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In the midst of the Cold War, the treaty establishing the Warsaw pact entered into force on May 14, 1955. This military alliance, a socialist counterpart of NATO (created 6 years earlier) then brought together: the USSR, Poland, Albania, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. This pact is a replica of the Paris Agreements (1954), which allow the rearmament of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) through its integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Conceived for the defense of the Soviet bloc, its functioning is quite revealing of the balance of forces which structure the latter.
The Warsaw Pact ...
The Warsaw Pact was a mutual defense treaty that placed the military forces of the signatory countries under a unified command, first assumed by Marshal Konev. The forces thus assembled could be evaluated in 1955 at 6 million men; their weaponry was standardized. The Warsaw Pact also had political significance: in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, it justified the armed intervention of the U.S.S.R. to maintain, if necessary by force, the unity of the European communist bloc; Albania, which had ideologically aligned itself with the People's China, formally withdrew from the pact in September 1968. As early as 1955, Moscow had proposed to the West the simultaneous dissolution of the O.T.A.N. and the Warsaw Pact Organization.
Despite the appeasement of the Cold War and the development of nationalist currents in popular democracies, especially in Romania, the Warsaw Pact continued to represent, at the beginning of the 1970s, a force of more than 1.2 million men stationed in Eastern Europe. In July 1976, it was even going to strengthen its structures at the political level with the creation of a Committee of Foreign Ministers of the Pact member countries.
... an organ of repression
Within the system, the Soviet forces occupy a central place and have the best equipment, which they share in particular with their allies deemed to be reliable, such as the Bulgarians. On the other hand, Moscow skillfully plays with national rivalries between Hungarians and Romanians, for example, to maintain its domination, even if it means weakening the coherence of this military structure. Leaving the pact is an extremely risky enterprise, as Budapest will experience during the Revolution of 1956. In this regard, we note that the alliance born of the Warsaw Treaty is above all an organ of internal repression in the Soviet bloc, since in 1968 it was the Warsaw Pact troops who crushed the Prague Spring.
Nevertheless, this alliance constitutes the largest deployment of military forces in peacetime in European history, reaching a total of nearly 150 Divisions (between the Urals and the Iron Curtain) at its peak. However, one can doubt the loyalty of the units of some of its member states (East Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Czechoslovaks) given the speed with which this alliance will collapse.
The end of the Warsaw Pact
At the end of 1988, under the leadership of Gorbachev, the Soviet Union decided to grant freedom of choice of their alliances to the members of the Pact. In 1990, Czechoslovakia and Hungary signed agreements with the USSR providing for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from their territories. The leaders of the member countries meet on June 7 in Moscow to transform the alliance into an "agreement founded on a democratic basis, between sovereign states and of equal rights". The German Democratic Republic, because of its unification with the FRG, is the first to effectively leave the pact (September 24, 1990). By a meeting of February 25, 1991 in Budapest, the foreign ministers of the states still members dissolve the military structure of the pact; its political structure was in July 1991. In 1991 only the very pro-Soviet Bulgaria was still part of it.
It is also interesting to note that in 1999, less than 10 years after the end of the Socialist Bloc, Warsaw like Prague and Budapest had joined NATO. For the inhabitants of these capitals of Eastern Europe, had we never ceased to perceive the danger as coming from the east?
- The Warsaw Pact, by Claude Delmas. PUF, 1981.