Yalta Conference Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Yalta Conference between British, American, and Soviet representatives provided a controversial blueprint designed to guide how major geopolitical issues would be addressed in the postwar world. The problems that surfaced at the conference both influenced and presaged the advent of the Cold War.

Summary of Event

Early in 1945, as Russian armies were advancing on Germany through Eastern Europe and American and British armies were entering western Germany, the leaders of the Allied nations met at Yalta, in the Russian Crimea, to consider the political problems arising out of the approaching defeat of Germany, to plan an occupation policy for the conquered nations, and to discuss the problems of the United Nations, Eastern Europe, and the Far East. Yalta Conference (1945) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];World War II[World War 02] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations] Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];World War II[World War 02] [kw]Yalta Conference (Feb. 4-11, 1945) [kw]Conference, Yalta (Feb. 4-11, 1945) Yalta Conference (1945) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];World War II[World War 02] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations] Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];World War II[World War 02] [g]Europe;Feb. 4-11, 1945: Yalta Conference[01390] [g]Soviet Union;Feb. 4-11, 1945: Yalta Conference[01390] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Feb. 4-11, 1945: Yalta Conference[01390] [c]World War II;Feb. 4-11, 1945: Yalta Conference[01390] Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] Eden, Anthony Hopkins, Harry Molotov, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] Stettinius, Edward Reilly, Jr.

The Yalta Conference lasted from February 4 to February 11, 1945. The United States was represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his closest civilian adviser, Harry Hopkins, and Edward Reilly Stettinius, Jr., the U.S. secretary of state. The British were represented by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary. As host country, the Soviet Union was represented by Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, and Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the Soviet commissar of foreign affairs. The three Allied leaders had met once before, at Tehran in 1943, but had postponed many of their decisions to be discussed later or to be worked out by their foreign ministers for presentation at Yalta. Generally, the atmosphere at Yalta was cordial. Churchill and Stalin, however, were suspicious of each other’s motives, and Roosevelt, who died two months later, was in failing health.

Many of the decisions made at Yalta were ratifications of earlier accords worked out by the foreign ministers; some agreements were reached only after much bargaining. The United Nations United Nations;early organization , for example, had been proposed as far back as 1941. In 1944, the foreign ministers of the Allied nations had established an organizational structure for the new organization. The Russians had insisted upon a Security Council veto on all matters, even procedural ones, and had demanded sixteen seats in the General Assembly on the grounds that each of the Soviet Republics was autonomous. These demands were intended to offset the Pan-American and British Commonwealth blocs that would likely emerge in the future organization.

Viewing the establishment of the United Nations on terms favorable to the United States as a prime objective, Roosevelt believed that it “was the only device that could keep the United States from slipping back into isolationism” after the war. Thus, when Stalin agreed to drop his demands for an unlimited veto in the Security Council, Roosevelt agreed to the Soviet Union’s request for membership in the General Assembly for the Soviet Ukrainian and Byelorussian republics. After all, members of the British Commonwealth would have six votes in the assembly. Stalin agreed to send Molotov to the founding meeting of the United Nations, to be held in San Francisco in April, 1945.

Poland presented two problems for the Allies: its frontiers Poland;postwar borders and its government. Poland;postwar government When Poland had been conquered by the Germans and the Russians in 1939, a Polish government-in-exile had been established in London. After the Soviet Union joined the Allies in 1941 and began liberating Poland from Nazi rule in 1944, Stalin had formed the Polish Committee of National Liberation, Committee of National Liberation, Polish essentially a Communist government-in-exile, which was known as the Lüblin government.

Stalin wanted the Communist government to be recognized as the legitimate government by the Allies. Furthermore, he wanted the Curzon line Curzon line —an ethnically based boundary—to be the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland, with Poland’s western frontier moved farther west into Germany. Stalin stood in a strong position, since Russia’s Red Army was moving through Poland, and he argued that he needed a Polish security buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union.

Stalin, dealing mostly with Churchill, won the concession that Poland’s eastern boundary would basically follow the Curzon line and that Poland would receive substantial territories in the north and west. The final boundary was to be decided at a peace conference at war’s end. Stalin did, however, agree that the Polish provisional government should be reorganized on a broader, democratic basis to include democratic leaders from within Poland and from abroad. Moreover, he agreed the elections for this united Polish government would occur “as soon as possible.”

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As for the other countries of newly liberated Eastern Europe, the Allies agreed to support all interim governments until free elections could be held. Specific problems in the Balkans had already been settled by Stalin and Churchill at a meeting held in Moscow in October, 1944, when they agreed that spheres of temporary influence would be established. The Americans and the British were to be preponderant in Greece, the Russians, in Romania and Bulgaria. Each country was to have equal shares in Hungary and Yugoslavia. This agreement was not discussed at Yalta, nor was there discussion on the future of Czechoslovakia, Finland, or the Baltic states, all of which later came under Russian influence or control.

