Potsdam Conference

Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman meeting at the Potsdam Conference on 18 July 1945. From left to right, first row: Premier Joseph Stalin; President Harry S. Truman, Soviet Ambassador to the United States Andrei Gromyko, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Second row: Brigadier General Harry H. Vaughan, Truman's confidant and military aide; Russian interpreter Charles Bohlen, Truman naval aide James K. Vardaman, Jr., and (partially obscured) Charles Griffith Ross.[1]
Sitting (from left): Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin, and behind: Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov.
Cecilienhof, site of the Potsdam Conference, pictured in 2014.

The Potsdam Conference (German: Potsdamer Konferenz) was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 17 July to 2 August 1945. (In some older documents it is also referred to as the Berlin Conference of the Three Heads of Government of the USSR, USA and UK.[2][3]) The participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill[4] and, later, Clement Attlee,[5] and President Harry S. Truman.

Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—as well as Attlee, who participated alongside Churchill while awaiting the outcome of the 1945 general election, and then replaced Churchill as Prime Minister after the Labour Party's defeat of the Conservatives—gathered to decide how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier, on 8 May (V-E Day). The goals of the conference also included the establishment of postwar order, peace treaty issues, and countering the effects of the war.

At the Yalta Conference France had been granted an occupation zone within Germany, France had been a participant in the Berlin Declaration, and France was to be an equal member of the Allied Control Council. Nevertheless, at the insistence of the Americans, General de Gaulle was not invited to Potsdam; a diplomatic slight which was a cause of deep and lasting resentment. Reasons for the omission included the longstanding personal mutual antagonism between Roosevelt and De Gaulle, ongoing disputes over the French and American occupation zones and anticipated conflicts of interest over French Indochina; but also reflected the judgement of both the British and Americans that French aims in respect of many items on the Conference agenda were likely to be at variance with Anglo/American agreed objectives.

Relationships amongst the leaders[]

In the five months since the Yalta Conference, a number of changes had taken place which would greatly affect the relationships between the leaders.

Firstly, the Soviet Union was occupying Central and Eastern Europe. By July, the Red Army effectively controlled the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and fearing a Stalinist takeover, refugees were fleeing from these countries. Stalin had set up a puppet communist government in Poland. He insisted that his control of Eastern Europe was a defensive measure against possible future attacks and claimed that it was a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence.[6]

Secondly, Britain had a new Prime Minister. Before VE Day, Conservative Party leader Winston Churchill had served as Prime Minister in a coalition government; his Soviet policy since the early 1940s had differed considerably from former US President Roosevelt's, with Churchill believing Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system.[7] A general election was held in the UK on 5 July, the results of which became known during the conference: with a Labour Party majority, Labour leader Clement Attlee became the new Prime Minister.

Thirdly, President Roosevelt had died on 12 April 1945, and Vice President Harry Truman assumed the presidency; his succession saw VE Day (Victory in Europe) within a month and VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on the horizon. During the war and in the name of Allied unity, Roosevelt had brushed off warnings of a potential domination by a Stalin dictatorship in part of Europe. He explained that "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man" and reasoned, "I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, 'noblesse oblige', he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."[8]

While inexperienced in foreign affairs, Truman had closely followed the Allied progress of the war. George Lenczowski notes that "despite the contrast between his relatively modest background and the international glamour of his aristocratic predecessor, [Truman] had the courage and resolution to reverse the policy that appeared to him naive and dangerous", which was "in contrast to the immediate, often ad hoc moves and solutions dictated by the demands of the war".[9] With the end of the war, the priority of allied unity was replaced with a new challenge, the nature of the relationship between the two emerging superpowers.[9] The two leading powers continued to sustain a cordial relationship to the public but suspicions and distrust lingered between them.[10] As the suspicion grew between the two rising powers, Stalin proposed that America would use its economic advantage and success in order to entice other nations into expanding policies favorable to the U.S.[11]

Truman became much more suspicious of communist moves than Roosevelt had been, and he became increasingly suspicious of Soviet intentions under Stalin.[9] Truman and his advisers saw Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as aggressive expansionism which was incompatible with the agreements Stalin had committed to at Yalta the previous February. In addition, it was at the Potsdam Conference that Truman became aware of possible complications elsewhere, when Stalin objected to Churchill's proposal for an early Allied withdrawal from Iran, ahead of the schedule agreed at the Tehran Conference. However, the Potsdam Conference marks the first and only time Truman would ever meet Stalin in person.[12][13]

Agreements made between the leaders at Potsdam[]

Potsdam Agreements[]

Demographics map used for the border discussions at the conference
The Oder–Neisse line (click to enlarge)

At the end of the conference, the three Heads of Government agreed on the following actions. All other issues were to be answered by the final peace conference to be called as soon as possible.

Germany[]

France, having been excluded from the Conference, resisted implementing the Potsdam agreements within its occupation zone. In particular, the French refused to resettle any expelled Germans from the east. Moreover the French did not accept any obligation to abide by Potsdam agreements in the proceedings of the Allied Control Council; in particular resisting all proposals to establish common policies and institutions across Germany as a whole, and anything that they feared might lead to the emergence of an eventual unified German government.[16]

Poland[]

Poland's old and new borders, 1945. Territory previously part of Germany is identified in pink

Potsdam Declaration[]

At the beginning: Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin
The Foreign Ministers: Vyacheslav Molotov, James F. Byrnes, and Anthony Eden, July 1945

In addition to the Potsdam Agreement, on 26 July, Churchill, Truman, and Chiang Kai-shek, Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China (the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan) issued the Potsdam Declaration which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during World War II in Asia.

Aftermath[]

Truman had mentioned an unspecified "powerful new weapon" to Stalin during the conference. Towards the end of the conference, Japan was given an ultimatum to surrender (in the name of the United States, Great Britain and China) or meet "prompt and utter destruction", which did not mention the new bomb[17] but, at the same time promised ‘it was not intended to enslave Japan’. The Soviet Union was not involved in this declaration as it was still neutral in the war against Japan. Prime minister Kantarō Suzuki did not respond[18] (mokusatsu, which was interpreted as a declaration that the Empire of Japan should ignore the ultimatum). Then the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The justification was that both cities were legitimate military targets, to end the war swiftly, and preserve American lives. However, to some the timing has suggested that Truman did not want Stalin involved in the terms of Japan's surrender. It is important to note that Truman delayed the Potsdam Conference in order to be sure of the functionality of this "powerful new weapon".[citation needed] Notably, when Truman informed Stalin of the atomic bomb, he did not explicitly mention its atomic nature, just vaguely saying that the United States "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force";[19] Stalin, though, had full knowledge of the atomic bomb's development due to Soviet spy networks inside the Manhattan Project, and told Truman at the conference to "make good use of this new addition to the Allied arsenal".[20]

The Soviet Union converted the other countries of eastern Europe into satellite states within the Eastern Bloc, such as the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the People's Republic of Hungary,[21] the Czechoslovak Republic,[22] the People's Republic of Romania,[23] and the People's Republic of Albania.[24]

Previous major conferences[]

See also[]

Notes[]

  1. ^ Description of photograph, Truman Library.
  2. ^ "Avalon Project - A Decade of American Foreign Policy 1941-1949 - Potsdam Conference". Avalon.law.yale.edu. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Russia (USSR) / Poland Treaty (with annexed maps) concerning the Demarcation of the Existing Soviet-Polish State Frontier in the Sector Adjoining the Baltic Sea 5 March 1957 (retrieved from the UN Delimitation Treaties Infobase, accessed on 18 March 2002)
  4. ^ "Potsdam-Conference" Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. ^ "BBC Fact File: Potsdam Conference". Bbc.co.uk. 2 August 1945. Retrieved 20 March 2013. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Leffler, Melvyn P., "For the South of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union and the Cold War, First Edition, (New York, 2007) pg 31
  7. ^ Miscamble 2007, p. 51
  8. ^ Miscamble 2007, p. 52
  9. ^ a b c George Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East, (1990), pp7-13
  10. ^ Hunt, Michael (2013). The World Transformed. Oxford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780199371020. 
  11. ^ Hunt, Michael (2013). The World Transformed:1945 to the Present. Oxford University Press. p. 35. 
  12. ^ Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1: Year of Decisions (1955), p.380, cited in Lenczowski, American Presidents, p.10
  13. ^ Nash, Gary B. "The Troublesome Polish Question." The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. Print.
  14. ^ Alfred de Zayas Nemesis at Potsdam, Routledge, London 1977. See also conference on "Potsdamer Konferenz 60 Jahre danach" hosted by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Berlin on 19. August 2005 PDF Archived 20 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Seite 37 et seq.
  15. ^ James Stewart Martin. All Honorable Men (1950) p. 191.
  16. ^ Ziemke, Earl Frederick (1990). The US Army and the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946. Center of Military History, United States Army. p. 345. 
  17. ^ "How The Potsdam Conference Shaped The Future Of Post-War Europe". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 2018-02-12. 
  18. ^ "Mokusatsu: One Word, Two Lessons" (PDF). Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  19. ^ Putz, Catherine (18 May 2016). "What If the United States Had Told the Soviet Union About the Bomb?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  20. ^ Nichols, Tom (12 April 2016). "Simply No Other Choice: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan". National Interest.org. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  21. ^ Granville, Johanna, The First Domino: International Decision Making during the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, Texas A&M University Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58544-298-4
  22. ^ Grenville 2005, pp. 370–71
  23. ^ The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
  24. ^ Cook 2001, p. 17

References[]

Further reading[]

Primary sources[]

External links[]