II. Meeting of the PCC, Moscow, 24 May 1958
The second PCC meeting followed the first after more than two years, thus violating the agreed provision that the committee should meet annually. The delay was mainly the result of the upheaval in Eastern Europe at the end of 1956, during which the Polish military demanded a radical reform of the Warsaw Pact in the direction of true partnership and the Hungarian government announced the country's withdrawal from the alliance. Although this action did not trigger Moscow's already adopted decision to intervene by force to restore its control of Hungary, retrospectively it provided a justification for the intervention undertaken in the name of the Warsaw Pact.
While the alliance was thus preserved in its previous form, it nevertheless remained dormant until Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev found the appropriate preconditions as well as reasons to activate it in 1958. The preconditions included, besides reassertion of Soviet control of Eastern Europe, Khrushchev's crushing in June 1957 a conspiracy to depose him, masterminded by former foreign minister Molotov, and the stunning effect on the West of the latest Soviet technological accomplishments, notably the launching in October 1957 of the Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth. The main reason for reconvening the PCC was its expected utility in supporting Khrushchev's evolving diplomatic offensive, intensified in the aftermath of Sputnik with the aim of generating pressure on the West and compelling it to substantial concessions, especially in regard to Germany.
Khrushchev convened the PCC at an extremely short notice, having summoned East European party leaders on 15 May 1958, to assemble in Moscow a mere five days later. He arranged the meeting of the alliance to be preceded by that of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon)- the Warsaw Pact's counterpart for economic coordination, which likewise had been largely dormant ever since Stalin had created it in January 1949 as a belated response to the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Western Europe.
As had been the case with the first PCC meeting in January 1956, the Soviet organizers distributed to the participants documents that were to be formally approved after but perfunctory discussion. In the event, however, more substantive discussion took place, suggesting how much Moscow's authority among its dependencies had been eroded since the 1956 crisis. Already at the Comecon meeting, Soviet demands were vigorously contested by Romania, previous the most effectively subdued of the Soviet satellites. Its party chief, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, questioned Khrushchev's plan for a division of labor that would have assigned the most lucrative industrial production to the more advanced member states of the organization. This would have left behind the less developed countries, such as Romania, leaving them as suppliers of food and raw materials and hampering their industrialization. Gheorghiu-Dej's successful opposition to the plan marked the beginning of Romania's dissidence within the Soviet bloc, which subsequently extended to the Warsaw Pact as well.
Khrushchev unwittingly facilitated the Romanian dissidence by having already decided to withdraw all Soviet troops from the country and submitted his decision to the PCC for formal approval as one of the four main items on its agenda. The issue of the withdrawal had first been tentatively raised by Gheorghiu-Dej as early as August 1955, under the impact of the seemingly auspicious precedent of the departure of Soviet forces from Austria provided for by its May 1955 State Treaty, but Khrushchev had refused. By April 1958, however, he had reconsidered, and on his own initiative decided to withdraw troops from the Warsaw Pact's strategically least important country as a seemingly cost-free public-relations exercise. The decision dramatized the contrast between NATO's continuing military buildup and Khrushchev's simultaneous reductions of Soviet conventional forces, a policy expressive of his belief in the Soviet ability to defeat the West in a political, economic, and ideological competition.
Unilateral gradual reductions of the Warsaw Pact forces by as much as 420,000 men, including more than 100,000 men in the Eastern European armies, was the second major item on the PCC's agenda. Khrushchev's intent to actually carry out such drastic reductions was widely questioned in the West and, as reported by Polish general Tadeusz Pióro, a hint by a Soviet representative at the meeting made his Eastern European counterparts understand that there was indeed no such intent. The cuts nevertheless proceeded, even though not to the extent indicated, making the hint seem calculated to reassure those East European countries that had invested heavily in armament industries at Soviet command and become consequently alarmed that the cuts would hurt their economies.
The proposed cuts and the Romanian troop withdrawal were nevertheless quickly approved. Rather than military matters, what created dissension at the meeting was the political declaration drawn up by Moscow in order to assist its diplomatic offensive. The document consisted of a wide array of topics, including the cessation of nuclear tests, the creation of nuclear-free zones in Europe, the German question, a summit meeting. All these had been highly contentious issues, which were unlikely to be dealt with successfully without careful preparation. Their being all lumped together in a public declaration, phrased in a patronizing and offensive language, was not indicative of Khrushchev's belief that they would be seriously considered by their Western recipients and result in negotiations. Concerning the proposed summit, Khrushchev candidly admitted to his select audience that he did not expect it to take place any time soon.
But if Khrushchev mainly valued the document for its propaganda effect, some of the East Europeans were concerned about its other consequences. Polish foreign minister Adam Rapacki, the architect of a nuclear-free zone plan bearing his name, criticized the declaration as rashly prepared and stylistically as well as substantively flawed. He tried to delay its adoption, and when he did not succeed, he at least urged toning down its insults to the United States while inserting stronger language to blame the West German government, though not the West German people, for threatening Europe's security. Rapacki showed the depth of concern about German threat that most Poles shared but Khrushchev only feigned. Hungarian foreign minister Endre Sík supported Rapacki's amendments, but in the end only a few of them were incorporated in the published text of the declaration, thus demonstrating that Khrushchev could and would have his way.
As the fourth item on its agenda, the PCC readily approved the appeal for a nonaggression treaty between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. This was what remained from Moscow's original proposal for the simultaneous dissolution of both alliances and their substitution with a collective security system guaranteed by the Soviet Union-the scheme that had been at the origins of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 but never got off the ground. The nonaggression pledge, duplicating as it did the United Nations Charter and other international instruments, was by itself of little value; the emphasis the Soviet draft of the treaty placed on consultation in case of a crisis and noninterference in the signatories' internal affairs was suggestive of Khrushchev's real concerns.
The replacement of Gen. A. I. Antonov with diplomat N.S. Patolichev as the PCC's general secretary underscored, as explained by the Warsaw Pact's supreme commander Marshal Ivan S. Konev, the political character of the Committee. Much the same could be said about the alliance as a whole. Whether Khrushchev was already preparing at that time his November 1958 Berlin ultimatum, with its attendant military risks, is uncertain; there was nothing to indicate, however, that he was preparing the alliance for a possible military confrontation.