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Describe the main differences betwen the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences

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Near the end of World War II, global politics were at peak level. The Allies: Britain, the US and Russia, otherwise not on the most friendly of terms, were united only in their quest against Germany and the Nazis, as well as securing victory in the war. In 1945, two conferences were held with the top political leaders of Russia, the United States, and Britain. The “Big Three”, as they were known, met in February 1945 at Yalta, Crimea, USSR, and then again in July at Potsdam, Germany. These conferences, the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam conference respectively, were meant to decide the future of the world after the war–decisions made by the three most powerful men in the world at the time, from the three most powerful nations. While both conferences were meant to attempt a smooth transition into post-war life, the two summits still differed greatly, even though they were intended to accomplish the same things. The main differences between the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam conference were the changes in the Big Three between the conferences, alterations in the aims of the leaders, and a general heightening of tensions between the three nations.

The difference in the leaders involved in the two conferences was a major factor in the differentiation between Yalta and Potsdam. At Yalta, the Big Three was composed of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. At Potsdam, Attlee replaced Churchill after his defeat in the British elections, and Truman took Roosevelt’s position. The only constant figure in the conferences was Stalin, the leader of one of the most controversial nations in the world. As previously mentioned, the only issue the three countries truly saw eye-to-eye on was eradicating the Nazi presence from the world. Two capitalist nations allied with a vehemently communist one already poses some problems with communications, and the change from Roosevelt to Truman between the conferences only added to the discrepancies between Yalta and Potsdam.

Truman stated of his “ally” Stalin that he was “tired of babying the Soviets”. Roosevelt, a much more diplomatic figure, was one of the key factors in the disparity between Yalta and Potsdam. While he also had doubts about Russia, Roosevelt kept these feelings between himself and Churchill, without truly laying them out in the open. Truman openly stated that he was going to “get tough” with the Russians, and so contributed to the difference in policies that the US had regarding the Russians at Potsdam. The change in the Big Three at Yalta and Potsdam was a large part in the disparities in the two conferences.

Other contributing issues in the difference between Yalta and Potsdam concerned the objectives of the Big Three at Yalta and the disagreements over them at Potsdam. At Yalta, Germany and Japan were both undefeated at the time, yet plans were being made as to Germany’s division after its predicted loss. The Big Three intended to divide up Germany into French, British, Russian, and American sections. Russia also wanted reparations to pay for the losses it had suffered at Germany’s hands during the war, totalling at about 20 million deaths and the destruction of over 1000 towns. Stalin wanted harsh payment from the Germans, involving the confiscation of about 80% of its industry, allied control of the economy, and annual reparations payments made to the allies. These numbers are vital to later understanding the mentality of the Russians by the time of the so-called Long Telegram.

To look into the matter, a reparations commission was set up. Furthermore, in exchange for Soviet control of Poland (reorganizing the government to be made democratic), the Russians agreed to facilitate the formation of democratic states in Eastern Europe that would be freed from German control. Lastly, it was agreed upon that once Germany was defeated, Russia would formally enter the war against Japan to aid in its defeat. At Potsdam, however, these aims and objectives were forced into close scrutiny by the Big Three, and major disagreements between the three leaders occurred. By this time, Germany had been defeated, although the US was still at war with Japan. Regarding Germany, which was agreed upon at Yalta to be split into four zones, the Big Three faced open contention over the boundaries of the four sections. Germany was also forced to pay reparations to Russia, and was forced to give up 10% of its industry. However, Britain and the US felt that it was too much and that milking Germany of all its assets would leave its people poor and starving.

Other disagreements that arose involved the Eastern European democratic states that were supposed to be established by Russia; Britain and the US claimed that communism was manifesting itself in those states with the aid of the Soviets, rather than the intended democracies. Lastly, Truman and Atlee had doubts in the Soviet control of Poland, after Stalin arrested all non-communists in the Polish state. Stalin wanted Atlee and Truman to recognize his authority over these “puppet states”, which they refused to do. The main difference between Yalta and Potsdam was the level of consensus reached in each of the conferences. The objectives were mapped out at Yalta, and then disputed over at Potsdam. Although they apparently remained the same on paper, there was much disagreement over the application of the aims, which then translated into the major difference between the two conferences.

Another main difference between the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Conference was the level of tensions between the Big Three. At Yalta, while there were still tensions present, most of it was hidden behind the scenes; at Potsdam, open disagreement was the case. When Churchill was part of the Big Three, he wrote to Roosevelt during Yalta “The Soviet Union has become a danger to the free world.” However, at Potsdam, there were open accusations regarding Russia’s approach to communism and their attempt at transforming the rest of Europe into a communist society. The changes in their objectives also inflamed tensions, with the disagreements over Germany’s new borders, Soviet entitlement to reparations, and Russian power over Eastern Europe heightening the power struggles between the Big Three.

Truman was also obviously angered by Stalin’s move to arrest all of Poland’s non-communist leaders. Additionally, at Yalta, Russia had agreed to aid the US in their war against Japan; however, by Potsdam, Truman had had news of the atomic bomb testing and avoided notifying Stalin. Stalin was furious when he discovered news of the atomic bomb’s successful testing and the fact that Truman had kept Stalin in the dark. Tensions also increased when the US and Britain demanded free elections be held in Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, whereas Stalin insisted that they would remain under his control. In general, one of the main differences between the Yalta Conference and Potsdam was the increase in strained relations between the Big Three.

Yalta and Potsdam were the two major peace conferences in World War II. They were both intended to achieve a state of post-war peace, and yet somehow metamorphosed into the arising of further global discord. Even though issues at both conferences were the same, the conferences were not. The major differences between Yalta and Potsdam were the changes in the leaders involved, a shift in the objectives and aims of the conferences, and a great heightening of tensions between the Big Three. These two conferences were what set the standards for life after World War II, and were the preludes to the events of the Cold War.

Sources Used:

http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/Baker_00/2002-p3/baker_p3_12-01_sn/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/ir2/yaltaandpotsdamrev3.shtml

http://www.johndclare.net/cold_war4_YaltavPotsdam.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-potsdamc1.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-yaltacon.html

http://www.johndclare.net/cold_war4.htm

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