Czechoslovakia and European Security

October 18, 1968

Report Outline
Results of Soviet Power Shift to West
Landmarks in History of Czechoslovaks
Pressure for Home Rule in East Europe
Re-Evaluation of the Position of Nato
Special Focus

Results of Soviet Power Shift to West

The 50th anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia on October 28 will be greeted with mixed emotions by citizens of that central European country. Years ending in the numeral “8” have often proved fateful in the nation's short history. The Munich Pact, which severed the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, was concluded in September 1938. The postwar Communist coup took place in February 1948. Then, on Aug. 20–21, 1968, troops of the Soviet Union and of four Communist countries in Eastern Europe invaded Czechoslovakia and undertook to snuff out freedoms that had been introduced only months earlier.

Czechoslovakia, like Poland, has the misfortune to occupy a strategic geographic position between the Soviet Union and Germany, Europe's two foremost powers. Nazi occupation of all of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 led directly to Hitler's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II in September of that year. The recent invasion has had the effect of exacerbating existing differences in the world Communist movement. And it is likely to bring reassessment of military plans by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the defensive alliance that was formed in part to meet the threat raised by the coup in Czechoslovakia two decades ago.

East-West Relations Since the August Invasion

The invasion of Czechoslovakia arrested a trend toward improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. On the very day the invasion took place, President Johnson was to have announced an early trip to Russia to meet with Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin and launch U. S.Soviet talks on limitation of offensive and defensive missiles. George F. Kennan, former U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, said on Sept. 22 that he would consider it “pure madness” if the President still contemplated going to Russia after what had happened in Czechoslovakia. Instead of meeting with the Soviet leaders, Kennan said, Johnson should send 100,000 additional troops to Europe “and tell the Russians: ‘We will not take them out until you leave Czechoslovakia.’” It had been reported in Washington six days earlier that the administration was considering a temporary increase in American combat strength in Europe.

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