The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance (1955–1991), more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty between eight communist states of Central and Eastern Europe in existence during the Cold War. The founding treaty was established under the initiative of the Soviet Union and signed on 14 May 1955, in Warsaw. The Warsaw Pact was the military complement to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CoMEcon), the regional economic organization for the communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact was a Soviet military reaction to the integration of West Germany into NATO in 1955, per the Paris Pacts of 1954.
The Warsaw Treaty’s organization was two-fold: the Political Consultative Committee handled political matters, and the Combined Command of Pact Armed Forces controlled the assigned multi-national forces, with headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. Furthermore, the Supreme Commander of the Unified Armed Forces of the Warsaw Treaty Organization was also a First Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR, and the head of the Warsaw Treaty Combined Staff also was a First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR. Therefore, although ostensibly an international collective security alliance, the USSR dominated the Warsaw Treaty armed forces.
The strategy of the Warsaw Pact was dominated by the desire of the Soviet Union to prevent, at all costs, the recurrence of another large scale invasion of its territory by perceived hostile Western Bloc powers, akin to those carried out by the Swedish Empire in 1708, Napoleonic France in 1812, the Central Powers during the First World War and most recently by Nazi Germany in 1941. While each of these conflicts resulted in extreme devastation and large human losses the invasion launched by Hitler had been exceptionally brutal. The USSR emerged from the Second World War in 1945 with the greatest total casualties of any participant in the war, suffering an estimated 27 million killed along with the destruction of much of the nation’s industrial capacity. Eager to avoid a similar calamity in the future, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact as means of establishing a series of buffer states, closely aligned with Moscow and serving to act as a political and military barrier between Russia’s vulnerable borders in Central and Eastern Europe and its potential enemies in the Western Bloc.
On 14 May 1955, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact in response to the integration of the Federal Republic of Germany into NATO in October 1954 – only nine years after the defeat of Nazi Germany (1933–45) that ended with the Soviet and Allied invasion of Germany in 1944/45 during World War II in Europe. The reality was that a “Warsaw”-type pact had been in existence since 1939, when Soviet forces (in alliance with Nazi Germany) initially occupied Central and Eastern Europe, and maintained there after the war. The Warsaw Pact merely formalized the arrangement.
The eight member countries of the Warsaw Pact pledged the mutual defense of any member who would be attacked; relations among the treaty signatories were based upon mutual non-intervention in the internal affairs of the member countries, respect for national sovereignty, and political independence. However, almost all governments of those members states were directly controlled by the Soviet Union.
For 36 years, NATO and the Warsaw Treaty never directly waged war against each other in Europe; the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies implemented strategic policies aimed at the containment of each other in Europe, while working and fighting for influence within the wider Cold War on the international stage.
In 1956, following the declaration of the Imre Nagy government of withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact, Soviet troops entered the country and removed the government.
The multi-national Communist armed forces’ sole joint action was the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. All member countries, with the exception of the Socialist Republic of Romania and the People’s Republic of Albania participated in the invasion.
Beginning at the Cold War’s conclusion, in late 1989, popular civil and political public discontent forced the Communist governments of the Warsaw Treaty countries from power – independent national politics made feasible with the perestroika– and glasnost-induced institutional collapse of Communist government in the USSR. In the event the populaces of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Albania, East Germany, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria deposed their Communist governments in the period from 1989–91.
On 25 February 1991, the Warsaw Pact was declared disbanded at a meeting of defense and foreign ministers from Pact countries meeting in Hungary. On 1 July 1991, in Prague, the Czechoslovak President Václav Havel formally ended the 1955 Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance and so disestablished the Warsaw Treaty after 36 years of military alliance with the USSR. The treaty was de facto disbanded in December 1989 during the violent revolution in Romania that toppled the communist government there. Two years later, the USSR disestablished itself in December 1991.