This month 65 years ago, the Soviet Union announced the formation of the Warsaw Pact. For the next three and a half decades, the pact remained the security alliance of the Communist world, designed to counter NATO in Europe, before becoming defunct in 1991. Almost immediately, however, post-Soviet Russia laid out a new collective defense organization. Officially known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), that post-Soviet pact has proved to be no match for the Warsaw Pact. Neither CSTO nor the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the other collective security pact of which Russia is a member, pose a real threat to the U.S. and its allies above and beyond the threat posed by their individual member states.
The Warsaw Pact was formally founded on May 14, 1955, as Moscow’s answer to the integration of West Germany into NATO. Its members included the Soviet Union and its East European satellite states: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Albania was initially a member, but withdrew in the 1960s after siding with China during the Sino-Soviet split. The pact obligated member states to mutual defense, allowed for member states to station troops on each other’s territory and set up a unified military command under Soviet control. During the 35 years of its existence, the pact only undertook one operation as an organization—the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, though Hungary’s withdrawal from the pact in 1956 was one of the proximate causes of the Soviet invasion of that country. Both of these actions were practical applications of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified intervention in any socialist state if socialist rule was considered to be under external or internal threat. The pact’s dissolution in July 1991 was a key signal that the Soviet Union’s hold on Eastern Europe had been broken and that the Cold War was truly over.
After the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, leaders of several of the newly independent states signed a new collective security treaty. Although the treaty was signed in 1992, no practical actions were taken until the early 2000s, when six states formed a new organization on its basis, imaginatively called the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Through this new organization, the member states sought to enhance the existing treaty’s mutual security commitments to develop a standing organization that enhanced security cooperation through regular exercises, while aspiring to further integration including an eventual joint command structure. However, the organization was largely moribund for several years after its founding. Although it became more active in the last decade, organizing regular and increasingly frequent military exercises since 2012, it still does little more than provide a venue for cooperation among the military forces of its member states.
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