Allied Powers Between The Conferences Yalta And Potsdam
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
When the allies met in Yalta, in February 1945, the war was still ongoing. There were obvious signs that the German forces were weakening, yet fighting continued. As a result, when the Allies met in Yalta, defeating Germany was still in the fore front of their minds.1They had put aside their fundamental differences and were united in the face of a universal foe. Yet even here the cracks were beginning to show. By the time of the Potsdam conference in August of the same year, these cracks had enlarged due to a number of significant factors.
Firstly, it is important to focus on what happened at the conference in Yalta. Each of the allies had high expectations of what would happen after the war ended. Russia was obsessed with the idea of reparation payments, whereas America preferred a tactic of rehabilitation rather than total destruction. As there is still a war going on, America does not step in when Russia demands that $20 billion reparation payments should be given by Germany, and half of this huge sum should be paid to Russia.2 Roosevelt actually agrees in principle, and consequently Stalin leaves, believing he has what he wants. Other big decisions such as post war arrangements for Germany were left off the agenda at this conference, as they were believed to be too significant and important to be discussed at a time when the war was ongoing.3 Postponing major decisions seemed a sensible idea at the time; however, this would prove to be a costly misjudgement later.
By the time the Allies met again at the Potsdam conference, in August of the same year, many significant changes had taken place. The most major change was that the war had ended, and this altered the mindset of the allies greatly. The allies had sustained huge losses and the effect this had can be seen clearly in the measures they took after the war. Russia alone had lost 8.7 million men and women in combat and a further 18 million civilians. In real terms, this showed that Russia had sustained the most casualties and in fact, to every one American that died, ninety Soviets lost their lives.4
Consequently, all three countries were seeking maximum security, to strengthen their position and prevent another war of this magnitude occurring again. America, for example, started to set up bases in the Atlantic Ocean so they would have complete control of who entered the country.5 This clearly shows how serious the idea of security was taken by the strongest of the allied powers. These fears of security made the allies suspicious of one another, and America recognised that now Germany was defeated, the next threat to American security came from much nearer to home in the form of Russia. Russia had given America cause to think this, as their position had strengthened even from the short time between the Yalta and Potsdam conference.
Russia was in a powerful position at the end of the war, despite suffering huge losses. The Red army liberated Berlin on the 24th April 1945, after two weeks of the bloodiest fighting witnessed in world war two.6 As a result of the Allies indecisiveness in Yalta, no agreement had been drawn up as to what would be done with Germany straight after the war. So, Russia stripped German factories and rounded up workers to help rebuild their damaged country, and this angered the Western allies. Furthermore, immediately after Yalta, Russia began the sovietisation of the areas it occupied, and did this without any consideration to the policies of the allies in the west.7 The Communist influence was expanding further. Another bone of contention with the allies was the size of the Russian army. Western allies argued that Russia did not need such a large army now the threat from Germany was over.8 They believed that Russia could function with a smaller army which could be use for defence. This shows early fears from America that Russia were a threat to their security, and that the US had identified Russia as a potential enemy.
Another important factor that took place between Yalta and Potsdam was the death of Roosevelt. As a result of his death, the new president, Truman became the American representative in Potsdam. He was a different character to Roosevelt in several crucial areas. One of the most significant was that he was much less sympathetic to Russian fears over security. Some historians, such as Leffler and Painter go as far as to suggest that Truman aimed to undermine Russian security under the guise of self-determination.9 This definitely created tension, and showed that unlike Roosevelt, Truman was much less concerned with angering the Russians. Truman also argued that Russian policies in the east jeopardised the economic unity of Europe and consequently he reasoned they had to be stopped.10
The Red army’s influence was advancing at a rapid rate. One of the most important countries under the red banner in the east was Czechoslovakia. In March 1945, only a month after the Yalta conference, a significant political event occurred in the westward looking country. Benes, the Prime minister of Czechoslovakia, went to Moscow to negotiate with the Communists and came back with news that would shock the western world to the core. A genuine and legal coalition had been formed in the Czech government under the Kosice agreement. In this agreement, seven out of the twenty five government positions went to the Communists. This in itself was significant, but the situation was made even more alarming when the positions the communists filled are looked at in more detail. They took roles such as the minister for the interior, and the minister of communications, and these positions had huge influence over how the country was run. This would have definitely alarmed the allies in the west, and made them even more suspicious of Russian influence in the east. This would have made the Americans and British even more wary when they met in August at Potsdam.
Major developments had been made with atomic weapons in America between the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. America had chosen not to inform the Russians that they were working on a weapon with such devastating consequences, but confided in Britain instead. America had been working on its nuclear weapons from as early as 1943, but momentous developments came in July 1945. On July 16th, the first day of the Potsdam conference, Truman was informed of the successful test of the atomic bomb, and the potential of this destructive weapon seemed to make him “visibly elated” according to Winston Churchill. Churchill also remarked that Truman’s negotiation tactics changed as the American leader became more confident and forceful with Russia in the demands he wanted.11 Truman decided the Potsdam conference was a good time to tell Stalin that America had developed a weapon of “awesome power” yet this meant little to Stalin who had millions of soldiers stationed in Eastern Europe.12
To conclude, it can be seen that several major changes had occurred between Yalta and Potsdam, which can account for the changing relationships of the allies. Firstly, the Second World War was ongoing when the allies met in Yalta, and this meant that the majority of their attention was given to winning the war, and consequently big decisions were ignored. When they met again in Potsdam, the war was over, and the allies were able to devote their attention to the important questions facing them without the threat of war looming over them. Also, one of the significant repercussions of World War Two was that the allies became more preoccupied with security, and this caused the western allies to focus on Russia as the next possible threat. Russia’s position had advanced further between the two conferences than the western allies and now the majority of Eastern Europe was under Russia’s control. The threat of communism became even more of a pressing issue when the westward looking Czechoslovakia legally formed a coalition with the Communists and saw seven out of the twenty five positions filled by them. This would have created tension and caused the western allies to be even more suspicious of this dominant Eastern force. Finally then, it is important to consider the developments of American nuclear weapons, which dramatically advanced between Yalta and Potsdam. The Americans had been working on the bomb for 2 years by this point, however after the successful testing of the bomb on July 16th 1945, America had the most powerful and advanced nuclear weapon. Stalin was told of the existence of the bomb at the conference by the new American president, Harry Truman, who was unsympathetic to the Russian cause. Truman’s attitude to the Russians hardened further once he received news of the successful bomb test, as now he did not have to keep Russia on side, because he had the most destructive and powerful weapon in the world.
Hannah McMullin (555035)
Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (Oxford: Penguin Press, 2005) 102
Melvyn. P. Leffler and David. S. Painter, Origins of the Cold War (New York: Routeledge, 2005) 44
Judt, Postwar 102
Martin McCauley, Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949 (New York: Longeman, 2008) 37
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 17
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 46
Raymond Aron, The Dawn of Universal History (New York: Basic Books, 2002) 134
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 50
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 66-67
Erik. P. Hoffman and Fredrik. J. Fleron jr, The Conduct of Soviet Foreign Policy (New York: Walter de Gruynter inc, 1980) 21
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 68
Leffler and Painter, Origins of the Cold War 68-69
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