Warsaw Pact

views updated May 23 2018



The Warsaw Pact, or Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), was a military alliance of seven Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union designed as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance with the goal of the collective defense of Eastern Europe. The text of the treaty, drafted by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, was signed in Warsaw on 14 May 1955. Members of the Warsaw Pact alliance included the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, that is, all communist countries of Eastern Europe with the exception of Yugoslavia. In the eleven articles of the treaty, the contracting parties agreed to seek peaceful solutions to international disputes and to cooperate with other states in all international actions (Articles 1 and 2); to consult with one another on all international issues affecting their common interests and defend each other if one or more of the member states were attacked (Articles 3 and 4); to establish a joint command and a political consultative committee or PCC (Articles 5 and 6). Moreover, member-states pledged to refrain from joining alliances and agreements whose objectives were in conflict with the Warsaw Pact and to allow for the accession of other states regardless of their social and political systems.

The Warsaw Pact was formed in response to the remilitarization and incorporation of West Germany into NATO on 9 May 1955. Prior to the formation of Warsaw Pact, bilateral agreements on mutual aid existed between the Soviet Union and its allies while the unity of the bloc depended primarily on the personal power and informal instruments of control exercised by Stalin. Forming the alliance that reasserted the unity of the bloc and made equal status of Eastern European states visible indicated Soviet adjustments to the politics of détente. The Warsaw Pact existed primarily on paper until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the first demonstration of the collective military power in joint military exercises that year. By 1979, seventy-one Warsaw Pact military maneuvers took place.

The Warsaw Pact served to strengthen Soviet military and political domination of Eastern Europe by providing legal justification for the stationing of Soviet troops in the region and imposing constraints on independent foreign policy on the part of Eastern European states. Member states fell into two main categories determined, to a large extent, by their geographical location. As a treaty protecting Eastern Europe from potential German aggression and territorial revisionism of post-1945 borders, the Warsaw Pact served vital interests of the Northern Tier countries of the Soviet Bloc: Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, the so-called Iron Triangle or the core of the alliance. The Southern Tier members, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, located farther away from Germany, had less interest in protection from potential German aggression. At the same time, the Soviet Union was less concerned about South-Eastern Europe because of its less important strategic location and the mountainous terrain difficult for a successful military penetration by the West.

Although controlled by the Soviets, member states of the Warsaw Pact sought to assert their goals and interests. The first challenge to the Soviet system of alliance came as early as 1956 with destalinization and the reform movement in Hungary led by Imre Nagy. His withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact prompted the Soviet invasion, a clear violation of the treaty text providing for peaceful settlements to international disputes. Although no collective consultation among the Warsaw Pact member states took place, the military intervention in Hungary was later depicted by Soviets as an action to save socialism on behalf of the Warsaw Pact. The intervention strengthened the role of the Warsaw Pact as a safeguard for internal construction of socialist systems in Eastern Europe. Twelve years later, on the night of 20–21 August 1968, Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia to crush a reform movement, known as the Prague Spring, within the Czech Communist Party led by Alexander Dubček. This was the only collective military action on the part of the Warsaw Pact, in which 80,000 troops from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and East Germany joined a force of about 400,000 Soviet soldiers. The invasion resulted in the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that any challenge to socialism on the part of an Eastern European country would be considered as an attack on the Warsaw Pact thus initiating Soviet military response.

The two successful challenges to the Warsaw Pact came from Albania and Romania, both Southern Tier states controlled by staunchly Stalinist regimes. In 1961, resisting Soviet-led destalinization and détente, Albania informally withdrew from the Warsaw Pact (formal withdrawal took place in 1968). This caused the Soviet Union and its allies to denounce Albanian leaders, impose economic sanctions, and break diplomatic relations with Albania. Starting in 1963, the Romanian regime put similar resistance against Soviet domination by leading increasingly independent foreign policy, establishing diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1967, and condemning the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. By 1970 the Warsaw Pact evolved to include greater participation of Eastern European members in Political Consultative Committee meetings while at the same time solidifying the Soviet leadership by appointing Soviet officers to nearly all bureaucratic posts within the alliance and putting Eastern European troops under direct Soviet control in time of war.

The Warsaw Pact underwent significant evolution during the 1980s. First, the alliance abstained from military response to the wave of strikes and the emergence of the Solidarity free trade unions in 1980–1981 in Poland, a movement that directly challenged the system and the unity of the Soviet Bloc. Refraining from military action indicated a suspension if not abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine on the part of the Soviet Union. Instead, the Solidarity movement was suppressed internally through the imposition of the martial law by Polish military forces on 13 December 1981. Second, in 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, proclaimed the Sinatra Doctrine, which renounced Soviet interference in Eastern European affairs and recognized the rights of other states to determine their economic and political systems. This move helped facilitate the collapse of communist regimes and Soviet control throughout the region. The Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved at a meeting in Prague in July 1991. By 1999 former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, followed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004.

