The WWII Peace Conferences

The Peace Conferences were held with the participation of the Allied countries after 1941 to discuss the organization of the world after the Second World War.
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Pre- and post-war alliances

The organization of the world that was to emerge after the Second World War was decided at a succession of peace conferences held between the nations of the Allied bloc (the United States of America, Great Britain and the USSR), and held from 1941 onward. The most important were those promoted by the three great Allied powers in 1943 in Teheran, in February 1945 in Yalta (Crimea) and in July-August 1945 in Potsdam (Germany).

On May 8, 1945 an American newspaper announces the victory of the Allied troops on the European front
On May 8, 1945, an American newspaper announces the victory of the Allied troops on the European front

The World War II transformed the geopolitical pattern that had been in force since the beginning of the Modern Age. After 1945 the political, economic, social and military framework was formed by two antagonistic blocks:

Once the war was over, the two new blocs formed seamless, watertight political and military alliances until the end of the Cold War.

The WWII reinstated the defeated by integrating them into the Western side (Italy, West Germany and Japan). The war showed that there were no structural antagonisms within the new Western bloc, even though they had fought on different sides during the conflict. In reality, they were a series of states that had the same social and economic model (capitalism).

The crucial question after the war was to decide which model of political organization the defeated countries should have: a free market democracy or a totalitarian state. The solution implied liquidating the totalitarian model within the Western bloc and promoting the creation of constitutional and parliamentary democracies.

The element that made possible the rehabilitation of the defeated was the presence of the USSR on the allied side. The Allied camp of the Second World War was a circumstantial, interclass alliance between social formations. With unthinkable speed, alliances were reversed. The allies became enemies and the enemies became allies.

The Second World War opened a radically different stage in international relations. Before the war the world was Europe. After the conflict, the United States, which had practised isolationist politics, became a great power. The Marshall Plan meant the colonization and subordination of Europe to the United States.

The USSR came out of the war with a lot of prestige. For the new Western-capitalist bloc the post-war threat was the USSR and it had to be declared on it undercover war. It was evident for all the tremendous losses suffered by the Soviets during the war: 22 million deaths, 60% of the lost industrial infrastructure, forced relocations, etc.

Moreover, the real winner of the war in Europe against the Nazi enemy was the Red Army of the USSR. For the anti-fascist resistance movement, the victory of the USSR over Nazism had to be accompanied by a change in the political structures of Europe. The Communist parties in France and Italy, after the war, had great popular support. In both countries, members of these parties were called upon to enter government.

World War II also had resonances in Asia and Africa from the involvement of collaborationist governments in the battle. Some examples of pro-Nazi governments were

On the other hand, other French colonies in Africa sided with the anti-fascist resistance, such as Algeria, Cameroon and Senegal.

After 1943, when the United States entered the war, the course of the war shifted in favour of the Allied side. It was then that a round of contacts was initiated between the leaders of the Allied powers to divide up the post-war world and delimit the spaces of influence of the future two dominant blocks.

France and Italy have managed to change their status from enemy to ally during the war and have also participated in these peace conferences. The most important meetings were:

Tehran Conference (1943)

Development of the war in 1943

When the Tehran Conference in November 1943, the general situation was as follows:

1943 Italy: the fall of the Fascist regime

In July 1943, British and Canadian troops landed on the Italian island of Sicily. The operation to occupy Italian territory by the Allies began. At that time, the Italian fascist state was not only having problems in the war but also within the country itself due to the growing anti-fascist opposition.

The Grand Council of Fascism (held on July 25, 1943) had to analyse the course of the war. This meeting was attended by the major fascist leaders of the regime: Dino Grandi, Giuseppe Bottai, Emilio de Bono, Roberto Farinacci and Galeazzo Ciano. The Grand Council questioned the way the Duce was conducting the war and voted a resolution calling for the removal of Mussolini. But nobody dared to call for an armistice.

The next day, July 26, King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed and imprisoned Mussolini. He officially liquidated Fascism and appointed General Badoglio as Prime Minister, by giving him the secret order to conclude an armistice with the Allies. The fascist hierarchs who had opposed Mussolini did so after securing certain personal guarantees from the allies. But they were finally tried and sentenced to death by the Social Fascist Republic during the Verona Trial held in January 1944.

