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Research Notes and Conference Reports

“We Are in a Bind” Polish and Czechoslovak Attempts at

Reforming the Warsaw Pact, 1956-1969

By Vojtech Mastny


The internal documents on the Warsaw Pact that are becoming available from the archives of its former

Central and Eastern European members (hardly any are yet open from the former Soviet Union) reveal how misconceived the Western disposition to regard the Communist alliance as the functional counterpart of NATO was. Yet, equally mistaken was the supposition that Moscow's allies uniformly resented their membership in the organization, and consequently strove to loosen or even abolish it. As evident from the diverse attempts at reforming the Warsaw Pact, the reality was not so straightforward, nor was it the same at different times. The documents printed below, which have never been published in English before, show that Polish generals in 1956 and their Czechoslovak counterparts in 1968 sought to preserve the alliance but to alter it in unexpected ways.

The attempts at reforming the Warsaw Pact must be measured against the overwhelming dependence of Central and Eastern European countries on Moscow at the time of the launching of the alliance in 1955 and consider that initially its purpose was very different from what it became later. The establishment of the Communist alliance six years after the creation of NATO has always been something of a puzzle. It occurred when the Soviet Union under the leadership of Nikita S. Khrushchev was actively pursuing détente with the West and seeking to demilitarize the Cold War.'

Only recently has archival evidence from the defunct Soviet bloc allowed us to place the signing of the Warsaw Pact firmly within the context of Khrushchev's effort to bring about a new European security system, dominated by the Soviet Union. The effort, prompted by the prospective admission of West Germany into NATO in accordance with the October 1954 Paris agreements, was aimed at radically reshaping the European security environment formed by the Cold War. It rested on the fallacious assumption that the Western powers could be maneuvered by political means into a position in which they would have no choice but to acquiesce against their will in changes they considered incompatible with their vital interests.

According to the scenario initiated by Soviet Foreign Minister Viacheslav M. Molotov but elaborated and increasingly masterminded by Khrushchev, the feat was to

be accomplished by staging an all-European security conference from which the United States would be excluded and the agenda of which would be set and controlled by Moscow posing as the main guarantor of European security. The Soviet-sponsored gathering of Communist chiefs in the Polish capital in May 1955, at which the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) was formally inaugurated, had initially been intended as a step toward such a conference. The text of the treaty, intended for publication, was drafted by Molotov's assistants at the Foreign Ministry in December 1954. It was only a month before the originally scheduled date of April 25 that the Soviet leadership decided to give the Warsaw meeting a military character by instructing Minister of Defense Marshal Georgii K. Zhukov at short notice to draft the appropriate documents. By the time they were forwarded to the East European party secretaries for information on May 2, the inauguration of the alliance had been moved to May 11-14.5

At the founding session, which amounted to little more than a ritual consecration of the project prepared in Moscow, the alliance treaty was passed with but minor amendments. These were proposed by some of the Central and Eastern European participants but-judging from the exceedingly orderly minutes of the session—had probably been commissioned in advance by Molotov for the sole purpose of providing the appearance of a “discussion." Similarly perfunctory was the acceptance of the secret provisions specifying the size of the army, navy, and air force contingents the Soviet Union made its dependencies contribute for the supposedly common cause.? Polish general Tadeusz Pióro, who as a young colonel was given the task of taking minutes at the meeting where Zhukov made the assignments, has recalled how the originally comprehensive record had to be repeatedly whittled down until nothing of substance was left on paper, thus allowing the Soviet managers to set the quotas as they pleased.

The important omission at the Warsaw gathering was the statute of the unified command, the draft of which was only sent to the Eastern European leaders by Khrushchev four months later and was approved at the first meeting of the alliance's political consultative committee in Prague on 27-28 January 1956. It was this top secret document [Document No. 1), classified during the entire existence

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of the Warsaw Pact, that later became a major cause of He argued that the two agreements lacked proper legal
dissatisfaction among its members. The statute, which basis and were not truly bilateral because they consisted of
gave its military chief extensive prerogatives in controlling Polish obligations only. Referring to the secret military
their armed forces, grew in importance once the original annexes to the Warsaw treaty, Drzewiecki noted that not
purpose of the alliance—Khrushchev's promotion of a even his country's foreign minister had been informed
new European security system-foundered on Western about them.
resistance. Moscow's latitude in running the Warsaw Pact The final text of Drzewiecki's proposal, sent to
through its Soviet supreme commander and Soviet chief of Gomułka on 7 November 1956, summed up the Polish
staff then became all the greater since its supposedly case for the reform of the alliance and spelled out the
collective institutions, namely, a permanent secretariat and country's proposed obligations within it. 16 Taking into
a standing commission on foreign affairs envisaged at the account the international situation meaning NATO
Prague meeting, were in fact not created. Still, in view of member West Germany's pending claim to the German
the bilateral "mutual defense" treaties that had already territories annexed by Poland after World War II—the
before put Eastern European armed forces at Soviet document did not question the desirability of the Warsaw
disposal, the added chain of command was largely