See alsoDubček, Alexander; Eastern Bloc; Nagy, Imre; NATO; Soviet Union.


Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1967.

Chafetz, Glenn R. Gorbachev, Reform, and the Brezhnev Doctrine: Soviet Policy toward Eastern Europe, 1985-1990. Westport, Conn., 1993.

Clawson, Robert W., and Lawrence S. Kaplan, eds. The Warsaw Pact: Political Purpose and Military Means. Wilmington, Del., 1982.

Eyal, Jonathan, ed. The Warsaw Pact and the Balkans: Moscow's Southern Flank. New York, 1989.

Holloway, David, and Jane M. O. Sharp, eds. The Warsaw Pact: Alliance in Transition? Ithaca, N.Y., 1984.

Holden, Gerard. The Warsaw Pact: Soviet Security and Bloc Politics. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1989.

Korbonski, Andrzej. The Warsaw Pact. New York, 1969.

Langdon, John W., and Edward H. Judge, eds. The Cold War: A History through Documents. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1999.

Mackintosh, Malcolm. The Evolution of the Warsaw Pact. London, 1969.

Remington, Robin Alison. The Warsaw Pact: Case Studies in Communist Conflict Resolution. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1971.

Malgorzata Fidelis

Warsaw Pact

views updated May 21 2018

Warsaw Pact





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 Albanias 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 nonCommunist 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 Hungarys 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 members 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 Romanias 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 Partys 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 PCCs 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.


Even though NATO and the Warsaw Pact were created to counter each others 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 Unions 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.

SEE ALSO Brezhnev, Leonid; North Atlantic Treaty Organization


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.

Dagmar Radin

Warsaw Treaty Organization

views updated May 23 2018


The Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), also referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was created on May 14, 1955, by Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. Officially known as the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, it was a Soviet-led political and military alliance intended to harness the potential of Eastern Europe to Soviet military strategy and to consolidate Soviet control of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The organization was used to suppress dissent in Eastern Europe through military action. It never enlarged beyond its original membership, and was dissolved in 1991, prior to the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself.

The Soviet and East European governments presented the WTO as their response to the creation of the Western European Union and the integration of West Germany into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955. Though often described as an alliance, the facade of collective decision-making in WTO masked the reality of Soviet political and military domination. The 1955 treaty established the Joint Command of the armed forces (Article 5) and the Political Consultative Committee (Article 6), both headquartered in Moscow. In practice, however, the Joint Command, as well as the Joint Staff drawn from the general staffs of the signatories, were part of the Soviet General Staff. Both the Pact's commander in chief and its chief of staff were Soviet officers. The Joint Armed Forces had no command structure, logistics, directorate of operations, or air defense network separate from the Soviet defense ministry.

Over the years the military structure of the Warsaw Pact was adjusted to reflect the evolution of Soviet strategy and changes in military technology. During the first decade of the organization's existence, political control over the non-Soviet forces was its principal focus. Following Stalin's death, East European militaries were partly renationalized, including the replacement of Soviet officers in high positions with indigenous personnel, and a renewed emphasis on professional training. The Polish October of 1956, and the Hungarian revolt that same year, raised serious concerns in Moscow about the reliability of non-Soviet Warsaw Pact forces.

In the 1960s the lessons learned from de-Stalinization, as well as Albania's defection from the Warsaw Pact, brought about greater integration of the WTO through joint military exercises, intensified training, and the introduction of new Soviet equipment. The most significant reorganization of the WTO took place in 1969, including the addition of the Committee of Defense Ministers, the Military Council, the Military Scientific Technical Council, and the Technical Committees. These and subsequent changes allowed increased participation from the East Europeans in decision making, and helped the Soviets better coordinate weapons research, development, and production with the East Europeans.

In addition to its external defensive role against NATO, the Warsaw Pact served to maintain cohesion in the Soviet bloc. It was used to justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and again to prepare for an invasion of Poland in 1980 or 1981 if the Polish regime failed to suppress the Solidarity movement. The Warsaw Pact was also an instrument of Soviet policy in the Third World. In the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet Union relied on several non-Soviet WTO members to assist client states in Africa and the Middle East.

