Subject essay: James von Geldern
On February 25, 1991, the foreign and defense ministers of the countries of the Warsaw Treaty Organization met to close down the pact. If this momentous event passed with relatively little comment in the world, it was because events of the last year had made dissolution of the Warsaw Pact inevitable. Founded in May 1955, ostensibly in response to the inclusion of the Federal Republic of Germany in the NATO Alliance, the pact’s original signers had been USSR, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania (Albania withdrew in 1968). The forces of the Warsaw Pact would eventually combine tremendous offensive and defensive capabilities embodied most powerfully by massive tank and artillery formations. Positioned north to south along the border of the imaginary Iron Curtain, Warsaw Pact troops stared across at their NATO counterparts, concentrated along the ugly scar that divided Germany into East and West. Yet ironically, the only invasions ever launched by the Warsaw Pact were directed against its own members, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The Warsaw Pact crumbled for a number of reasons. Serving as a prop for the unpopular Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, and enjoying little to no popular support in those countries, the treaties became increasingly obsolete once non-Communists came to power. Although Soviet authorities showed some tenacity in insisting on maintaining the treaty, it was clear that the greatest hostilities animating the organization were internal. Certainly the countries of Eastern Europe feared attack from the Soviet Union above all. Eventually even the Soviet leadership abandon the pact, prompted by economic difficulties brought on by the inability of a tottering economy to carry the burden of excessive military expenditures. Furthermore, a new brand of strategic international thinking pioneered by Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze came to the conclusion that Eastern Europe had become a liability. There was no longer any socialism to defend.
For seventy years, the Soviet state had built a complex web of alliances and relationships that protected it from hostile neighbors and foreign powers. Shattered by the German invasion of 1941, the defense web was consolidated by the signing of the Warsaw Pact, giving the Soviet state thirty-five years of tense security. Weakened first by the Solidarity Movement and eventual free elections in Poland; the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; the deposition of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and of Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov; and the bloody fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu in Rumania; the web of international relations simply no longer existed. Ringed by so many Soviet republics demanding the right to secede and appearing increasingly hostile, Russia stood alone.