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The new Soviet-German pact

By Doug Macgregor / February 18, 1987

THE Warsaw Treaty Organization met again in January in Budapest to discuss recent proposals made at the mutual balanced force reduction talks under way in Vienna. If this event produces little more than a ripple in Western capitals, it is because the Warsaw Pact is an organization whose viability as a multinational military alliance under Soviet leadership is often taken for granted. Closer examination, however, suggests a very different picture. Today, the Warsaw Pact is essentially a bilateral Soviet-East German military alliance in which the economic, political, and, hence, military importance of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the Soviet Union has relegated the remaining East European states to secondary roles in Soviet strategy. This owes partly to East Germany's cultural and geographic proximity to the West, which offers the Soviets their most important channel of entry into the affairs of Western Europe. East German trade with the West Germans has made the GDR the USSR's chief source of Western technology.

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The major Warsaw Pact development over the past few years, however, has been the deterioration of the economic and political situation in the rest of the bloc countries. The economic crisis of the late 1970s, continued East European indebtedness to the West, threatening price incongruities with the West; and Poland's economic collapse have forced the Soviets to rely militarily more on East Germany and much less on Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.

Thanks to economic growth rates which the GDR's pact neighbors can only envy, East German defense spending for military modernization has been sustained at a rate second only to the Soviets'. Buttressed by a program of social militarization and the most efficient suppression of internal political opposition and free speech in the Soviet bloc, the GDR military state seems capable of coping with any form of internal unrest. While the rest of the pact's non-Soviet armed forces often lack the equipment, training, and motivation to perform their mission alongside their Soviet comrades, today's East German forces are the best equipped, best led, and best trained of the pact's non-Soviet forces.

Constant infusions of new Soviet military equipment, intensive training with Soviet forces, and the prominent role assigned to East German officers in the pact's staffs testify to Soviet confidence in the East Germans. More than 1.2 million Soviet and East German armed troops are now spread over an area smaller than Ohio.

Politically, the chief beneficiary of this surge in East Germany's military strength has been the Soviet Union. In the wake of Poland's struggle with martial law, the GDR emerged as Moscow's primary military ally in the pact, filling the void left by Poland's economic collapse and the demoralization of its armed forces. During the 1981 Polish crisis, Soviet and East German leaders thought and behaved above all as policemen, trained to think first of internal stability and the continued survival of the political status quo. The GDR's delegation to pact talks on the ``Polish problem'' in December 1980 argued for a military solution to Polish unrest. Throughout the crisis, the GDR responded to solidarity's activities with military preparations for an invasion of Poland.