, mainly in armored divisions near the Rhine River. The soldiers used in the Bold Sparrow exercise were sent from France.
"France has a duty to stand by its allies," Mitterrand said.
Some observers suggested that although Mitterrand said France would support its allies, it remains up to the French president to decide which allies, and when and where and under what circumstances France will support them.
Because France is no longer represented in NATO's integrated military command, it has no role in the automatic response NATO is committed to in the event of an attack on West Germany from the east. This was underscored by France's veto of a German suggestion that the NATO commander, U.S. Gen. John R. Galvin, be invited as an official observer to the maneuvers.
A senior Soviet officer was present as an official observer, and he remarked over lunch in the field that the presence of French forces in an exercise with the West Germans indicated that France should be regarded as a full member of NATO regardless of how it officially describes itself.
The exercise was criticized by some observers. An American officer suggested that Franco-German communications were hampered by the use of different radio and microwave equipment, and that few officers on either side were fluent in both languages.
Referring to this, Lt. Gen. Hans-Henning von Sandrart, head of the West German army, may not have endeared himself to his French colleagues when he suggested that English might be used as a common language.
The language difficulties, according to another observer, suggested that a joint French-German brigade that Kohl has proposed may be a long way from reality.
Some military observers questioned whether the relatively lightly armed units of the French Rapid Action Force were adequate to deal with the heavy tanks used by the Warsaw Pact countries.
Still, in general, the French-German maneuvers were judged a success, even though the forces had to stand down on the weekends when Bavarian motorists took to the roads to enjoy the warm, sunny weather.
Similar military exercises were carried out in northern Germany last week. These, involving U.S. and British forces, were called "Certain Strike." They were aimed at testing the capacity of the U.S. Army to move men and equipment from the United States to fight alongside other NATO forces in Germany.
Officials at both sites noted that they had received no serious complaints from Warsaw Pact military attaches invited to attend under confidence-building measures adopted at last year's Stockholm conference on such measures in Europe.