Even in an age of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, the states of Eastern Europe now dominated by the Soviet Union constitute an important element of Soviet national security, a kind of cordon Stalinaire. The one hundred million people, and the resources their governments command, contribute a significant increment to Soviet economic, technological and military power. Soviet control of these areas provides forward military bases and possession of the traditional invasion routes into Western Europe, especially across the northern plains. The Soviet position, in fact, constitutes a threat to the security of Western Europe, a pistol held at its head.
The division of Europe and the perpetuation of tension have assisted the Soviet Union by restricting the role which West European states play in world politics and by increasing the American burden. At the same time, the Soviet position provides a veto over the unification of Germany and also over the reconstruction of Europe as a whole. Soviet control over East Germany maintains the fear of another Russian-German alliance and provides opportunities for Soviet diplomacy. It almost guarantees crises over West Berlin, in circumstances the Soviets choose. In short, Eastern Europe remains at the heart of the struggle between the Soviet Union and the NATO states.
On the surface, Soviet control over Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland appears tighter and more effective than ever, and the independence of Rumania in foreign policy is severely hedged by its geographical position. The close ties between the parties and the governments are supported by chains of command which run from Moscow into the various capitals through the armies, the police, the trade unions and the diplomatic service. Soviet armed forces are stationed in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
From two-thirds to three-quarters of the trade of each of these countries except