Yalta and Potsdam in the Cold War
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The Cold War which started in the late 1940’s and ended in 1989 was one of the most contentious events of the 20th century. Even today, new information is surfacing about the war and its causes. The term Cold War is used as the two superpowers USA and USSR never completely reached boiling point. One debating point that historians still argue over is the origin of the war. There have been different points of views which evolved during and after the war.
There are various reasons that are seen as the main causes of the Cold War and two events that continue to be discussed are the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam. Even though the war was quite imminent and something both the powers knew would ultimately happen due to a clash of ideologies, it was the two conferences that triggered the disagreements leading to the origins. The key players were World War II allies United Kingdom, United States and the Soviet Union.
The mood and tension surrounding the two conferences were very significant. The timing and setting were key as the second conference was held near the main debating point of Berlin and the atomic strike over Japan was being planned at the time of the conferences. At the same time, the Soviets had suffered more than 20 million casualties from World War II. This meant that both the USA and USSR were to treat the conferences as very important gatherings.
The first of the conferences was held in the resort of Yalta where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill discussed about post world war issues. The major decisions that were presented at Yalta were the setup of the Untied Nations and the role that the Soviets would play in it, division of Germany into four different zones, bringing Nazi and other war criminals to court, elections of provisional government in Poland and establishing a committee to decide on the reparations. The setup of a free people’s Europe was based on helping countries maintain law and order, carry out emergency relief measures, set up governments and hold elections.
The agreements at Yalta seemed genuine; however, there were differences behind the scenes. Both the USA and UK felt that the Soviets got the better out of the conference as land was promised in the pacific front even before they joined the war in the west. As for the newly independent land in Eastern Europe, all three leaders knew that if a superpower was to have an influence, it would be the Soviet power of communism. Churchill wrote to Roosevelt after the conference of the strength of the Soviet Union, “The Soviet union has become a danger to the free world”.
One of the major disagreements that arose in Yalta was the failure of the Americans to mention the atomic bomb. The key reason for the alliance between USSR, UK and USA during WWII was their hatred towards Germany. Stalin who had suffered the most from the war was highly skeptic as Britain and America had earlier tried to stop the Russian revolutions in 1917. The failure to mention the use nuclear weapons did not help the west in getting Stalin’s trust even though the Soviets were involved in the structure of the Untied Nations.
The second major agreement of the protocol that let to further disagreements was holding free elections and establishing governments in Eastern European countries. In Yalta, Stalin had promised to hold free elections in Poland after the war was over. This agreement was a disaster as it was broken only a few weeks after the meeting. The climax of this disagreement was when Stalin arrested non-communist political leaders of Poland during a meeting.
The second conference held at Potsdam in Germany is seen as a bigger contributor to the origins of the war since the hidden arguments of Yalta came out in the open. The disagreements were obvious by the end of the two week conference which concluded just days before the first atomic strike over Japan. This time around, President Truman represented the Untied States and was later judged as someone who was very anti-communist and had poor knowledge over foreign policy.
The main protocols at Potsdam were ones carried on from Yalta. One of the agreements at Yalta that was approved by the three countries was bringing Nazi criminals to justice. In Potsdam, the elimination of Nazi influence was taken further as it was proposed that the party, government and laws would be destroyed and education would consist of successful development of democratic ideas. New protocols were also established concerning the war front in the Pacific as the Soviets declared war on Japan a week after the end of the conference.
The disagreements of Potsdam however, were the details of the division of Germany into four parts, the extent of reparations that the Germans had to pay and the growing influence of the Soviets in Eastern Europe. First of all, the big argument over the division of Germany was supposed to be quite straightforward, but the significance over the territories were argumentative and led to four divisions that were each controlled by France, United Kingdom, USA and the Soviets. Later on, the differences over the division surfaced as the territories controlled by France and Untied Kingdom merged with the US controlled area.
Secondly, the extent of the reparations was also one of the big disagreements at Potsdam as the Soviets insisted on heavy compensation from Germany. The motive behind the urgency was primarily due to the Soviet Union suffering 27 million in casualties from the Second World War. Therefore, it was agreed at Potsdam that the USSR would be entitled to any forms of reparations from their zone of Germany as well as getting 10% of the industrial equipment of the western zones. This was part of President Truman’s “compromise” which also meant that the Untied States and Britain would also be permitted to take reparations from their respective zones. This particular protocol was highly venerable as it could easily make the economy unstable and later on, needed a brand new currency to hold West Germany together.
The third and possibly most important disagreement that contributed vastly to the origins of the Cold War was the growing influence of the Soviets in Eastern Europe. As mentioned, the Russians had suffered the most from World War II and Stalin was determined to make sure there would be no repeats. He had a priority to make sure that the newly independent Eastern European countries would act as a ‘buffer’ zone for the Soviets from the West. During the two conferences, one country that was a crucial point of discussion was Poland. After Stalin failed to keep his promise to have free elections, the complications arose. The Soviets were keen to make sure that the influence of communism played some role in these ‘buffer’ countries and the post war method of Stalin’s Salami Tactics was to make sure those Eastern European countries would turn communist slice-by-slice. This major disagreement at Potsdam led to the clash of ideologies as the Americans, led by Harry Truman was very anti-communist and saw Stalin as a violator of Human Rights. The clash between communism and capitalism fully came out in the open as the conferences ended which were the true origins of the Cold War.
In conclusion, the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam played a very important role in the origins of the Cold War. They were to a very large extent contributors in the causes as the differences between the two superpowers arose in the disagreements of the conferences. Today, the main cause of the war is seen as a clash of ideologies. However, these differences truly surfaced in the two conferences which show that Yalta and Potsdam were to a large extent, contributors to the origins of the Cold War.