30 DECEMBER 1972, Page 22

European security

Sir: In your leading article of December 9 on the European Security Conference you write: "It is worth recalling that one of the Russian excuses for the invasion of Czechoslovakia w'as a series of manoeuvres undertaken near the Czech border by West German and NATO troops: the greater the distance between the armies of both sides, the greater the possibility that no such excuse will ever again be invoked."

I do not here want to dispute the suggestion that "Mutual and balanced force withdrawal is a much better formula for discussion than force reduction." It is the supporting argument which is quite unworthy of The Spectator, and which has to be challenged. First, it apparently assumes that Soviet military policies will be affected by the ease or difficulty of finding excuses; while at the same time, and more realistically, taking it that the real operative reasons will be different from these excuses. But you really cannot have it both ways. Either you say' that the Politbureau were in 1968 holding back until somebody bethought himself of those NATO manoeuvres, and that that so relieved one and all that they at last felt free to unleash the tanks of normalisation! Or else you have to allow, rather more realistically, that the NATO manoeuvres had no effect one way or the other upon the actual military decision; though they did perhaps come in handy afterwards in the business of helping the suckers more or less willingly to deceive themselves.

Consideration of what excuses the USSR might or might not find it convenient to put into its propaganda stories have no place in the discussion of anyone's securitY policies; and it is therefore signifir Siktatar December 30, 1972 cant that such considerations— rather more sympathetically described! — should in fact be quite prominent in the discussions of those whose concern for our defence is less obvious that that of The Spectator.

Antony Flew 77 Sandback Road, North Alsager, Stock-on-Trent ST7 2AP