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The Warsaw Pact, which included the Soviet Union and all its satellite states in Eastern Europe, was created on May 14, 1955, just days after the FRG joined NATO. Like NATO, its Western counterpart, the Warsaw Pact guaranteed mutual military assistance to its members in the event of an attack and coordination of all member forces in a unified command. The existence of this command, which was situated in Moscow, allowed the Soviet Union to station troops on its allies' territories. Each member state was also obligated to establish its own armed forces. In the GDR, the People's Police (Volkspolizei, or Vopo) had created paramilitary units in 1952. The Soviet Union had unofficially helped form East German naval and air force units beginning in 1950.
On March 1, 1956, the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee--NVA) was officially created by transferring the existing paramilitary units of the People's Police to the NVA. The new army was officially under the leadership of the SED and under the direction of the newly created Ministry for National Defense. Initially, the NVA was to be staffed by volunteers only, but in 1962, when recruitment presented increasing difficulties for the SED and its support organizations, conscription was introduced. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall, conscription had been seen as impossible to enforce.
As early as the 1950s, the NVA became the most effective and best-equipped fighting force in the Warsaw Pact aside from the Soviet army. By the early 1980s, the NVA had an active strength of 167,000, of which approximately 60,000 were professional soldiers; there were approximately 3 million reservists. Most weapons were of Soviet origin.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress