France's Socialist government today announced a $113 billion defense package for the next five years that gives priority to nuclear weapons at the expense of conventional forces.
The most controversial aspect of the 1984-1988 spending plan, the first such project to be drawn up by the Socialists since they came to power in May 1981, is a cut in France's Army of 354,000 by about 22,000 soldiers over the next five years. Plans to reorganize the armed forces already have led to a campaign of leaks and counterleaks in the French press and the resignation six weeks ago of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Jean Delaunay.
French officials have acknowledged that they are considering trimming the 50,000 French troops stationed in West Germany to get the manpower reductions called for in the plan released today. No details were given, however.
Projected cuts in the forward units stationed in West Germany, which could be used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a reserve in time of war, have caused concern in Bonn. French officials say they are also aware that the cuts could help fuel sentiment in the United States to reduce American ground troops stationed in Europe.
France is not a member of NATO's military wing.
The five-year plan normally is not subject to annual review, and once it is approved by the National Assembly--which is expected--it will be a binding strategic and tactical choice for France's military establishment.
The program, which will be presented to the National Assembly for debate May 18, also calls for a sixth nuclear submarine by 1985, and a seventh by 1988. Construction of France's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by 1992 also is planned.
Deployment of a new generation of ground-to-ground Hades missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads is envisaged by 1992. The missiles, with a range of more than 200 miles, will be capable of hitting East Germany or Czechoslovakia from the French border. The Hades will replace the much slower Pluton missile.
Defense Ministry officials have justified the plans to reduce the size of the armed forces by presenting them as part of a modernization that will increase the Army's firepower and maneuverability. However, they are likely to be strongly criticized by opposition deputies in the National Assembly and could provoke further disquiet within the Army.
The program provides for a military budget next year of $19.4 billion, an increase of 6.7 percent on this year's budget. The increase is based on the assumption that 1983 inflation will not exceed 6 percent.
By keeping military spending constant in real terms, the Socialists will be able to argue that they are devoting as much attention to France's defense as the preceding center-right administration of Valery Giscard d'Estaing. This, the government hopes, will take some of the sting out of the opposition's expected criticisms of the cuts in Army manpower.
The plan, which was announced today in broad outline, did not mention the high-radiation neutron weapon. The official position is that, while France is capable of building it, no final decision has been taken on their production.
Government spokesman Max Gallo told journalists that the decision to go ahead with Hades would give France the option of quickly deploying neutron weapons at a later date.