With the war in Europe coming to a close, heads of the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, met in the Crimea during the first weeks of 1945, to finalize wartime military strategy and plan for the postwar world. The “Big Three”, consisting of Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, were present at this conference known as Yalta. Ultimately the 11 February 1945 agreements would become very controversial and critics would argue that Roosevelt had failed to protect the interests of the Free World at the Yalta Conference (1). From February 4th to 11th, conclusions were divided up into the following categories: World Organization, Declaration on Liberated Europe, Dismemberment of Germany, Zone of Occupation for the French, Reparation, Poland, and Finally Yugoslavia (2). Agreements regarding entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan were also outlined.
The first order of business conducted at Yalta, dealt with a proposed United Nations Conference to be held on the 25th of April in 1945. It was agreed upon that this conference would be held in the United States of America. Nations invited to this conference would be members of the United Nations as of February 8, 1945. However there was a clause in this agreement that would allow the presence of the “Associated Nations as have declared war on the common enemy by March 1, 1945 (3).” The Three Powers also agreed that the Government of China and the French Provisional Government would also be contacted in regard to the decisions taken at this proposed United Nations Conference.
Second on the agenda for the Big Three at Potsdam dealt with the Declaration on Liberated Europe. This topic included Atlantic Charter which called for, “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live (4).” The Atlantic Charter was a conference held between Winston Churchill and FDR on August 10, 1941. The purpose of the conference was to discuss their common interests in the war in Europe, which the United States had not yet become a part of. In order to guarantee these rights to the citizens of liberated Europe, four guidelines were agreed upon: a) to establish conditions of internal peace b) to carry out emergency measures for the relief of distressed peoples c) to form interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people and d) to facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections (5). The Big Three thought these four conditions fulfilled their obligation to the United Nations and reaffirmed their faith in the Atlantic Charter. It is important to note that no Soviet representation was present during the Atlantic Charter, yet seemed to endorse the conference at Yalta.
The dismemberment of Germany was another significant topic of discussion at the Yalta Conference. It was clearly understood from experiences with World War I that Dismemberment and Reparations were issues in which needed to be dealt with carefully. Most important of the articles dealing with the dismemberment, was Article 12a. Under this article it was agreed upon that the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union shall possess supreme authority with respect to Germany. Under this authority it was understood that the three nations would take complete steps for the complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany as they deem requisite for future peace and security (6).
Perhaps the most delicate and important decision agreed upon at Yalta dealt with the Reparations placed on Germany. The main goals of Reparation were to compensate Germany’s enemies during the war, and to destroy the war potential of Germany. Countries who received the most reparation were the countries in which bore the main burden of the war. Reparation was carried out in this way. The removal of all potential war producing materials from German possession within two years. Annual deliveries of German goods for a fixed amount of time, and the use of German labor. Of the total of 20 billion dollars ordered in reparation from Germany, 50% of it must go the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union took the brunt of the war, and therefore receives the most reparation.
One of the more touchy subjects discussed at Yalta, and an issue always surrounded by controversy involved the fate of Poland. The Atlantic Charter called for the institution of government under the peoples will, while the Soviet Union had always had a particular liking for the country. Due to the recent liberation of Poland by the Red Army, an unorganized provisional government was functioning as the head governmental body of the country. Agreements laid out at Yalta called for the implementation of the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity. Under the shadow of the Atlantic Charter, the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was to hold free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot (7). It was outlined that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom were to implement diplomatic relations with the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity, yet no such relations were mentioned with the Soviet Union. Poland was to receive substantial amounts of territory in the North and West as part of its reparation. Similar reparations were made concerning the country of Yugoslavia and its Anti-Fascist Assembly of National Liberation.
With Yalta being held in February of 1945, and the proposed United Nations Conference scheduled for April of 1945, the United States still found itself in a full scale war with the Japanese. The final issue to be discussed at Yalta dealt with the Soviet Union’s involvement in the Pacific Theater. It was agreed upon that in two to three months the Soviet Union would join the allies in the War in the Pacific if three conditions were met. One of three conditions was that The Mongolian People’s Republic shall be preserved. Another condition needed to be met in order to gain Soviet support was that the “former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored (8). This particular clause called for the internationalization of the port of Darien, and the returning of the Southern part of Sakhalin back to the Soviet Union. The third and final request needed to gain the Soviet’s support was the returning of the Kuril Islands. If these conditions were met the allied force would gain the support of the Soviet Union in the Pacific. These are the conditions agreed upon at the Yalta Conference from February 4, 1945 to February 11, 1945.
