Skip to main content

Romania and the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1989

Dennis Deletant, Professor of Romanian Studies at London University College will discuss the conclusions of CWIHP Working Paper #43, "Romania and the Warsaw Pact," which he authored with Mihail Ionescu. Comments will be provided by Ernest Latham, Department of State

Date & Time

Apr. 19, 2004
3:30pm – 5:00pm ET


Dr. Denis Deletant, senior CWIHP scholar and Professor of Romanian Studies at University College London, began his presentation by recounting the state of access in the Romanian archives. Access to the relevant historical archives still poses major problems for both western and native researchers. The lack of access is both a problem of structure of the system and of archive leadership. For a researcher facing the daunting task of access, persistence, perseverance, and good humor will go a long way in dealing with the general attitude towards historical research. The issue is less that of political unwillingness, Deletant concluded, but that of personal unwillingness on the part of archive directors to allow documents to be seen by others until they themselves have had a chance to publish them. The research published in CWIHP Working Paper #43 "Romania and the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1989" was the result of efforts spearheaded by the CWIHP and the Parallel History Project, together with their Romanian partners in the Romanian archives.

Dr. Deletant began by reminding the audience that Romania's role in the Warsaw Pact, even its strenuous relations with its allies, had always been in line with Soviet security needs and ideological cohesion. Romania had been cemented into the Soviet camp before the establishment of the Warsaw Pact. During the first years of the Pact the Bucharest leadership had been willfully subservient to Soviet interests. If by the early 1960's Bucharest began pushing the envelope, it was doing so in order to establish the limits in which it could operate autonomously. Even so, Romania never attempted, nor as the documents show, seriously considered leaving the Warsaw Pact or the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or Comecon). Ceausescu's outbursts on the international scene were a nuisance and an irritation for the Soviets, Delentat said, but were nevertheless allowed to continue as the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) was squarely in control of the country. The Soviets understood the differences between Ceausescu's Romania and Dubcek's Czechoslovakia and chose to intervene in Prague but ignore Bucharest.

Romania's reaction to the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia set a series of events in motion that would change the nature of the Romanian leadership, Deletant continued. Ceausescu's reaction to the Brezhnev doctrine offered the RCP leadership undreamed of legitimacy with its own population. Ceausescu quickly understood the usefulness of using nationalism for the purpose of establishing and maintaining control over the people. After the invasion and until 1989, Deletant suggested, Ceausescu used national symbols and Romanian nationalism in an attempt to maintain legitimacy. There were numerous pressures on Romania to change course, some direct, others more oblique. Bucharest weathered strong Soviet pressure for change, Deletant argued, by acting quickly to prevent the possibility of Soviet military intervention in Romania, and publicly maintaining its loyalty to the Communist camp.

By the 1980s, the looming Polish crisis and Ceausescu's increasing isolation from the world—irrespective of his attempts to succeed Yugoslav leader Joseph Tito as the leader of the non-aligned movement—has began to show its effect. The documents, Deletant argued, show a of Ceausescu concerned that the situation in Poland might require that forceful measures be taken by the Pact. While not calling for an outright invasion of Poland, Ceausescu nevertheless had become a "guarded internationalist," Deletant concluded. Gorbachev's rise to power in Moscow in 1986, and his policies of sweeping change further alienated Ceausescu. The changes in 1989 reveal a Romanian leader who had donned Brezhnev's mantel but did not have the power to back it up. Completely reversing his long-held position, Ceausescu asked the Hungarian and Polish parties to take active measures to repress the changes in their respective countries, suggesting that Warsaw Pact forces could be used. By December 1989, Deletant concluded, the writing was on the wall, but Ceausescu was too blind to see it. In a complete reversal of roles, Ceausescu continued to ask Gorbachev to save communism throughout Eastern Europe, while Gorbachev continuously reminded the Romanian leader of his previous position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Deletant concluded his presentation by stating that the documents recently declassified from the Romanian archives paint a nuanced view of Romania's role in the Warsaw Pact, and especially of its foreign policy. Reiterating his opening remarks, Deletant reinforced that Romania's foreign policy autonomy was tolerated by the Soviet Union who, while irritated by Bucharest's attitude, did not feel threatened by Romania's position and did not believe that Romania might fall in the Western camp. More sweeping access in the Romanian archives will be needed until Bucharest's role in several major crises is finally explained.

Ernest Latham, a former cultural attaché in the US Embassy in Bucharest (1983-1987) and currently the coordinator of the Romanian/Moldavian Advance Area Studies program at the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of State, recounted several anecdotes illustrating Romania's peculiar behavior towards its Warsaw Pact allies. While otherwise uncorroborated, Raymond Garthoff's account of a conversation between Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Romanian Foreign Minister Corneliu Manescu in 1963—account published in CWIHP Bulletin No. 5—if true, suggests that Romania's autonomous position began much earlier than previously expected. Garthoff stated that he was told by Rusk that Manescu, off record, told him in a private conversation that in case war started between the US and the Soviet Union due to Soviet actions similar to the ones in Oct. 1962 in Cuba, Washington should consider Bucharest as neutral and should not automatically assume it will take part in the hostilities on the Soviet side. There were other instances as well in which Romania continued to take actions obviously aimed at tweaking the nose of the Soviets. Yet Latham also recounted just how seriously threatened the Romanian leadership felt by the "disease of liberalization" spreading throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

To read the documents, open the Working Paper and click on the title of the documents or follow the link below to Documents on Romania in the Warsaw Pact.

For more information, visit the CWIHP Romania Initiative page at


Hosted By

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

Thank you for your interest in this event. Please send any feedback or questions to our Events staff.