The Warsaw Pact: Late Twentieth Century Russian Tool

Map of Europe showing NATO and the Warsaw Pact
Map of Europe showing NATO (blue) and the Warsaw Pact (red), as well as the size of the military in various member states ca. 1973. (Alphathon/Wikimedia Commons/CC ASA 3.0U)

The Warsaw Pact, otherwise known as the Warsaw Treaty Organization, was supposed to be an alliance which created a centralized military command in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, but, in practice, it was dominated by the USSR, and did mostly what the USSR told it to. Political ties were to be centralized too. Created by the 'Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance' (a typically false piece of Soviet naming) the Pact was, in the short term, a reaction to the admittance of West Germany to NATO.

In the long term, the Warsaw Pact was both designed to partly mimic and counter NATO, strengthen Russian control over its satellite states and boost Russian power in diplomacy. NATO and the Warsaw Pact never fought a physical war in Europe and used proxies elsewhere in the world.

Why the Warsaw Pact Was Created

Why was the Warsaw Pact necessary? The Second World War has seen a temporary change in the previous decades of diplomacy, when Soviet Russia and was at loggerheads with the democratic West. After the revolutions in 1917 removed the Tsar, communist Russia never got on very well with Britain, France and others who feared it, and with good reason. But Hitler’s invasion of the USSR didn’t just doom his empire, it caused the West, including the US, to ally with the Soviets in order to destroy Hitler. Nazi forces had reached deep into Russia, almost to Moscow, and Soviet forces fought all the way to Berlin before the Nazis were defeated and Germany surrendered.

Then the alliance fell apart. Stalin’s USSR now had its military spread across Eastern Europe, and he decided to keep control, creating what were in effect communist client states who would do what the USSR told them. There was opposition and it didn’t go smoothly, but overall Eastern Europe became a communist-dominated bloc.

The democratic nations of the West ended the war in an alliance which was worried about Soviet expansion, and they turned their military alliance into a new form NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The USSR maneuvered around the threat of a western alliance, making proposals for European alliances which would include both the West and the Soviets; they even applied to become members of NATO.

The West, fearing that this was simply negotiating tactics with a hidden agenda, and wishing NATO to represent the freedom the USSR was seen to oppose, rejected it. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the USSR would organize a formal rival military alliance, and the Warsaw Pact was it. The Pact acted as one of the two key power blocs in the Cold War, during which Pact troops, operating under the Brezhnev Doctrine, occupied and ensured compliance with Russia against member states. The Brezhnev Doctrine was basically a rule that allowed Pact forces (mostly Russian) to police member states and keep them communist puppets. The Warsaw Pact agreement called for the integrity of sovereign states, but this was never likely.

The End

The Pact, originally a twenty-year agreement, was renewed in 1985 but officially dissolved on July 1st, 1991 at the end of the Cold War.

NATO, of course, continued, and, at time of writing in 2016, still exists.
Its founding members were the USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.