Pact to bolster Poland's national security but found its superfluous. This justified a contemporary NATO

military provisions in need of a thorough revision. The assessment of the Warsaw Pact as “a cardboard castle ... author took exception to the status of the supreme carefully erected over what most observers considered an commander and his chief of staff as supranational officials already perfectly adequate blockhouse, ... intended to be with prerogatives incompatible with the maintenance of advertised as being capable of being dismantled, piece by Polish independence and sovereignty, to the signatories' piece, in return for corresponding segments of NATO.”U “purely formal" representation on the unified command, to

The lack of substance would not have mattered if the the arbitrary assignment of national contingents to the unexpected crises in Poland and Hungary in the fall of alliance, and—most topically in view of the Soviet 1956 had not compelled the Soviet Union to take its allies intervention in Hungary—to the lack of regulations more seriously. Its declaration on relations among socialist concerning Soviet military deployments on the territories states, issued on October 30 in a vain attempt to stem the of the other member states, 17 tide of revolution in Hungary by political means, signaled As the Soviet intervention in Hungary became an a willingness to revise the arbitrary provisions of the accomplished fact (which caused Gomułka to abandon his Warsaw Pact, regulate the presence of Soviet forces on the opposition to it),18 the Poles found it preferable to separate territory of its member states, and recall the unwanted their radical critique of the Warsaw Pact from their demand Soviet military advisers there. I2 The Polish proposals for the regulation of Soviet military presence on their printed below (Document No. 2] were prepared on territory. This had been maintained since the end of World November 3 in direct response to the declaration. They War II mainly to facilitate Moscow's communication with show how much the self-confidence of the Soviet empire's its occupation troops in East Germany. Invoking the status largest nation had increased after the Kremlin's reluctant of foreign forces within NATO territory as an example and acceptance of its new national communist leadership under alluding even to the manner in which American military party secretary Władysław Gomułka, followed by the presence was made acceptable in such countries as the dismissal of the widely resented Soviet marshal

Philippines, Libya, and Ethiopia, the Polish demand proved Konstantin K. Rokossovskii as defense minister.

fortunate in its timing. Still defensive about the The Poles prepared their proposals regardless of the crackdown in Hungary, the Soviet Union on December 17 progressing Soviet military intervention in Hungary, granted Poland a more favorable status-of-forces which Moscow defended as being allegedly justified under agreement than any other country. It provided for Polish the provisions of the Warsaw Pact." Gomułka

jurisdiction in case of violations of Polish law by Soviet disapproved of the intervention, being understandably military personnel and for advance notice to the Polish concerned about its possible effect upon Soviet intentions government of any movement of Soviet troops. Although towards his own regime which, as we know today, the the former provision was subsequently evaded in practice, Kremlin leaders had only provisionally decided to tolerate the latter was generally honored—the exception being the under Chinese pressure. He let the Polish general staff surreptitious stationing of Soviet intermediate-range form a special commission to elaborate proposals for a nuclear missiles in Poland without the knowledge of reform of the Warsaw Pact and Poland's future role in it. its government. On behalf of the commission, deputy chief of staff

Having thus made one concession granting Poland Gen. Jan Drzewiecki prepared not only a biting

special status within the Soviet empire, Moscow was not commentary on the secret May 1955 statute on the powers in a mood to entertain in addition a proposal for of the supreme commander but also a “legal analysis” of revamping the Warsaw Pact. When Polish Defense the "agreements" about the ten-year plan for the

Minister Marian Spychalski brought up the subject during development of Poland's armed forces, imposed by

his visit to the Soviet capital in January 1957, the Moscow before and after the Warsaw Pact was signed." alliance's supreme commander, Marshal Ivan S. Koney, felt


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personally offended. He was aghast at the idea that his specific issues of current policy-something on the order office should be filled by rotation. “What do you

of the North Atlantic Council.24 The second memorandum imagine," he exploded, "that we will make some NATO [Document No. 4) proposed measures aimed at ensuring here?”:21 As a result, the proposal was shelved, 2 leaving the Warsaw Pact's smaller members real rather than the Warsaw Pact unreformed for another decade. Although merely ritual input into decisions of military importance, Khrushchev did relieve the East Europeans' military such as the Soviet Union's deployment of its nuclear burden as part of his overall reduction of expenditures on weapons.25 The document called for the creation of a conventional forces, he had no incentive to further develop multinational military council that would dilute the the Warsaw Pact. In the years that followed, he instead overwhelming authority of the Soviet supreme tried to use it mainly as a platform for launching his

commander-another allusion to the NATO model—and assorted diplomatic initiatives during irregular meetings of recommended his detachment from the structure of the the alliance's political consultative committee.

