About the Author: Johnny Roy has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 8 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been actively involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 3 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam.
As the end of World War II drew closer, the primary Allied powers of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union decided that they should begin to plan for a post war world. Hosted by the Soviet Union at Yalta near the Black Sea in February of 1945, the conference focused on forging a post-war peace, the rebuilding of Europe, and each nation trying to delicately create “spheres of influence” in their respective areas of the world. Each nation’s leader arrived at Yalta with their own prescribed set of goals. While willing to compromise and cooperate as war allies, each saw the opportunity for personal gains for their nations.
The conference focused on forging a post-war peace, the rebuilding of Europe, and each nation trying to delicately create “spheres of influence” in their respective areas of the world.
The Seeds of a New World
Prior to the United States’ entrance into World War II, a gathering between Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) of the United States and Winston Churchill of Great Britain and their advisors created the Atlantic Charter and established noble objectives for the world including: national self-determination, freedom of the seas, encouragement of free trade, and military disarmament.
At Yalta, the United States and Great Britain while guided by the principles laid out in the Atlantic Charter had to contend with the iron will of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, who had his own plans for a post war world. Each nation arrived at Yalta with a promise of collective cooperation. However, each nation also arrived with clear goals of ensuring their own national security and promoting their own economic interests.
At Yalta, the United States and Great Britain while guided by the principles laid out in the Atlantic Charter had to contend with the iron will of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.
The United States
As FDR entered his 4thterm as President of the United States, he looked forward to the future of the United States and the world. With an understanding that the war in Europe was winding down and the Allies were going to be victorious, Roosevelt’s number one goal became the defeat of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. FDR and Churchill believed that this would be a costly endeavor in both lives and money and as a result desperately wanted Stalin and the Soviet Union to commit to joining the war effort once they had secured the defeat of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
As FDR entered his 4thterm as President of the United States, Roosevelt’s number one goal became the defeat of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific.
After a commitment to allowing the Soviet Union to establish a sphere of influence in Manchuria after the defeat of the Japanese, Stalin agreed to supporting the Allies in the Pacific. Later this Soviet influence in the region would help the communists in China to end the civil war that was taking place and establish China as communist ally to the Soviet Union.
A second goal was the establishment of a United Nations as a replacement to the ineffective League of Nations. Seeing the possibilities (and weaknesses) of the already established League of Nations, FDR believed that a more powerful world body to address disputes before they escalated to war was necessary.
However, this body would only be successful if the two dominant world powers participated and were committed to its success. Securing Stalin’s commitment to Soviet participation in the UN was pivotal to FDR’s plans at Yalta. The establishment of a UN Security Council, including 5 permanent members (US/UK/USSR/France/China) with veto power over the passage of resolutions was enough to secure Stalin’s commitment to join.
The establishment of a UN Security Council, including 5 permanent members (US/UK/USSR/France/China) with veto power over the passage of resolutions was enough to secure Stalin’s commitment to join.
Great Britain (England)
Looking to secure the safety and stability of Europe and by extension its own, England insisted on the promise from Stalin of holding free and democratic elections in Central and Eastern European states.
This promise was easy to attain but proved much harder to achieve. Stalin would later break his word and not hold free elections of Democratic Governments as the Eastern European nations began to fall under his control as Communism swept through the Eastern Bloc of nation states.
This extension of Soviet influence and control over these states brought strong criticism from Winston Churchill, but there was not much that they could do about it.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
– Winston Churchill, Sinews of Peace Address, March 5, 1946.
Having suffered 3 million to 5 million civilian and military casualties during World War I and then a staggering number of casualties during World War II, somewhere between 22-30 million, the primary goal of Stalin was to create buffer states between Russia and Germany along with the rest of Western Europe.
The primary goal of Stalin was to create buffer states between Russia and Germany along with the rest of Western Europe.
He insisted on creating a Soviet Bloc of states that would serve the purpose of insulating Russia from future incursions from the West. Roosevelt and Churchill put up weak resistance to Stalin’s demands once he agreed to participate in the war against Japan, join the United Nations, and promise free elections in these nation states (remember, it was a promise he would later break when he installed communist governments).
Stalin further insisted on keeping the land annexed in Poland after his Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939. Roosevelt and Churchill would later be criticized for giving in to the Soviets demands of keeping Poland and other territory in Eastern Europe.
A problem that FDR was wanting to avoid was rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, however, his death in April of 1945 left Harry Truman in charge of forging a post war relationship with Stalin and the Soviet Union.
A problem that FDR was wanting to avoid was rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Tensions between the two world powers increased over Stalin’s increased distrust of the west and the introduction of nuclear weapons to world affairs. This tension would eventually turn into the Cold War and come to dominate the world for the next 50 years until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Key Outcomes of Yalta
Even with the efforts of individual goal fulfillment, collective action was achieved for the post-war world. Some of the key provisions of the Yalta conference were.
- Requirement of unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.
- The creation of occupation zones of Germany and Berlin, each being controlled by the major allied powers.
- France would be given a “face saving” occupation zone but it would be created from American and British territory.
- Nazi’s would be found and put on trial for war crimes. This would later become the Nuremburg Trials (1945-1946)
- Demilitarization of Nazi Germany
Following the Yalta Conference and the death of Franklin Roosevelt, allied powers met again for the Potsdam Conference. The main objectives were continued discussion about the future of Eastern European nations; nations that Stalin had no intention of giving up and ending the war with Japan in the Pacific.
Harry Truman, armed with the knowledge of successful testing of nuclear weapons as a part of the Manhattan Project, issued an ultimatum to Japan to surrender, an ultimatum that was ignored. As a result, the United States would drop a bomb on Hiroshima in August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki 3 days later. This would be one of the final times that Allied powers would come together as cooperation and shared interests gave way to the Cold War.