While high-level disarmament talks were in session in Washington last week, Soviet bloc military observers were enjoying a precedentsetting front-row view of NATO war games on the sprawling North German plain. As 78,000 mainly U.S. and West German troops simulated an armored strike against fictional Warsaw Pact invaders in an exercise code-named “Certain Strike,” 14 very real Warsaw Pact generals and colonels watched from helicopters, tailed Allied tanks in jeeps and joined Western officers at field briefings. The Eastern Bloc observers were putting in their first fullscale appearance at a NATO exercise since an agreement signed in Stock-
holm in September, 1986, gave the rival military blocs wide rights to inspect one another’s manoeuvres as a “confidence building” measure.
Last week’s Warsaw Pact visitors were invited to examine NATO strategy and weaponry throughout the 10 days of Certain Strike, the largest in a series of NATO war games engaging up to 200,000 troops in Europe between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15. With the pending reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe, such inspections are likely to become common. And after the Warsaw Pact officers—two from each of the seven Soviet bloc nations—had spent 48 hours in the field, Lt.-Gen. Crosbie Saint, commander of the U.S. Third Army Corps, char-
acterized them as “extremely smart, very curious and very distrustful.” Regarded by most observers as a fresh sign of East-West détente, the Stockholm agreement obliges Warsaw Pact and NATO armies to permit foreign observers at exercises involving more than 17,000 men. Visitors can talk to officers and troops, attend briefings, question tactics and inspect weapons systems. But there are limits on the use of cameras, binoculars and recording devices. Observers cannot take pictures unless authorized by the host country. And when permission is denied, observers must turn their binoculars over each night to be inspected for hidden photographic devices. The Stockholm pact also allows for a spot inspection when one side regards an exercise by the other as suspicious. Under the rules, a country can insist, after giving 36 hours notice, on observing another’s
war games. And late last month the first-ever spot inspection was conducted when a four-man U.S. military team checked out a Soviet exercise near Minsk.
In another case, British officers carried out a spot inspection between Sept. 10 and 12 of a combined Soviet-East German exercise in East Germany. The two Eastern Bloc exercises involved troop levels slightly under the 17,000 threshold at which observers have to be invited. Now, because of the likely elimination of mediumand short-range nuclear weapons, the numerical superiority of Soviet bloc conventional forces will assume greater than ever importance to NATO strategists—and snap inspections are likely to become increasingly frequent.
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