BONN, SEPT. 24 -- The Warsaw Pact, the once monolithic Soviet-led East European military alliance, began the final stage of its collapse today as East Germany formally renounced its membership.
East Germany's Disarmament and Defense Minister, pacifist clergyman Rainer Eppelmann, performed one of his last official acts in presenting his country's resignation to Gen. Pyotr Lushev, the Soviet supreme commander of pact forces.
"I wish you all the best for the future," Lushev told Eppelmann as the two men cut the 35-year-old military bond between their countries in a brief ceremony in East Berlin.
East Germany, once the Soviet Union's most prized ally, now has just nine days left to live out its future. On Oct. 3, it will dissolve itself as a political entity and unite with West Germany as a single nation. The reunited Germany will be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, long the Warsaw Pact's presumed strategic opponent.
Under the treaty of unification between East and West Germany, the East German National People's Army, which a year ago was a well-trained force of 190,000, will vanish. Only about 50,000 troops remain, and most of the rank and file -- but only a few officers -- will be absorbed into the West German army, already Europe's largest.
The People's Army has been near collapse for months; desertions have been common, draft regulations have been ignored, and conscriptees still in uniform have staged demonstrations to protest their low pay, poor living conditions and gloomy future.
West Germany also will acquire considerable weaponry and other materiel from the People's Army, but a West German military spokesman has called much of this equipment "useless." Bonn already has decided it has no use for most of East Germany's Soviet-made fighter jets and other obsolescent weapons.
But government spokesman Hans Klein said today that about one-quarter of the $2 billion contribution that West Germany has pledged to the multinational Persian Gulf effort will come in the form of East German military hardware, including trucks, water tanks and chemical- and biological-warfare protective gear.
A report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel today indicated that Bonn also plans to send about $1.3 billion worth of East German tanks, planes and artillery to Turkey, a member of NATO and a front-line state in the gulf standoff with Iraq.
Deprived of the largest and best-trained military units outside the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact is barely a vestige of the fearful force it seemed during the years of Communist hegemony in Eastern Europe. Hungary and Czechoslovakia are expected to follow East Germany's example in the next few months, while the remaining members -- Poland, Romania and Bulgaria -- have discussed transforming the pact into a political rather than military association.
The pact, formed in 1955 as the Soviet answer to U.S.-led NATO, has been the vehicle for the installation of Soviet forces throughout Eastern Europe. As part of its Warsaw Pact commitment, East Germany sent troops to help the Soviets put down the "Prague Spring" political reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968, an episode for which the first freely elected East German parliament apologized this spring.
About 360,000 Soviet troops will remain on East German territory even after the two Germanys unite, a force the Soviets have agreed to remove within four years at German expense.