Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Warsaw Pact
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Military defensive alliance 1955–91 between the USSR and East European communist states, originally established as a response to the admission of West Germany into NATO. Its military structures and agreements were dismantled early in 1991; a political organization remained until the alliance was officially dissolved in July 1991.

The Warsaw Pact was signed on 1 May 1955 in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The date was significant as 1 May is May Day, the traditional festival day of the socialist calendar. Warsaw was chosen as the site for signing the Warsaw Pact as this allowed the USSR to present itself as merely one of a group of equally concerned nations, rather than the single dominant power. The member countries were the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and East Germany.

Formation The formation of the Warsaw Pact was in contravention of the agreements reached by US president Franklin D Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British prime minister Winston Churchill during World War II to ensure the demilitarization and neutrality of a defeated Germany.

The tension between the two superpowers and their allied blocs, the USSR and Eastern Europe on the one hand, and the USA and Western Europe on the other, had been building since the end of World War II. The Cold War was a reality by 1955, with any pretence of continued trust between the wartime allies a memory. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 in response to the Berlin blockade of June 1948–May 1949, an attempt by the USSR to force the Western allies out of Berlin. By 1955 the USSR was feeling threatened by NATO's large alliance of nations, as well as the continuing remilitarization of West Germany. Although it was largely a cosmetic gesture, since the armies of the Eastern bloc were already effectively controlled by the USSR, the formation of the Warsaw Pact represented a historic point in the Cold War. It marked the moment when East and West formally declared themselves to be in military opposition.

Activity The Warsaw Pact was run by a joint command operation with each member nation having representation on the council. The members promised to defend each other in case of attack or threat from any other nation outside the Warsaw Pact. The main target of this defensive alliance was NATO. During its 36-year existence, the Warsaw Pact was never used against outside threats, a role it was originally envisaged to have. However, the Warsaw Pact's signatories were involved in the suppression of attempts by member states to break free from Soviet domination. In 1956 in Hungary, in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and in 1981 in Poland, force was used by the other members of the Warsaw Pact, under the orders of the USSR, to crush rebellions against communist dictatorship. The Warsaw Pact became an instrument of the Brezhnev Doctrine of 1968, in which the USSR took upon itself the duty to maintain correct socialism in countries within the Soviet sphere of influence.

The Warsaw Pact fulfilled its purpose of being a strong and clear signal to NATO that any attack on an Eastern bloc nation would be met with united military force. During the Cold War the Warsaw Pact nations always had superiority in conventional weapons in Europe, such as tanks and soldiers. However, it was the possession of vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons that really gave strength to the superpowers, and the nations of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact were often merely pawns in the US–Soviet power struggle.

Dissolution Following the collapse of the USSR in the late 1980s, the Warsaw Pact's military structures and agreements were dismantled early in 1991. Albania had already withdrawn from the Pact in 1968. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland announced in January 1991, and Bulgaria in February, that they would withdraw all cooperation from the Warsaw Treaty organization from 1 July 1991. In response, the USSR announced that the military structure of the pact would be wound up by 31 March 1991, and a meeting of member countries convened for this purpose in February. The organization was formally dissolved at a meeting held in Prague on 1 July 1991.

The USSR's subsequent efforts to persuade the countries that had left its sphere of influence to sign agreements renouncing military alliances and bases were rejected by Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland, although such a ‘model agreement’ was signed by Romania in April 1991.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article Warsaw Pact
Encyclopedia of Intelligence & Counterintelligence

The Warsaw Pact Alliance (1955-91) consolidated Soviet domination over Eastern Europe following the Allied victory in World War II, ensured the...

Full text Article Warsaw Pact
Philip's Encyclopedia

Agreement creating the Warsaw Treaty Organization (1955), a defensive alliance of the Soviet Union and its communist allies in Eastern Europe....

Full text Article Warsaw Pact (or Warsaw Treaty Organization)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A military treaty signed in 1955 by the Soviet Union, Albania (until 1968), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland,...

See more from Credo