The future of Germany was the most divisive problem taken up at Yalta. Most of the decisions were based on recommendations made by the foreign ministers, who had been discussing the problem since 1943. Stalin favored a partition of Germany Germany;partition in order to keep it under control, and Churchill toyed with the idea of a dismembered Germany. Since Roosevelt was vague, they decided to refer the matter to the ministers of foreign affairs. Ironically, the Soviets would abandon their position by late March.

The Allies approved a temporary military occupation; Germany was to be divided into four zones of military occupation, with France (whose section would be carved out of the Anglo-American part) being included as an occupying power. Policy decisions pertaining to the administration of the occupation were to be made by a four-power Allied control commission in Berlin. Berlin itself was to be divided and occupied by all four powers, and the Allies agreed that common occupation policies were to be imposed, by mutual agreement, on the whole of Germany.

As for German reparations World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];reparations Germany;reparations and the German economy, Stalin favored a plan proposed earlier by U.S. secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Morgenthau, Henry, Jr. Jr. Morgenthau’s plan favored complete deindustrialization of Germany: All of Germany’s industry was to be given to the Allies as reparations, and Germany would be allowed to maintain only an agrarian economy. At Yalta, neither Churchill nor Roosevelt favored this plan, nor could they agree with Stalin on the exact amount of reparations to demand from Germany. Roosevelt did agree in principle, to a ten-billion-dollar figure for reparations to the Soviet Union as a “basis for discussion.” The only agreement made, however, was the appointment of a reparations commission to study the problem and to make recommendations.

Apart from the military occupation, there was no agreement as to whether Germany should be dismembered, kept intact, or given new boundaries, other than that Poland would be given compensation in Germany and that East Prussia would be divided between the Soviet Union and Poland. The Allies agreed to appoint another commission to make recommendations on these questions.

Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin (seated, from left to right) at the Yalta Conference.

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The question of the Far East loomed as a major priority for Roosevelt and to some degree for Churchill. Even though the British prime minister did not participate in the discussions about the Far East, he did sign off on the resulting understanding. At the time of the Yalta Conference, the Japanese seemed a long way from surrender. The atomic bomb had not yet been tested, and Allied forces in the Pacific were a long way from closing in on the homeland of Japan. Likewise, Japanese troops had proved to be able fighters who were not inclined to surrender easily. Thus, Roosevelt wanted Stalin to commit to a Russian entry into the war against Japan in order to save hundreds of thousands of American lives.

Earlier, at Tehran, Roosevelt and Stalin had reached substantial agreements concerning the Far East, and at Yalta, by secret accords, their agreement was formalized. Thus, the Soviet Union would declare war on Japan within three months after the surrender of Germany. In return, the Soviets would be given control over certain areas in the Far East, including the Kuril Islands and the southern portion of Sakhalin, as well as receiving concessions in Manchuria and a lease on Lüshun (Port Arthur), on China’s Liaodong Peninsula. These concessions were granted without the knowledge or agreement of the Chinese government. It was also agreed that Dalian, another Liaodong port, would be internationalized.

Significance

Most of the agreements made at Yalta were considered to be temporary in nature. Nevertheless, when World War II ended and the Cold War began, these temporary agreements quickly became permanent. As the globe was divided between East and West, the boundaries and apportionments tentatively agreed to at Yalta came to define the points of contact between the Soviet bloc and the Western democracies, up to and including the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall that would symbolize the height of the conflict. Yalta Conference (1945) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];World War II[World War 02] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations] Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];World War II[World War 02]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buhite, Russell D. Decisions at Yalta: An Appraisal of Summit Diplomacy. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1986. The author concludes that Roosevelt pursued a policy of détente with cooperation with the Soviets as his main goal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953. This memoir deals with the events of the conference from the British perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feis, Herbert. Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. This volume evaluates each decision made at the Yalta Conference and concludes that the conference was a victory for the West in that it limited Russian aims.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. Written after four decades of research, this definitive political biography deals with the major issues surrounding Yalta.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hughes, Matthew, and Matthew S. Seligmann. Does Peace Lead to War? Peace Settlements and Conflict in the Modern Age. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2002. Includes a chapter on the Chinese Civil War of 1946-1949, arguing that the Yalta accords were responsible for the conflict. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laloy, Jean. Yalta: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Written by a French historian, this work places Yalta’s impact in the perspective of the European community.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Senarclens, Pierre de. From Yalta to the Iron Curtain: The Great Powers and the Origins of the Cold War. Translated by Amanda Pingree. Washington, D.C.: Berg, 1995. Traces the history of the Cold War, beginning with the decisions made at Yalta. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins. New York: Harper & Row, 1948. This revealing work is written from the perspective of the key Roosevelt adviser.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Snell, John L., ed. The Meaning of Yalta. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1956. This group of essays by noted historians treats the various issues that dominated the Yalta Conference.

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