Soviet armed forces. It proposed proportional

representation of all its member states on the alliance's When the idea of reform re-emerged ten years later, military staff except for the Soviet Union, which would be the circumstances were altogether different. Khrushchev's represented there by 31 per cent. innovative attempt to reduce the Soviet Union's

In deference to Soviet wishes, the Poles deleted the dependence on military power by cutting its conventional most radical of these ideas, particularly the transformation forces had failed. The Soviet military had succeeded in of the political consultative committee into a deliberative instilling the Warsaw Pact with more substance in 1961 by and decision-making body akin to the North Atlantic instituting the annual practice of joint maneuvers that Council, before the Warsaw Pact's deputy foreign imitated both nuclear and conventional warfare in an ministers convened under Moscow's auspices in February increasingly realistic fashion. Three years later,

1966 to push the reform forward.26 The more radical Khrushchev was replaced as party general secretary by initiative came instead from Romanian representative Leonid I. Brezhnev, who was dedicated to reversing his Mircea Maliţa who, pleading insufficient authority to predecessor's reductions of conventional forces while agree to anything, shocked the other participants by what accelerating the expansion of the nuclear ones as well. some of them rightly perceived as trying to paralyze the Still, the growing utilization of the Warsaw Pact for alliance by transforming it into a noncommittal discussion military purposes proceeded without building up its club.27 Unlike the Poles, who wanted expanded room for structure. And when the initiative in this direction was action as partners in a revitalized Warsaw Pact, the finally taken in January 1966, it originated with the Soviet Romanians tried to achieve their freedom of action by Union rather than its junior partners.23

minimizing the Soviet role in its functioning. Seeking to compensate by expanded military

It was with rather than against Moscow that Poland competition for the increasingly palpable Soviet

under Gomułka, who had since 1956 deteriorated from deficiencies in other fields, Brezhnev opened the drive for Eastern Europe's foremost champion of reform to a a reform of the Warsaw Pact to make it into a genuine, political reactionary, became the most enthusiastic rather than merely formal, counterpart of NATO. The supporter of the Soviet-sponsored reorganization of the Soviet Union envisaged strengthening the alliance's alliance into an institutional counterpart of NATO. While original statute and establishing additional institutions Polish officials again sought to alleviate their country's along the lines already decided in 1956. This meant recently increased defense burden, they no longer particularly the clarification of the powers of the supreme clamored for doing so at the expense of the alliance's commander and the creation of a unified military staff, a cohesion; that role had meanwhile been adopted by standing commission on foreign policy, a committee on the Romanians. technology, and a permanent secretariat. Recognizing how Bucharest steadfastly resisted the establishment of much Moscow's relationship with its Central and Eastern any organs that would make it easier for Moscow to use European dependencies had changed since the Stalin and and abuse the Warsaw Pact for its own purposes, early Khrushchev years, Brezhnev invited their input especially in wartime. While the brush with a nuclear rather than attempting merely to dictate what was to be disaster during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis had done and how.

thoroughly frightened Moscow's allies, only the Responding to the invitation, Poland immediately Romanians had gone so far as to betray their alliance prepared two substantive memoranda. In the first

commitments by secretly offering the United States [Document No. 3], Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki assurances of neutrality in case of a nuclear conflict outlined how the alliance's highest political organ, the between the two blocs.28 Afterward, they consistently political consultative committee, ought to be transformed pursued the policy of limiting their obligations within the from an inconsequential entity given to holding “irregular Warsaw Pact and loosening it as best as they could. summit meetings, usually ill-prepared, and adopting

The cause of transforming the alliance to make it spectacular agreements," into a forum for systematic a

both stronger and more acceptable to all its members, consultation about not only general matters but also including the Soviet Union, was embraced in 1968 by the

Czechoslovak communist reformers. Their desire to change Marxist-Leninist jargon with the phraseology of Western the Warsaw Pact was broadly known at the time,

"defense intellectuals." Yet amid some pontificating and particularly from the candid interview given on 15 July belaboring the obvious, there are remarkably fresh ideas 1968 by the Czechoslovak army's chief political officer, that put the document way ahead of its time. Gen. Václav Prchlík, and contributed to the Soviet

If Rytíř's remarks sometimes read like wisecracks of the decision to crush the reform movement by force of arms. 29 Good Soldier Schweik35 in a general's uniform, the Yet the extent of their efforts, as well as its limitations, memorandum is dead-serious. Its stands out for its utter remained obscure until the recent publication in Prague lack of illusions about the small Central European nations of selected documents on the military aspects of the

chances of physical survival in a general war between the 1968 crisis, 30 which can now be supplemented by

two alliances and for its commendably level-headed extensive additional sources from the Czech Military rejection of the concept of mutual deterrence on which Historical Archives.

