An Examination of the Motivations and Construction of the Warsaw Pact
Even as the last shots of the Second World War rang out, the war-ravaged countries of Europe scrambled to align themselves with one of the two remaining world superpowers: on the side of Western democracy was the United States, and leading the communist ideology was the Soviet Union. As the military occupations of the war slowly withdrew, formal alliance systems eventually separated the two sides of the emerging Cold War. The formation of the NATO alliance and re-militarization of Germany motivated the Soviet Union to formalize its own control over Eastern Europe through the Warsaw Pact. In the face of the deepening Cold War, the Warsaw Pact compelled signatories to each other’s military aid in case of attack and facilitated Soviet control over nearly every aspect of Eastern Europe.
The political and military contexts of Europe after World War II are crucial to understand the formation and effect of the Warsaw Pact. Of the factors and events that influenced the creation of the Warsaw Pact, three particularly precipitated the Warsaw Pact. First, Soviet military domination of most of Eastern Europe at the conclusion of World War II allowed the Soviet Union to develop Eastern Europe as satellite states. During the war, the Soviet army toppled many of the Eastern European governments in its fight against Hitler. In countries like Poland, the Soviet Union restructured the defeated Polish army into communist armed forces supporting the Soviet army. As the war ended and the Allied armies retreated, the Soviets installed communist governments in Eastern Europe. As Moscow was the self-appointed world headquarters of communism, each of these newly created communist governments became subordinates of the larger Soviet authority.1 Having military control of Eastern Europe after World War II allowed the Soviet Union to establish a number of satellite states governed by communists loyal to the Soviet Union.
With the instillation of communist governments in the Eastern half of the continent and democracies in the Western half, the ideological line down the middle of Europe scared the Western European powers into seeking a collective security agreement against possible Soviet attack. Soviet aggression during the communist coup in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade in 1948 prompted concern among the Western European countries and the United States about a potential Soviet attack on Western Europe. In an attempt to stave off Soviet attack through collective security, Western Europe and the United States signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The treaty swore each member to the military aid of every other member in case of attack. The participation of Italy and Portugal, two countries recently at war with Western Europe, made it especially clear that NATO was more than a new alliance among old allies – NATO was formulated precisely to counter any Soviet attack or expansion of influence. Suddenly the Soviet Union faced an intimidating collective defense alliance right at its borders, with the combined wealth and weaponry of the United States and Western Europe.
While the formation of NATO in 1949 concerned Soviet policymakers, the most immediate catalyst for the creation of the Warsaw Pact was the remilitarization of West Germany upon its inclusion in NATO in 1955. Until 1954, Western European and American powers occupied West Germany and the Soviets controlled East Germany. However, the existing NATO members – chiefly Western Europe, Britain, the United States and Canada – met in the autumn of 1954 to amend the NATO treaty to include West Germany. This process permitted West Germany to establish its own government, and more worrisome for the Soviet Union, allowed West Germany to remilitarize. As a NATO member, West Germany was now protected by the collective security pact and was a prime position from which NATO could position weapons or launch an attack against the Soviet Union. The preamble of the Warsaw Pact directly cites the “integration of [West Germany] into the North-Atlantic bloc” and the consequent “formation of a new military alignment” as motives for the Warsaw Pact. The preamble claims that the creation of NATO and remilitarization of West Germany forced the Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union to act to “safeguard its security” and preserve peace in Europe.
As the Western powers took steps to establish collective security through NATO, the Soviet Union sought to establish a counterweight to NATO called the Warsaw Pact that would both provide collective security and establish a means to control Eastern Europe. The architects of the Warsaw Pact made a clear effort to keep the pact in line with the United Nations Charter. The preamble states that the pact will be signed on the basis of equality of all nations. Even though as a relic of World War II Soviet control was already widespread in Eastern Europe, the pact promises “non-interference” in the signatories’ internal affairs. Article 1 of the Warsaw Pact requires member nations to refrain from the use of force or threat of force when conducting their international relations. The second article encourages the reduction of weapons of mass destruction and atomic bombs. The concept of member equality, noninterference, prohibition of force and arms reduction mimic the guiding principles of the United Nations Charter. Accordingly, the beginning of the Warsaw Pact appears for all intents and purposes to be a peaceful attempt at regional cooperation in accordance with the principles of the United Nations.
