The first military exercise to be held under the 1986 Stockholm agreement on security and confidence-building measures in Europe took place last week in western Czechoslovakia not far from the West German border, watched by at least a dozen official observers from Western countries, NATO authorities said Sunday.
In addition, Warsaw Pact nations have officially notified all North Atlantic Treaty Organization powers and all other European nations except Albania of the dates, size of forces and map locations for 31 other sets of maneuvers or field exercises that they will be holding during 1987. Eighteen of these will be in the Soviet Union.
For their part, the NATO countries have given similar notices of 19 major field exercises that are planned during the year, and neutral and nonaligned states have given notice of five, three of the latter in Switzerland and one each in Austria and Yugoslavia.
Some Nations Excluded
Nations with no military maneuvers planned, or with exercises that are too small to require notification under the Stockholm agreement, include Romania, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands.
The notifications were all given under terms of the Stockholm agreement concluded last September after nearly two years of negotiations.
The accord requires all nations with military forces in continental Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals to give notice by Nov. 15 each year of any military exercises planned for the coming year that involve more than 13,000 ground troops. They are then required to invite military observers from all other signatory countries to attend any exercises in which more than 17,000 men or 300 tanks will be used.
Last week's maneuver by the Czechoslovak army was the first to take place in the "observable category." It involved units of a motorized infantry division against an armored division in what was officially described as "opposed forces divisional tactical exercise to improve combat readiness." The maneuver took place in the vicinity of the town of Karlovy Vary (formerly Carlsbad), about 75 miles west of Prague and within 25 miles of the West German border.
Deployment on Both Sides
This is an area of heavy military deployment on both sides, with a major American training area in West Germany at Grafenwoehr, about 20 miles from the border on the Western side.
Since arrangements to send observers to attend the maneuvers are a bilateral matter between governments, it was not yet known at NATO headquarters in Brussels exactly how many observers from NATO countries were actually in the field during the Czechoslovak maneuver, but it was believed that at least six NATO countries sent the permitted two observers each. Eventually, these observer reports are expected to be circulated to the NATO military committee, the coordinating and planning body of the alliance.
Until there has been some solid experience by observers over a full year of attending exercises in various Warsaw Pact countries, it will be impossible to say how well the "confidence building" is actually working. But in the meantime, sources at NATO headquarters say that the notification procedures have gone very well. In fact, the Warsaw Pact powers have given notice of slightly more exercises than the NATO military authorities had expected.
The Soviet Union will be holding 13 exercises in the "notifiable category" of 13,000 men or more and five exercises with more than 17,000 to which observers will be invited. One of these will be deep in Soviet territory in Transcaucasia, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, to be held in September, 1987.
Bulgaria and Hungary will each be holding two exercises without observers. Czechoslovakia will hold three in all, with observers attending two of them. East Germany plans five exercises, three to be attended by observers, and Poland will hold two exercises, both with observers present.
U.S. to Hold 5 Exercises
On the NATO side, the United States has announced five exercises, all to be held in Germany, with observers from the Warsaw Pact to be invited to four of them. France and West Germany will each hold two exercises in the lower 13,000 category and two above 17,000 men, with observers present. Norway will stage one exercise without observers. Turkey will have one exercise with observers present. Britain will hold four exercises, three of them to be attended by observers.
Everything now depends on what actually happens in the field, but at least for the first time it is going to be possible for any country in Europe to send its own military officers all the way to Transcaucasia to watch the Red Army perform. How much they will be allowed to see when they get there is another matter, but at least they will see more than they have ever seen before.