Europe's security was often believed to be resting. While Of the two documents printed below, the rambling attracted to the then-fashionable systems analysis exposé by the Czechoslovak chief of general staff, Gen. approach to military affairs, the authors of the document in Otakar Rytíř, (Document No. 5) gives a vivid account of fact puncture the pretensions of both the Western the "great bind” in which the Warsaw Pact countries found proponents of mutual deterrence, who tried to use it to themselves by the late nineteen-sixties. This was the result prop up the intensely ambiguous strategy of flexible of the Soviet-dictated resumption of high military

response, 36 and of their Soviet imitators, who were vainly spending aimed at the expansion and modernization of searching for a way to defeat NATO without provoking a their conventional armed forces. The policy was in part an nuclear war.37 attempt to respond in kind to NATO's strategy of flexible The memorandum offers revealing insights into the response, formally adopted in 1967 but anticipated for at thinking that motivated Moscow's military posture in the least six years before.31 Rytíř's remarks were suggestive of early years of the Cold War. It maintains retrospectively the resulting tensions within the Soviet-led alliance, the that under Stalin the Soviet and East European armies full extent of which can be gleaned from many other under his control were being prepared to respond to an archival documents. 32 The often acrimonious negotiations expected Western attack by launching a counteroffensive with Moscow about the military budget paralleled the aimed at establishing complete Soviet hegemony in perennial disputes between Washington and its NATO Europe. Although such a plan has not been corroborated allies about burden-sharing. Unlike its Communist

by contemporary Soviet evidence it would have been counterpart, however, the Western alliance was able to consistent with the prevailing Western fears at the time. develop effective institutions and procedures which, For their part, the authors of the memorandum, while besides its members' dedication to the democratic

paying the customary obeisance to the vision of a final bargaining process, ensured NATO's continued viability. victory of “socialism,” scarcely hide their preference for a

For all his lack of sophistication and crudeness of Europe whose ideological divisions have been gradually expression, the Czech general grasped better than the erased by common security concerns. Soviet marshals and their political mentors the heart of the In deriding attempts at “directing an army's problem that in the fullness of time would critically development in accordance with simple logic, empiricism, contribute to the collapse of the communist alliance—its and historical analogy," the memorandum dismisses as inability to keep up with its capitalist rival in economic fallacy Moscow's insistence on the alleged Western and technological competition. He neither desired nor military threat. That fallacy, nourished by the Soviet anticipated this outcome but did not see any good way out memory of a narrow escape from defeat after the Nazi of the bind either. Rather than solving the essential

surprise attack in 1941, was not shared by any of problem, he could only demand for his country an equal Moscow's Warsaw Pact partners, who had not position in the alliance.

experienced the same trauma of their regime tottering The question of how such a position would make under enemy assault. The Czech authors' criticism of the the Warsaw Pact more viable is addressed in Document “naively pragmatic realist approach (that) analyzes No. 6, which originated with the staff of the Klement relations among sovereign states from the point of view of Gottwald Military Political Academy—the institution either war or peace” foreshadowed the frame of mind that designed to supply the ideological underpinning of the would eventually bring the Cold War to an end. Once a Czechoslovak military establishment. The text, misleadingly later generation of Soviet leaders would divest themselves referred to in earlier Western literature as the “Gottwald from the notion that their state was being threatened from memorandum"33 (as if it had been composed by the ”

the outside, they would defy the realist mantra by deceased Stalinist chief of the Czechoslovak Communist declining to defend its supposedly vital interests, and Party after whom the school was named), was published allow their empire to disintegrate. in a Prague newspaper in 1968,34 but never received

Free from the security preconceptions weighing on abroad the attention it deserves. This has been no doubt both superpowers, the Czechoslovak theorists sensed that in part because of its often awkward prose, mixing

the very feasibility and acceptability of war had radically




changed, at least in the European context, thus anticipating the post-Cold War era better than most of their contemporaries. Yet the conditions of their time, besides their residual Marxist thinking, prevented them from drawing any substantive conclusions. Instead, fascinated by the Israeli feats in the 1967 Six Day War, in their conclusion they focused instead merely on the desirability of replacing the outdated concept of an offensive á outrance by one aiming at the destruction of the enemy's vital vulnerability.

