On Aug. 1, five members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (myself included) wrote to Secretary of State Vance to discuss the troubled nuclear situation in Pakistan. The position your editorial took in reacting to this letter ["Pakistan and the Bomb," Aug. 7] left me both disappointed and perplexed.

Contrary to the impression created by your editorial, our letter did not speak solely to the question of arms sales, much less the transfer of any specific weapons system. Rather, we urged the secretary to strive to bolster Pakistan's sense of self-security through some "imaginative, serious and measured combination of diplomacy and security support." Such an approach seemed to us important, if unfashionable, and no apologies were offered for having suggested it.

Although many prefer to ignore it, there is, in fact, an inescapable connection between a country's sense of self-security and the likelihood of that country's attempting to acquire nuclear arms. If alliances are weak or nonexistent, and if aggression cannot be credibly deterred by non-nuclear means, a country may turn in desperation toward a nuclear cure. Ironically, such a remedy is more likely to bring disaster than relief; but in times of danger and uncertainty, self-interest is not always easily perceived. This does not mean that we ought to begin indiscriminately trading arms for atomic bombs, but instead that we should focus widely and more explicitly on steps that enhance self-confidence, therby providing a climate in which the artificial appeal of nuclear weapons can be reduced.

In the case of Pakistan, one cannot know for sure that a confidence-building approach will work, nor whether it comes too late, nor precisely what elements -- security assistance -- modified guarantees, or diplomatic initiatives -- such an approach ought to embody. However, it disserves the facts, the situation's complexity, and our prospects for success to dismiss such an undertaking as a "buy-out" by the United States.

Your editorial acknowledges that Pakistan's security situation is bad, but this point receives only passing mention, rather than the serious analysis it deserves. You say -- whether approvingly or not, one can't be sure -- that the United States has already offered F5s and other defense equipment, none of which has been, or is likely to be, acceptable to Pakistan. Perhaps this is so, although those of us writing to the secretary were not as convinced as you seem to be about precisely what might or might not usefully enhance Pakistan's capability for conventional self-defense. Then, too, the past offers you describe, to the extent they were perceived as little more than a one-shot trade, rather than part of a more broadly reinforcing effort to restore self-confidence and stability.

It is true that sanctions are important, and very stern measures may indeed be needed in the end if only to persuade others that the cost of proliferation is high. Surely, however, this is not all that is required. In the same way, it is necessary to continue stringent measures of export control, so that any move toward nuclear weapons remains costly, hard, time-consuming and, therefore, more readily detected and -- hopefully -- stopped.

Like you, we have a fervent desire to see the haphazard and growing spread of conventional arms brought under effective control. But there is, nonetheless, such a thing as greater and lesser risk. And it would be disturbing, indeed, if in our fastidiousness to observe all of the formalities of one existing policy, we left ourselves incapable of providing support for countries in genuine need, or blindly unresponsive to the more devastating dangers of a race in nuclear arms. Policies are, after all, only good or bad in comparison with the alternatives, and the alternatives in this case are unquestionably dire.