When Mussolini was imprisoned, the Germans entered Italy (with an SS platoon led by Colonel Otto Skorzeny), freed Mussolini and created the Italian Social Republic, in the north of the country. From that point on, Italy was divided into several territories:

After September 1943, a hard civil war broke out in Italy. The popular anti-fascist resistance, in alliance with the monarchists of Badoglio, fought against the Germans and the fascists of Salò to build a socialist and democratic republic. The leader of the communist party, Palmiro Togliatti, in exile, accepted the legitimacy of Badoglio and called for the struggle against Salò.

The King of Italy needed to dissociate himself from the Fascist dictatorship, but once the war was over, the Italians voted in a referendum on June 2 and 3, 1946, to abolish the monarchy.

The Tehran Conference

Why was the first peace conference held in Tehran? On the one hand, it was to stabilize and consolidate a previous British-Soviet presence on Iranian territory. It was also necessary to exercise control of hydrocarbons on the ground, so that they would be in the hands of the Allies just when they needed them most to end the war.

Furthermore, Great Britain, the colonial power in the area, was trying to avoid a shift in Arab public opinion towards the Axis cause in favour of decolonization. It is not by chance that Iran, together with Greece, would become the first two conflicts of the Cold War once the war was over. Iran ended up being a dictatorial monarchy that was useful in stopping communist expansion in the Middle East.

Conferencia de Teheran
The “big three.” From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on the porch of the Russian embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European situation in 1943.

At the Tehran Conference, Stalin insisted that action be taken soon to force the dispersal of German troops in Europe. Stalin insisted on asking for more solidarity from the other allies. In accordance with the request for aid, the United States decided to support the USSR but in a calculated, gradual manner, which never responded to the real needs of the Soviet Union. It should be noted that the USSR, despite suffering the invasion of its territory, never had a programme of loans or aid from the Americans. The alliance of the Allied side superficially did not present any fissure but throughout the war this union was weakened.

Before the Conference, Stalin had dissolved the Third International in May 1943. The message the Soviet leader wanted to convey was that the war was no longer about socialism. It was a major shift in Soviet rhetoric, symbolized by the phrase “either democracy or fascism.” The USSR showed its sincerity in being a faithful ally to the cause of democracy.

Stalin insisted on the opening of a second front in Europe, and a gesture of good will towards the Allies was the suppression of the Third International. With his decision, Stalin annulled the operational capacity of the institution coordinating the international communist movement. He also decided, in January 1944, to suppress the anthem of the International in the USSR. The grandeur of tsarist Russia had to be restored.

Finally, the Tehran Conference decided to open a second front in Europe, which became effective on June 6, 1944 with the Allied landing in Normandy, the Operation Overlord.”

The Conference also approved to focus on helping the popular anti-fascist resistances in Yugoslavia, Italy and France, and to demand the unconditional surrender of Germany. For the time being, Japan was left out. The surrender was to be unconditional, with no preconditions to the Germans. It was thought that with the end of the war a peace treaty would be made. The peace was never signed: it ended in de facto sanctions, only a scientific pillage and a certain pillage of industrial infrastructures.

The three Allied powers (the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) did not sign a unilateral peace with Nazi Germany. Stalin wanted the three Allied powers to sign the surrender with Nazi Germany. He suspected that the United States of America and Britain were tempted to make a unilateral peace with Germany without the USSR and create a new war front against the Soviets. Stalin believed that the United States was afraid that Soviet victories in Europe would serve to create a state of opinion favourable to communism in Western Europe.

Finally, in Tehran the Allied powers decided to create an institution to ensure international peace. Once the war was over, an institution would be created to maintain ‘perpetual peace’ and to replace the ineffective League of Nations, and where the winning powers would have differentiated prerogatives: the United States, Great Britain, the USSR, France and China National (government in exile on the island of Formosa).

