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Formation of the Warsaw Pact

In May 1955, the Soviet Union institutionalized its East European alliance system when it gathered together representatives from Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania in Warsaw to sign the multilateral Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which was identical to their existing bilateral treaties with the Soviet Union. Initially, the Soviets claimed that the Warsaw Pact was a direct response to the inclusion of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in NATO in 1955. The formation of a legally defined, multilateral alliance organization also reinforced the Soviet Union's claim to power status as the leader of the world socialist system, enhanced its prestige, and legitimized its presence and influence in Eastern Europe. However, as events inside the Soviet alliance developed, this initial external impetus for the formation of the Warsaw Pact lost its importance, and the Soviet Union found a formal alliance useful for other purposes. The Soviet Union created a structure for dealing with its East European allies more efficiently when it superimposed the multilateral Warsaw Pact on their existing bilateral treaty ties.

In the early 1950s, the United States and its Western allies carried out an agreement to re-arm West Germany and integrate it into NATO. This development threatened a vital Soviet foreign policy objective: the Soviet Union was intent on preventing the resurgence of a powerful German nation and particularly one allied with the Western powers. In an effort to derail the admission of West Germany to NATO, the Soviet representative at the 1954 Four-Power Foreign Ministers Conference in Berlin, Viacheslav Molotov, went so far as to propose the possibility of holding simultaneous elections in both German states that might lead to a re-unified, though neutral and unarmed, Germany. At the same time, the Soviet Union also proposed to the Western powers a general treaty on collective security in Europe and the dismantling of existing military blocs (meaning NATO). When this tactic failed and West Germany joined NATO on May 5, 1955, the Soviet Union declared that West Germany's membership in the Western alliance created a special threat to Soviet interests. The Soviet Union also declared that this development made its existing network of bilateral treaties an inadequate security guarantee and forced the East European socialist countries to "combine efforts in a strong political and military alliance." On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and its East European allies signed the Warsaw Pact.

While the Soviets had avoided formalizing their alliance to keep the onus of dividing Europe into opposing blocs on the West, the admission into NATO of the European state with the greatest potential military power forced the Soviet Union to take NATO into account for the first time. The Soviet Union also used West Germany's membership in NATO for propaganda purposes. The Soviets evoked the threat of a re-armed, "revanchist" West Germany seeking to reverse its defeat in World War II to remind the East European countries of their debt to the Soviet Union for their liberation, their need for Soviet protection against a recent enemy, and their corresponding duty to respect Soviet security interests and join the Warsaw Pact.

The Soviet Union had important reasons for institutionalizing the informal alliance system established through its bilateral treaties with the East European countries, concluded before the 1949 formation of NATO. As a formal organization, the Warsaw Pact provided the Soviet Union an official counterweight to NATO in East-West diplomacy. The Warsaw Pact gave the Soviet Union an equal status with the United States as the leader of an alliance of ostensibly independent nations supporting its foreign policy initiatives in the international arena. The multilateral Warsaw Pact was an improvement over strictly bilateral ties as a mechanism for transmitting Soviet defense and foreign policy directives to the East European allies. The Warsaw Pact also helped to legitimize the presence of Soviet troop - and overwhelming Soviet influence - in Eastern Europe.

The 1955 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between the Soviet Union and its East European allies, which established the Warsaw Pact, stated that relations among the signatories were based on total equality, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for national sovereignty and independence. It declared that the Warsaw Pact's function was collective self-defense of the member states against external aggression, as provided for in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The terms of the alliance specified the Political Consultative Committee (PCC) as the highest alliance organ. The founding document formed the Joint Command to organize the actual defense of the Warsaw Pact member states, declared that the national deputy ministers of defense would act as the deputies of the Warsaw Pact commander in chief, and established the Joint Staff, which included the representatives of the general (main) staffs of all its member states. The treaty set the Warsaw Pact's duration at twenty years with an automatic ten-year extension, provided that none of the member states renounced it before its expiration. The treaty also included a standing offer to disband simultaneously with other military alliances, i.e., NATO, contingent on East-West agreement about a general treaty on collective security in Europe. This provision indicated that the Soviet Union either did not expect that such an accord could be negotiated or did not consider its new multilateral alliance structure very important.




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