In a pragmatic move that seems almost anti-climactic, representatives of member nations in the once-powerful Warsaw Pact signed a historic agreement this week ending the alliance's defunct military functions. The action was a mere formality since the pact already was a group of generals without soldiers.
Officials from the six nations - the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania - met in Budapest in the symbolic opening of a "new era."In light of revolutions throughout Eastern Europe in late 1989 overturning communist rule there, the continued existence of the Warsaw Pact became moot. It was immediately evident that those nations would never again act in concert with the Soviet Union.
It made good sense, therefore, to formally recognize what has already faded away. Ironically, even though this brings to an end the military aspects of the pact, Moscow has not yet agreed to ditch the group as a political alliance.
Czechoslovakia has invited top alliance politicians to Prague July 1 to discuss ending those ties, and the chances are excellent that they will agree to that too.
The only point of disagreement at the meetings was whether to make public the pact agreements that have been sealed since the alliance was founded in 1955. It would be in the interest of better world understanding to release those documents so that scholars can analyze them.
Two of the original members - Albania and East Germany - had departed earlier. Albania pulled out in 1968 to protest the alliance's crushing of democratic reforms in Czechoslovakia, and East Germany ceased to exist last October when it reunited with West Germany.
The formal end of the pact should dispel some of the nervousness of the Eastern Europeans, who feared their still fragile democracies might be threatened by the Kremlin's recent military crackdown in the Baltics.
A once mighty arsenal is gone, but there is a notable absence of sadness around the world.