Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact

Vojtech Mastny
Project Coordinator
1920 North Ode Street, Arlington, Virginia 22209, USA
Telephone ++1/703/469-1777 Fax ++1/703/469-1771; E-mail:

13 May 2005



Warsaw Pact Allies Resented Soviet Dominance and "Nuclear Romanticism"

Bloc Saw Military Balance in West's Favor from 1970s On, Especially in Technology

New Volume of Formerly Secret Records Published on 50th Anniversary of Warsaw Pact

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 154

For more information contact
Vojtech Mastny 202/415-6707
Malcolm Byrne - 202/994-7043

May 13, 2005

Read "The Warsaw Pact, gone with a whimper"
by Malcolm Byrne and Vojtech Mastny
The International Herald Tribune
May 14, 2005

Washington D.C. May 13, 2005 - The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact had a long-standing strategy to attack Western Europe that included being the first to use nuclear weapons, according to a new book of previously Secret Warsaw Pact documents published tomorrow. Although the aim was apparently to preempt NATO "aggression," the Soviets clearly expected that nuclear war was likely and planned specifically to fight and win such a conflict.

The documents show that Moscow's allies went along with these plans but the alliance was weakened by resentment over Soviet domination and the belief that nuclear planning was sometimes highly unrealistic. Just the opposite of Western views at the time, Pact members saw themselves increasingly at a disadvantage compared to the West in the military balance, especially with NATO's ability to incorporate high-technology weaponry and organize more effectively, beginning in the late 1970s.

These and other findings appear in a new volume published tomorrow on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw Pact. Consisting of 193 documents originating from all eight original member-states, the volume, A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991, provides significant new evidence of the intentions and capabilities of one of the most feared military machines in history.

Highlights of the 726-page volume include highly confidential internal reports, military assessments, minutes of Warsaw Pact leadership meetings, and Politburo discussions on topics such as:

The shift beginning in the 1960s from defensive operations to plans to launch attacks deep into Western Europe. (Documents Nos. 16, 20a-b, 21)
Plans to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, ostensibly to preempt Western first-use. (Documents Nos. 81, 83)
Soviet expectations that conventional conflicts would go nuclear, and plans to fight and win such conflicts. (Documents Nos. 81, 83)
The deep resentment of alliance members, behind the façade of solidarity, of Soviet dominance and the unequal share of the military burden that was imposed on them. (Documents Nos. 4-6, 33-37, 47, 52)
East European views on the futility of plans for nuclear war and the realization that their countries, far more than the Soviet Union, would suffer the most devastating consequences of such a conflict. (Documents Nos. 22b, 38, 50, 52)
The "nuclear romanticism," primarily of Soviet planners, concerning the viability of unconventional warfare, including a memorable retort by the Polish leader that "no one should have the idea that in a nuclear war one could enjoy a cup of coffee in Paris in five or six days." (Documents Nos. 31, 115)
Ideologically warped notions of Warsaw Pact planners about the West's presumed propensity to initiate hostilities and the prospects for defeating it. (Documents Nos. 50, 73, 79, 81)
The impact of Chernobyl as a reality check for Soviet officials on the effects of nuclear weapons. (Document No. 115)
The pervasiveness and efficacy of East bloc spying on NATO, mainly by East Germans (Documents Nos. 11, 28, 80, 97, 109, 112)
Warsaw Pact shortcomings in resisting hostile military action, including difficulties in firing nuclear weapons. (Documents Nos. 44, 143)
Data on the often disputed East-West military balance, seen from the Soviet bloc side as much more favorable to the West than the West itself saw it, with the technological edge increasingly in Western favor since the time of the Carter administration (Documents Nos. 47, 79, 81, 82, 130, 131, 135, 136)
The motives accounting for the Warsaw Pact's offensive military culture included not only the obsessive Soviet memory of having been taken by surprise by the nearly fatal Nazi attack in June 1941 but primarily the ideological militancy of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine that posited irreconcilable hostility of the capitalist adversaries. The influence of the doctrine explains, for example, the distorted interpretation of secret Western planning documents that were unequivocally defensive documents to which Warsaw Pact spies had extensive access. So integral was the offensive strategy to the Soviet system that its replacement by a defensive strategy under Gorbachev proved impossible to implement before the system itself disintegrated.

The Soviet military, as the ideologically most devoted and disciplined part of the Soviet establishment, were given extensive leeway by the political leadership in designing the Warsaw Pact's plans for war and preparing for their implementation. Although the leadership reserved the authority to decide under what circumstances they would be implemented and never actually tried to act on them, the chances of a crisis spiraling out of control may have been greater than imagined at the time. The plans had dynamics of their own and the grip of the aging leadership continued to diminish with the passage of time.

The new collection of documents published today is the first of its kind in examining the Warsaw Pact from the inside, with the benefit of materials once thought to be sealed from public scrutiny in perpetuity. It was prepared by the Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP), an international scholarly network formed to explore and disseminate documentation on the military and security aspects of contemporary history. The book appears as part of the "National Security Archive Cold War Reader Series" through Central European University Press.

The PHP's founders and partners are the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research organization based at The George Washington University; the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich; the Institute for Strategy and Security Policy at the Austrian Defense Academy in Vienna; the Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies in Florence; and the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies in Oslo.

In addition to documents, the volume features a major original essay by Vojtech Mastny, a leading historian of the Warsaw Pact, and contextual headnotes for each document by co-editor Malcolm Byrne. A detailed chronology, glossaries and bibliography are also included.

The documents in the collection were obtained by numerous scholars and archivists, many of them associated with PHP and its partners, including the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C.

The vast majority of the documents were translated especially for this volume and have never previously appeared in English.

Attached to this notice are ten representative documents taken from the list above. They appear as they do in the volume, i.e. with explanatory headnotes at the top of each item.

The documents in their original languages can be found in their entirety on the Center for Security Studies website.

On Saturday, May 14, a book launch for A Cardboard Castle? will take place in Warsaw at the Military Office of Historical Research. The address is: 2, ul. Stefana Banacha, Room 218. It will begin at 11:30 a.m. Speakers include:

Gen. William E. Odom, former Director, U.S. National Security Agency
Gen. Tadeusz Pioro, senior Polish representative to the Warsaw Pact
Brig. Gen. Leslaw Dudek, Polish representative to the alliance
Prof. dr. hab. Andrzej Paczkowski, Polish Academy of Sciences
Dr hab. Krzysztof Komorowski, Military Office of Historical Research
Prof. dr hab. Wojciech Materski, Polish Academy of Sciences


All documents published on the PHP website are available for use by researchers free of charge provided acknowledgment is made of their PHP origin.

Visit the PHP website at to read other documents and find out more about the PHP's activities. The website is part of the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), run by the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).


Sponsored by the Center for Security Studies of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, Institute for Strategy and Security Policy in Vienna, Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies (CIMA) in Florence, and Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies in Oslo
In association with the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC, Lyman L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO and European Union Studies at Kent State University, Institute for Contemporary History, Munich, Federal Archives of Germany, Berlin and Freiburg, Danish Institute of International Affairs, Copenhagen, Association "Diplomatie et Stratégie," Paris, Institute for Political Studies, Warsaw, Cold War Research Group, Sofia, Center for Cold War History, Prague, Cold War History Research Center, Budapest, Institute for Political Studies of Defense and Military History, Bucharest, Romanian Institute for Recent History, Bucharest, Modern History Research Center and Archives at Peking University, Beijing, "Pax Mongolica," Ulaanbaatar
With support from Institute of International Relations, Prague, and Open Society Archives at Central European University, Budapest
Affiliated with the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes