The end of World War II in 1945 brought along with it a new set of geopolitical rivalries and tensions. Most of the nations involved in the war were polarized – the highly industrialized nations of the west (Western Bloc) aligned themselves with the US and the countries subscribing to communist ideologies (Eastern Bloc) with the former USSR.
The Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc sealed themselves off with the ‘Iron Curtain.’ In the words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (March 5th, 1946), “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” The USSR placed an economic embargo and diplomatic restrictions on the Western Bloc and prohibited the people from the Eastern Bloc from associating with the western nations aligned with the US. In the wake of this separatism, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (also called the Washington Treaty) was formed. It is an international intergovernmental military alliance signed by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United States and the United Kingdom in 1949. In later years other countries joined the alliance and NATO is now an alliance of 29 member countries.
Within six years of the signing of the Washington Treaty, the USSR and seven of the Eastern Bloc countries in Europe signed the Warsaw Pact – a treaty guaranteeing mutual defense and putting the armed forces of the member states at the disposal of the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact was signed by the USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany (German Democratic Republic), Hungary, Poland, and Romania in Warsaw on May 14, 1955.
Despite the fact that the members of the Warsaw Pact Organization had agreed that they would not interfere in the internal affairs of other member states, the USSR soon dominated collective decision-making and even sent troops to quell dissent in its European satellites. The joint military command, under Soviet leadership was tasked with managing the internal disturbances in Hungary (in 1956), in Czechoslovakia (in 1968), and in Poland (in 1981).
In 1962, Albania was expelled for turning to China for trade as its relations with the USSR started to deteriorate. Albania had started to distance itself from the Soviet Union and accused the latter of deviating from strictly communist ideologies. By the 1980s, the economic slowdown in the European signatories of the treaty started to cause problems in the cohesive operation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. By the end of the decade, most of these countries underwent major political changes further weakening the pact. In September 1990, East Germany left the Pact and eventually reunited with West Germany. The unified Germany now became a member of the NATO. Later that year, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland also withdrew from the pact. The military alliance created by the Warsaw Pact was disbanded in March 1991 and by July 1991 the Warsaw Pact Organization was officially dissolved.