When Stalin died, it looked like a new era was beginning between East and West. The new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advocated a peaceful co-existence – so did relations improve between East and West?
Youtube documentary – ‘After Stalin’ 1953-1956
THE WARSAW PACT – source: Cold War Museum online
In May 1955, the “treaty of mutual friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance” was signed between the People’s Republic of Albania, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, the Hungarian People’s Republic, the German Democratic Republic, the Polish People’s Republic, the Rumanian People’s Republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the Czechoslovak Republic. It was the Communist counteraction to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The Warsaw Pact came to be seen as quite a potential militaristic threat, as a sign of Communist dominance, and a definite opponent to American capitalism. The signing of the pact became a symbol of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe. The pact was used more as a means to keep the Soviet allies under a watchful eye than to actually make and enforce decisions. Eventually, the alliance grew to become a way to build and strengthen military forces throughout the Eastern European countries involved. Conditions of the treaty included “total equality, mutual noninterference in internal affairs, and respect for national sovereignty and independence.” The treaty was originally set at twenty years for the pact and another ten years following that, under the condition that none of the members dropped out of the alliance; however, in 1962, Albania stopped participating in the actions of the treaty and formally dropped out of the alliance in 1968.
The majority of the actions performed by the Warsaw Pact were run by the Political Consultative Committee and the Unified Command of Pact Armed forces; both were centered in Moscow. The latter was in charge of all military activities of the alliance, while the first controlled everything else. One of the presiding conditions was that the leaders of both of these committees would be Soviet, so that Communist dominance would remain prevalent.
Speculation about Khrushchev’s ambition towards the power of the Communist party may explain the formation of the Warsaw pact – he wanted global domination for Communism. Khrushchev considered his plans of “de-Stalinization” to be completely justified and necessary for Soviet prosperity. Additionally, the Communist Soviet Union was finding it increasingly difficult to fulfill its monetary needs and thought that the Warsaw Pact would resolve this problem. One of Khrushchev’s main goals was to stimulate the development of the involved Eastern European nations so that they may function on their own.
The power and control of the Soviets in the pact sharply fell in 1989 and 1990 as a result of global Communist losses. In 1990, Hungary stated that it would no longer participate in the military functions of the pact, and that it had plans to ultimately leave the pact in 1991, along with Czechoslovakia and Poland. East Germany also resigned from the alliance in 1990 as it was reunified into one, united Germany. Ultimately, in 1991, the remaining six countries decided to formally end their alliance and the Warsaw Pact was disbanded.
1953-1960 – changes
In 1953, Stalin died and Nikita Khrushchev became the Soviet leader. He was a jolly man, who said to prevent the most destructive war in history, there needed to be “peaceful co-existence” between the superpowers. He said Stalin was a terrible tyrant and he wanted to “de-Stalinise” Eastern Europe.
Everyone hoped that it would improve East-West relations.
It did not. In fact, the period 1953-1960 was the time of greatest danger in the Cold War. America and Russia competed with each other in the arms race, in sport, and in the space race.
Why did ‘peaceful co-existence’ make the Cold War more dangerous?
- Khrushchev’s statement that he wanted to “de-Stalinise” Eastern Europe led to anti-Soviet rebellions in 1956 in Poland and Hungary, and Khrushchev sent in Russian troops to re-establish Soviet control.
- Russia and America waged an arms race, developing H-bombs and ICBMs.
- Khrushchev set up the Warsaw Pact in 1955 – a military alliance of communist countries – to rival NATO. America responded by increasing the number of NATO troops in Germany.
- Russia and America competed in every way possible – eg in sport, and in the space race. Russia launched the first satellite – Sputnik – in 1957, and sent the first man into orbit – Yuri Gagarin – in 1961. Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space in 1961, and President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon by 1969. This was not just a propaganda war, it was a clash of ideologies as both sides tried to prove that their way was best.
- America responded aggressively. Senator McCarthy led a series of public trials of suspected Communists – the so-called witch-hunts.
- Both sides spied on each other. The Americans also used U2 spy planes to spy on Russia.