However, the rhetoric promoting friendship and peace ends when the Warsaw Pact delineates the total military integration of Eastern Europe under one command. Under article 3, each member would be required to respond militarily if another member was attacked. Article 4 explains that military unification was necessary for the sake of coordinating such collective security efforts. Not only did the Warsaw Pact spell out compulsory collective security for its members, all armed forces of Eastern Europe would be controlled by a Joint Command. According to Article 5, the Joint Command would comprise of representatives from each member nation. Other than the promise of representatives for each nation, there is no mention of how power in the Joint Command would be shared or which member nations would make decisive military decisions. The pact rationalizes that such extreme military unification is necessary in order to “…protect the peaceful labours of their peoples, guarantee the inviolability of their frontiers and territories, and provide defence against possible aggression”. In a military sense, the Warsaw Pact went one large step farther than the NATO treaty in that the Warsaw Pact required its members to surrender a large portion of their military’s sovereignty for the sake of the collective good.
Though the military portion of the pact clearly indicates that each member nation will lose some degree of sovereignty in terms of military operations, the section of the Warsaw Pact that deals with political integration only vaguely outlines the pact’s political and domestic implications for member nations. Article 6 describes a Political Consultative Committee (PCC) constructed to examine “questions which may arise in the operation of the Treaty”. The only description of the Political Consultative Committee is that the committee will have representatives from each country and the committee may set up “as many auxiliary bodies as necessary”. There is no further explanation of the function or authority of the Political Consultative Committee, nor again if members would have equal power in the committee. Beyond the requirement that member nations not sign any conflicting agreements or alliances, the Warsaw Pact concludes reiterating its desire for friendliness and its twenty year duration.
The Warsaw Pact’s broad and undetailed promises of military collaboration and political coordination served to expand Soviet power and control in Eastern Europe. Within the framework of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was a chance for the Soviet Union to emerge as the unquestionable leader of its own multilateral agreement much like the United States with NATO. The power of the Warsaw Pact relied less in the vague verbage of the pact and more in the way the Soviet Union employed the structures of the pact to the Soviet advantage. The Soviets used the Joint Command to directly manipulate the Eastern European armed forces for Soviet purposes. The Warsaw Pact only promises that the Joint Command of the military would contain representatives from each member nation, not that each nation would have equal clout in decisions. Soviets occupied all of the initial high military ranks within the new Warsaw Pact hierarchy, clearly asserting Soviet supremacy within the Eastern bloc. The promise of equal power among member nations was conspicuously missing from the Warsaw Pact, showing that the Soviet Union intended for the Warsaw Pact to act less as a traditional collective security agreement and more as a formalization of its domination over Eastern Europe.
If the Soviet Union’s resulting military control seems like an abuse of the Warsaw Pact, the domestic impact in the Eastern European states caused a desire among member nations for greater independence from the Soviet Union. Upon the initial implementation of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union disregarded the non-interference pillar of the pact and used the pact to completely control the domestic and foreign affairs of Eastern Europe. The new satellite states in Eastern Europe became mere puppets of the Soviet Union. In the years immediately following the Warsaw Pact signing, the Soviet Union militarily crushed the Hungarian Revolution and Polish Uprising in 1956 using the Warsaw Pact as justification for the invasion and therefore requiring military contributions from all of the member nations.2 Resentment over Soviet control through the Warsaw Pact built in the Eastern European countries and resulted in further rebellion in Czechoslovakia and Romania a decade after pact’s creation.3 The Soviets made a few conciliatory gestures in the 1970s and 1980s to increase Eastern European authority within the Warsaw Pact structure but kept Soviet dominance the priority of the pact. The signing of the Warsaw Pact ushered in an era of smothering Soviet military and political control over Eastern Europe that lasted especially through the 1960s and ultimately until the end of the Soviet Union.
Though the Warsaw Pact reads at first glance as a collective security pact for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe against outside aggression – the concepts of non-interference and frequent mentions of peace imply a positive outcome for Eastern Europe – the reality of the pact was an iron-clad Soviet control over its satellite states. The Soviets wielded overbearing dominance through the Warsaw Pact until the Eastern European countries declared independence after the complete collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. If the initial Warsaw Pact left the stream of power in Eastern Europe completely dry, the alterations of the Warsaw Pact in the 1970s and 1980s directed a trickle of power towards the Eastern European states. Unsatisfied with the Soviet-imposed power drought, Eastern Europe would finally break free from the Warsaw Pact and Soviet control upon the dissolution of the pact and complete collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991.
1 Keylor William. “The Twentieth-Century World and Beyond.” Sixth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2011. Page 269.