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The Warsaw Pact was signed on May 14, 1955, in order to create an organization of Central and East European Communist states. It is different from the Warsaw Convention, signed in 1929, which is an international convention regulating liability for commercial airlines transporting persons, luggage, or goods.
The formal name of the Warsaw Pact was the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance. It was created for two reasons: first, to counter the threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance established six years earlier; and second, in reaction to the admission of West Germany into NATO. The initial members of the Warsaw Pact were the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Yugoslavia was the only Communist state not to sign the treaty. Albania withdrew from the pact in 1968. Despite being initially created to counter the threat of NATO, in practice the pact was a tool of the Soviet Union, used to strengthen its hold over its satellite countries. In contrast to NATO, the Warsaw Pact was completely subordinated to a single power. The pact allowed the Soviet Union to impose its military and political agenda on Central and East European countries through the use of both its military and economic power. The pact was supposed to last for only twenty years and become void if any of the members decided to drop out. Nonetheless, the agreement was renewed in 1975 for another ten years, despite Albania’s unilateral withdrawal from it seven years earlier.
The signatory parties of the Warsaw Pact agreed to abstain from violence or from the threat of violence in international relations. The treaty established the goals of the members, which included world peace and security, and global disarmament. Countries also had to confer with each other on matters of international affairs and agreed that in the event of outside aggression against one member, all member countries would defend the threatened country together. However, the Soviet Union also wanted to use the Warsaw Pact as a bargaining tool with non-Communist European countries. This is evidenced by the concluding article of the pact, which stipulated that the agreement would lapse in the event of an East-West collective security pact.
The treaty, signed in 1955, was supplemented by numerous bilateral treaties between the Soviet Union and satellite countries. Among other things, these treaties gave Soviet troops the right to be on the soil of signatory countries. Some countries, such as Poland, allowed the stationing of Soviet troops on their soil under the 1945 Potsdam Agreement and through a separate bilateral treaty. Hungary also had a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union. Soviet troops prevented Hungary’s 1956 attempt to secede from the organization and crushed liberal movements in Czechoslovakia that emerged in what came to be known as the “Prague Spring.” Czechoslovakia only signed its bilateral treaty with the Soviet Union after the Soviet invasion and was essentially forced to accept the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which limited the sovereignty of the Communist states and granted the right of Soviet intervention.
The extent to which the Soviet Union maintained a military presence in the satellite countries depended on its assessment of each individual member’s risk of defecting from the organization were it to be pressured to allow Soviet troops on its soil. Thus, when the bilateral agreement with Romania expired in 1958, it was not renewed, because of Romania’s wish to avoid the presence of Soviet troops, even for temporary purposes such as maneuvers. Soviet troops were stationed in Bulgaria, on the other hand, though only for temporary purposes, such as military exercises.
Even though the Warsaw Pact allowed for military alliances outside the Communist-bloc countries and functioned as an instrument of Soviet policy, it had no provisions concerning activities outside the European continent.
The Political Consultative Committee (PCC) was the highest governing body of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Its permanent members were the Communist Party’s first secretaries and the premiers and foreign ministers of member countries. The PCC had managerial authority over the cultural, political, and economic spheres of the entire organization. However, its most important function was deciding when a crisis met the criteria for executing the provisions of the military clauses. In practice, the PCC’s power could be limited, as shown by the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, which was not decided on by the PCC.
The secretary general of the organization was always a Soviet general or Soviet foreign ministry official and control was always held in Moscow. The Committee of Defense Ministers (CDM), which decided on directives communicated to national defense planners in member nations, was subordinate to the PCC and was also located in Moscow.
The End Of An Era
Even though NATO and the Warsaw Pact were created to counter each other’s dominance, the member countries never engaged each other in armed conflict, though they did engage in “proxy wars.” In December 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev, then leader of the Soviet Union, declared that the Brezhnev Doctrine would be abandoned and that the Soviet Union’s satellite countries could do as they wished. Soon after, a number of political changes swept across Central and Eastern Europe, leading to the end of Communism. After 1989 the Warsaw Pact started losing the support of its members. In January 1991, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland announced they would withdraw all support within six months. Bulgaria followed suit in February 1991. The Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved at a meeting in Prague on July 1, 1991.
- Michta, Andrew A. 1992. East Central Europe after the Warsaw Pact: Security Dilemmas in the 1990s. New York: Greenwood Press.
- Lewis, William J. 1982. The Warsaw Pact: Arms, Doctrine, and Strategy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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