Otherwise, no practical consequences for the development of a Czechoslovak military doctrine were spelled out with any clarity. Nor did the reformers' plea for the formulation of an overall Warsaw Pact military doctrine and a restructuring of the alliance find an expression in specific proposals—a significant difference from the action taken by their Polish counterparts in 1956 and again ten years later. During meetings in February and March 1968, when the Soviet-proposed reform of the Warsaw Pact was successively discussed by its deputy foreign ministers in Berlin, its chiefs of staff in Prague, and finally the party chiefs convened as its political consultative committee in Sofia, the Czechoslovak representatives remained passive. 38

It was again the contentious Romanians who lambasted the Soviet concept of “unified armed forces," included in the obnoxious secret annex to the Warsaw treaty but not in its published main text. Demanding the limitation of the powers of the supreme commander and the national governments' right of veto over any deployment of foreign troops or armaments on their territories, Bucharest even tried to renege on the agreements concerning the creation of a military council, joint staff, and committee on technology, to which it had already consented in May 1966.99 At the same time, the Romanian party chief Nicolae Ceauşescu tried to derail the Warsaw Pact's accession to the nearly finished nonproliferation treaty, which he condemned as allegedly giving the superpowers license at the expense of their smaller allies. 40 During his Prague visit in February 1968, he minced no words in privately describing the proposed document as even “worse and more dangerous than the Soviet-German treaty of 1939.941

Although none of the other Warsaw Pact members joined Romania's efforts to derail what on balance was to prove a generally beneficial treaty, Polish Foreign Minister Rapacki and his Czechoslovak counterpart Václav David met in Prague on 29 February-1 March 1968, to discuss without Soviet supervision the possible freezing and subsequent removal of nuclear weapons from the territories of the states that had no control over them—or at least from their own countries and the two German states. The initiative was Rapacki's: Having already discussed the idea with Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel—the author of the celebrated report advocating the simultaneous strengthening of NATO and its promotion of détente with its Eastern counterpart—the

Pole agreed with him to try to make the denuclearization acceptable to the Warsaw Pact. The Czechoslovaks, however, hesitated. The Prague general staff noted timorously that, even though Moscow had not yet expressed its view, the proposal was presumably disadvantageous for its alliance system and should not, in any case, be considered in Czechoslovakia's current political climate. 42

In that climate, the authors of the memorandum did not find enough support for their ideas among their superiors. At the beginning of June, they sent copies of the document to the higher authorities in the hope of contributing to the preparation of the “action program” for the development of the country's armed forces. No response came from party general secretary Alexander Dubček while his newly appointed minister of defense, Martin Dzúr, took a distinctly reserved position. This was not the case with Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Andrei A. Grechko, who, even before the memorandum was officially submitted to the Prague leadership, had evidently gotten wind of it, and proceeded to extract from Dzúr the promise to dismantle the academy that had produced it.44 And when one of the reform-minded officers, Gen. Egyd Pepich, tried to explain to the marshal that loyalty to the alliance was not in question, Grechko disrupted his presentation by noisily banging on his desk with a spoon."

Then followed Gen. Prchlík's July 15 interview with Prague journalists which, though not intended for publication, nevertheless became public, bringing Moscow to a rage because of his demand for the rectification of the Warsaw Pact's inequities. In a protest letter to Dubček, Warsaw Pact supreme commander Marshal Ivan I. Iakubovskii disingenuously accused Prchlík of insulting Soviet officers in addition to revealing military secrets, namely, the contents of the unpublished 1955 annex to the Warsaw treaty. 46 Significantly, Iakubovskii’s protest was received approvingly by the conservative majority of the Czechoslovak officer corps who, concerned more about their jobs than about reform, remained unreservedly loyal to the Soviet alliance. These notably included Defense Minister Dzúr, who subsequently earned Moscow's gratitude for having on his own responsibility ordered the army not to resist the Soviet invasion. For this accomplishment he was subsequently rewarded by being allowed to keep his job for another sixteen years. 47

Soviet criticism of Prchlík's remarks was seconded in an anonymous "official" statement publicly disseminated by the national press agency on July 28 and secretly endorsed by the minister's military council.48 Such circumstances did not augur well for the report drafted by the general for the planned party congress and including many of the ideas of the reformist memorandum. The report went even farther in its unorthodox description of Czechoslovakia's desirable defense policy as striving to be a policy of European security, a policy that helps ease international tensions, and a policy of friendly cooperation

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