The alliance began to unravel with the introduction of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika in the Soviet Union, and his attendant redefinition of Soviet-East European relations. Though the alliance was renewed in 1985, as required by the treaty, deteriorating economic conditions and the rising national aspirations in Eastern Europe put its future in question. The Soviet military attempted to adjust to the shifting political landscape. In 1987 the WTO modified its doctrine to emphasize its defensive character, but this and other proposed changes proved insufficient to arrest the decomposition of the alliance. The key development that hastened the WTO's demise was the unification of Germany, which constituted an irreparable breach in the Pact's security perimeter. Under pressure from Eastern Europe, the decision to abolish the military structures of the Pact was taken at a Political Consultative Committee meeting in Budapest in late February 1991; the remaining political structures were formally abolished on July 1, 1991.

The overall value of the Warsaw Pact to the Soviet Union during the Cold War remains a point of debate. Clearly, the organization legitimized the continued Soviet garrisoning of Eastern Europe and provided additional layers of political and military control. In addition, the potential contributions of the East European armed forces to Soviet military strategy, as well as the use of the members' territory, were significant assets. On the other hand, throughout the Warsaw Pact's existence, the ultimate reliability and cohesion of its non-Soviet members in a putative war against NATO remained in question. In addition, the declining ability of the East Europeans to contribute to equipment modernization, especially as their economies deteriorated in the late 1970s and 1980s, raised doubts about the overall quality of the WTO armed forces.

See also: communist bloc; north atlantic treaty organization


Herspring, Dale R. (1998). Requiem for an Army: The Demise of the East German Military. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Johnson, A. Ross; Dean, Robert W.; and Alexiev, Alexander. (1982). East European Military Establishments: The Warsaw Pact Northern Tier. New York: Crane Russak.

Jones, Christopher D. (1981). Soviet Influence in Eastern Europe: Political Autonomy and the Warsaw Pact. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Michta, Andrew A. (1990). Red Eagle: The Army in Polish Politics, 19441988. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

Nelson, Daniel N. (1986). Alliance Behavior in the Warsaw Pact. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

The Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact. (2003). <http://www.isn.ethz.ch/php/index.htm>.

Volgyes, Ivan. (1982). The Political Reliability of the Warsaw Pact Armies: The Southern Tier. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Andrew A. Michta

Warsaw Pact

views updated Jun 11 2018

Warsaw Pact (est. 1955).The Warsaw Pact was created by the Soviet Union on 14 May 1955 as a political‐military alliance of European Communist states to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), particularly the entry of West Germany into NATO in 1955. Officially called the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the original eight members were Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. However, unlike NATO, the Warsaw Pact was a multinational rather than a multilateral military defense organization.

Following Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising in October 1956, Moscow reduced the influence of the pact's governing body, the multinational Political Consultative Council (PCC), and tightened its own central control. In the subsequent strains, some southern‐tier nations withdrew: Albania, which supported China in the Sino‐ Soviet split, stopped military cooperation in 1961 and left the pact in 1968 (following the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the pact's forces). Romania excluded Soviet troops and refused to participate in military exercises after 1965.

The Soviet Union controlled the alliance, provided 80 percent of the manpower, and bore more than 90 percent of the pact's defense expenditures for forces, which in the early 1980s reached 5.4 million troops. The USSR alone had nuclear weapons and strategic forces, and all nuclear warheads were in Soviet custody.

With declining economies, the shift in Soviet policy under reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, and the increasing independence of the East European nations, the Warsaw Pact lost cohesion in the 1980s. In 1987–88, the pact's doctrine was changed from offensive defense to one that emphasized nonoffensive defense. Following a Soviet proposal in 1987, NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed in 1990 to substantial reduction of forces.

In 1990, responding to popular demand and the ending of the Cold War, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia demanded the removal of Soviet troops and refused to participate in future military exercises. East Germany left the pact that year with German unification. The military structure was officially ended by the PCC in March 1991; the political organization was terminated in July 1991.


R. W. Clawson and L. S. Kaplan, eds., The Warsaw Pact: Political Purpose and Military Means, 1982.
W. J. Lewis , The Warsaw Pact: Arms, Doctrine and Strategy, 1982.
J. Simon , Warsaw Pact Forces: Problems of Command and Control, 1985.
Neil Fodor , The Warsaw Treaty Organization: A Political and Organizational Analysis, 1990.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

Warsaw Pact

views updated May 17 2018

Warsaw Pact Agreement creating the Warsaw Treaty Organization (1955), a defensive alliance of the Soviet Union and its communist allies in Eastern Europe. It was founded after the admission of West Germany to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the equivalent organization of Western Europe. Its headquarters were in Moscow, and it was effectively controlled by the Soviet Union. Attempts to withdraw by Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) were forcibly denied. It was officially dissolved in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Warsaw Pact

views updated May 21 2018

Warsaw Pact a treaty of mutual defence and military aid signed at Warsaw on 14 May 1955 by Communist states of Europe under Soviet influence, in response to the admission of West Germany to NATO.