End of Warsaw Pact Means a New Europe

But the withdrawal of Soviet forces from central Europe leaves a security vacuum the West cannot ignore

By , Daniel Nelson is senior foreign policy adviser, office of the majority leader, US House of Representatives. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the majority leader.

THE Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO or Warsaw Pact) has ceased to exist. As this alliance folds up its tents in Eastern Europe, the continent passes from an era of hegemonic control and bipolarity into a time that appears to be, simultaneously, hopeful and discomfiting. The pact's demise has been in the making since communist regimes were pushed aside from the Baltic to the Balkans in 1989. After those revolutionary events, there was no rationale for an entity meant less to threaten the West than to reinforce illegitimate Communist Party rule. Among erstwhile allies of the Soviet Union - particularly the Hungarians and Czechoslovaks - calls were heard frequently for an end to the military alliance.

Unraveling within the Warsaw Pact, however, began almost as soon as it was created at Moscow's behest in 1955. Six years after NATO was inaugurated, two years after the death of Stalin and anti-communist riots in East Germany, and coincident with the integration of West Germany into NATO, a new Soviet leadership was fearful of losing its hold on Eastern Europe. The pact rationalized the continued deployment of Soviet troops to quell uprisings and served as an ostensibly multilateral structure through wh ich to denude East European militaries of their national identity.

That the principal role of the WTO was to reinforce Communist Party control and Soviet hegemony in the original seven East European members (Albania officially withdrew in 1968) became clearer with hindsight. The pact was not an instrument for aggressive designs, since it added very little to the USSR's offensive capabilities.

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For the first six years of the pact's existence, indeed, its armies did not even train together. Even into the 1980s the equipment of East European forces was less modern than those of Soviet units and thus inadequate for combat with most NATO forces. By the 1970s and 1980s, joint exercises were large but infrequent. But even in wartime, the WTO would not have functioned. Rather, East European armies would have been absorbed into Soviet command within ``theaters of military operations.''

As a tool of policy coordination, the pact was also of limited utility. East European states, notwithstanding their communist governments, did not behave uniformly and were never regarded by the Kremlin as reliable allies. Some, like Bulgaria, mirrored Soviet practice by devoting an enormous proportion of human and financial resources to military ends, while Hungary tried to minimize its defense commitments. The communist government in East Germany or Czechoslovakia slavishly replicated every Soviet for eign policy statement, while Romania's Ceausescu snubbed Soviet interests.

If the Warsaw Pact accomplished so little in its 36-year history, why note its passing as a significant event? There are three reasons for acknowledging the historic aspects of March 31.

First, the death of this military alliance marks the end of post-World War II Soviet hegemony in the corridor of Europe from the Baltic to the Bosporus. Moscow's control was neither complete nor sturdy - but it extracted a terrible cost from the societies and economies of a region that includes over 120 million people. Such a capacity to deny to Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Germans, and other nationalities any control over their own national affairs persisted for two genera tions, and has left a legacy of weakened states, plundered economies, and fractious societies. The WTO's death symbolizes the rebirth of a part of Europe's heartland - no longer ``Eastern'' Europe beneath a yoke imposed from Moscow.

More tangibly, a Europe without the Warsaw Pact denies to the USSR a convenient rationale for retaining a Soviet troop presence west of the Soviet Union's current borders. Any reinsertion of Soviet forces could no longer be colored with multilateral excuses; a ``socialist commonwealth'' no longer exists, and ``fraternal assistance,'' as in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, would constitute a clear case of Soviet aggression.

Likewise, Soviet military ties to the region, absent the Warsaw Pact, are prone to atrophy. Training of Polish, Hungarian, or Czech officers will increasingly take place in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; the purchase of weapons, often of newer and more capable design, will be done in the West whenever finances allow. The military ties to the USSR over two generations, never very firm or warm, will now wither.

Most important, however, the death of the pact irrevocably casts European security in a different light. Although the West continued to use the fiction of a Warsaw Pact for the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) negotiations in Vienna during 1989 and 1990, we can no longer pretend. Rather than alliance-to-alliance talks, any further discussions must shift toward goals of national ceilings on troops and weapons. A Euro-Atlantic security environment of 35 (and perhaps more) states must itself be the fram ework of conventional-arms reductions, combining such negotiations with those on confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs).

Europe's new security milieu affects, of course, the future role of NATO. In the past several years, efforts to adjust or reconfigure NATO have led to doctrinal changes, unilateral force reductions, and a lot of talk and study. Ultimately, however, an alliance for common defense cannot reinvent itself without a new, unambiguous adversary. As is rapidly becoming clear, the new dangers to Euro-Atlantic security lie not in threats of direct armed attack, but rather in transnational perils from ethnonationa list rebellion, destabilizing migration, economic dislocation, or terrorist cells, against which the armored divisions that NATO amassed have no effect. When military force has been utilized, moreover, NATO has not been an actor, its raison d'etre not encompassing ``out of area'' missions.

NATO cannot fill Europe's security vacuum alone. Cognizant of the void, the fledgling post-communist governments of central and southeastern Europe have tried to encourage wider pan-European solutions, such as an institutionalized follow-on to the process known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The US has been particularly leery of CSCE, however, concerned that its size would make decisionmaking unworkable and the American role minimal.

Thus far, CSCE has been denied more than a minimal institutional role. But NATO is also not ready to admit new members, and the plaintive requests of Vaclav Havel in Brussels during late March for closer NATO-Czechoslovak ties drew little response. In the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact, long reviled among people throughout its non-Soviet members, cheers for its demise are mixed with furtive glances at emerging threats throughout the region. The security needs of the new central and southeastern Europe rem ain unfulfilled, and will grow in this decade - unconstrained and unattended by any new Euro-Atlantic organization.

Europe has formally ended its post-World War II division into two militarized camps. With the expulsion of communist regimes from power and the reunification of Germany, the Warsaw Pact's demise completes a transition of immense significance.

But the dynamics continue unabated, and Europe's peace and stability rest in the balance. We must quickly address the security needs of the continent for the next century, before the achievements of democratic revolutions are lost amid convulsions in the eastern half of Europe.

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