Also known as the Berlin Conference, leaders from the United Kingdom, United States, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, met outside of Berlin in the small town of Potsdam. Lasting from July 17 to August 1, 1945, victorious Allied Powers determined how they would treat defeated Germany and also attempted to resolve a number of other pressing issues. Once again the “Big Three” met together in order to instill tranquility in Europe. The agreements and decisions made at Potsdam would later prove to be significant in the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan just days after the Conference’s end. Similar to Yalta, the Conference at Potsdam dealt with the issue of Poland and tried to fine tune the Reparations placed on Germany. Out of Potsdam came the push for an establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers. Controversial issues at Potsdam included the country of Iran and the region of the Black Sea Straits. Many scholars say that Potsdam was just a continuation of deliberations left over from Yalta. However many significant decisions were made at Potsdam which would eventually lead to the end of the war in the Pacific.
One of the first significant agreements reached at Potsdam was the establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers. The job of this council was to do the necessary preparatory work for the peace settlements (9). It was agreed upon that the countries of China and France would join the Big Three, in order to complete the Council of Foreign Ministers. All nations involved agreed that the meetings would take place in London, and the first meeting would be held no later than September 1, 1945. These countries (now consisting of five) would now control the ultimate fate of Germany and its surrounding areas.
Leaders present at Potsdam next dealt with the lasting issue of the disarmament of Germany. It was agreed upon that Germany shall be occupied by what the Big Three describe as a “Control Council.” This council will be led by the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces of the countries of the United States, United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France. There are four purposes of this Control Council. The first called for the complete disarmament and demilitarization of Germany. The second was to convince the German people that they had suffered a complete military defeat. Thirdly the Control Council was to destroy the National Socialist Party and dissolve all Nazi institutions. Lastly the Control Council was to prepare for the eventual reconstruction of German political life (10).
Like the Conference at Yalta, Reparations from Germany were a topic of discussion at Potsdam. As decided at the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union would receive the most due to its amount of loss amongst the Allied Nations. Potsdam outlined what needed to be done in order to receive these reparations. It was agreed upon that reparation claims of the Soviet Union shall be met by removals from the zone of Germany occupied by the Soviet Union (11). The Soviet Union also agrees to take a cut out of their reparation payment in order appease Poland’s share. From the Potsdam Conference the Soviet Union also gained fifteen percent of Germany’s usable and complete industrial capital equipment. On top of that fifteen percent of equipment, ten percent of it would never have to be paid for by the Soviet Union.
Poland was discussed at Potsdam as well, however the subject was discussed as a declaration rather than a proclamation. What the Big Three declared was the complete reiteration of what was agreed upon at Yalta. It was unanimously agreed that the Polish Provisional Government had complete support from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The issues of universal suffrage and a secret ballot in their free and unfettered elections was again mutually assured. Once again it was declared that all proper facilities would be given to the Polish Provisional Government in order to carry out these decisions. It is also outlined in the declaration that diplomatic meetings between the provisional government and the United States and United Kingdom, have led to the complete withdrawal of their recognition of the former Polish Government, which no longer exists.
The country of Iran played a small, yet interesting role in the Potsdam Conference. All countries present approved the removal of Allied troops from the capitol city of Tehran. An interesting aspect of this agreement is that the removal of troops from Tehran was to be immediate, yet the removal of troops in the rest of Iran was to be discussed at the Council of Foreign Ministers, which was to be held in September of 1945. Another interesting part of the Potsdam Conference came from the Black Sea Straits. The Big Three agreed that they would need to begin conversations with the Turkish Government in order to bring that area up to present day conditions. Their interest in this particular area is an interesting one and has left scholars open for debate since its mentioning at Potsdam.
With very little aid coming from the Soviet Union in the Allied fight against the Japanese, Potsdam outlined what the United States’ options were in the Pacific. Even though the Conferences at Potsdam and Yalta respectively, ended the war in Europe, there still seems to be a sense of negativity undermining their successes. Working closely with the Soviet Union may have sparked the competition that eventually led to the Cold War. Either way these two Conferences are what brought the war to a close in Europe, and would eventually end the war in the Pacific.
1. Buhite, pg. 15
2. Buhite, pg. 17
3. Buhite, pg. 17
4. Buhite, pg. 50
5. Buhite, pg. 55
6. Buhite, pg. 79
7. Buhite, pg. 85
8. Feis, pg. 36
9. Feis, pg. 47
10. Feis, pg. 57
11. Feis, pg. 58
Buhite, Russell, Decisions at Yalta (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1986).
Feis, Herbert, Between War and Peace: The Potsdam Conference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960).
Watt, Donald Cameron, “Britain and the Historiography of the Yalta Conference and the Cold War,” Diplomatic History, 13, no. 1 (Winter 1989): 67 - 98.
www.yale.edu/lawwab/avalon/decade/decade17. Posted April 30, 2001.