At that time France was still occupied by the German army. After the Normandy landing, a collaboration between the Free France‘s army and the Allies was articulated. The Allies supported General de Gaulle‘s moderate bourgeois resistance, as to limit the importance of the Communists in the fight against Nazism. The Communist parties were to remain in opposition, within the bourgeois capitalist system blessed by the United States.

Fourth Moscow Conference (October 9, 1944)

When Stalin and Churchill met in Moscow, the Conference was formally inconsequential. No agreement was reached. These “talks” were the embryo of the future division of the spheres of influence, and the drawing of the eastern zone that would come under the USSR influence in the form of “people’s democracies.” In Moscow, it was established that in the western zone of influence the left-wing alternative would be completely aborted and replaced by moderate governments of the centre. The percentages of the catchment areas remained as following:

When its celebration France had already been liberated, and the weight of the maquis in the liberation of Provence was very present.

Between the spring and winter of 1944 in Italy, the monarchical government of General Badoglio acted with criminal passivity, refraining from carrying out a military advance in the north in exchange for the partisans being the ones to confront the double Nazi-fascist coalition.

In France, General de Gaulle decided to disarm the partisans as to avoid a double power. On the eastern front, in October 1944 the USSR began the final offensive against Germany.

The USSR had already been liberated and on April 16, 1945 the Soviets arrived in Berlin, which was finally liberated on May 9. Where there were left-wing political parties and trade unions and the pre-war capitalist model was in its death throes, the Allied powers reinstated the liberal-capitalist regimes, but with a paradox: the fear that communism transferred to the ruling classes of the Western bloc forced the bourgeois states to introduce social reforms, elements of pseudo-socialism in capitalist societies. The Marshall Plan was the political solution.

Yalta Conference (February 1945)

In February 1945, the Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes) had already taken place and practically all of Europe was liberated, except for Berlin which was still under the Nazis. On the Pacific Front, there was still some Japanese resistance after the Allied success of Iwo Jima (19 February-26 March) and the acceleration of the massive bombing of Japan.

What was agreed at Yalta? The Allies accepted what had informally been understood from the Moscow talks. The future was set for the liberated and Soviet-occupied Central and Eastern European states. It was decided that there would be respect for self-determination.

It also gave the go-ahead for elections in Western Europe, always by removing totalitarian forces. In France, Germany and Italy, countries controlled by the Americans, the establishment of parliamentary democracy and economic liberalism was established with the necessary state interventionism. Any hegemony that catapulted the left into government was rejected. Communist parties could exist but without majority representation in parliaments.

In Central and Eastern Europe, it was decided to establish governments where the USSR should exercise a certain degree of tutelage. In this area no future government could be contrary to the interests of the USSR.

In Yalta, it was established that Austria and Germany would be divided into 4 zones of occupation in the hands of Great Britain, the United States, the USSR and France. Germany would remain in this situation until 1947. Austria until 1955.

France was granted the status of a victorious power: from a collaborationist state to a winning power. It was a post-war, Cold War decision. In this way, the Allies strengthened the candidacy of the conservative political forces led by General Charles De Gaulle. It bets in favour of a De Gaulle government with parliamentary structures in the hands of the centre-right. In 1946, the first elections after the war were held, which resulted in the Fourth Republic led by De Gaulle, but still with a logical populist front, at least until 1947.

In Austria, the result was different. However, the plausible solution did not come until the signature of the 1955 treaty: the four victorious powers decided to evacuate Austria, which became a demilitarized, neutral federal republic, and not integrated into international bodies.

An artificial border between Germany and Poland was established on the Oder/Neisse rivers, ratified when the signature of the peace (which never came). It was a provisional border line. It led to two results: Poland was recognized as expanding westwards. And to compensate it for what it was losing in the east, it succeeds Danzig (it meant the expulsion of six million Germans as a result). Meanwhile, the USSR was granted Ukraine and Belarus.

The Allies aspired to the reunification of Germany, which would not come about until the dissolution of the GDR and its absorption by the FRG. Under the Hallstein Doctrine (1955), the FRG declared all diplomatic relations with all states that accepted the sovereignty of the GDR to be broken. This lasted until the Ostpolitik doctrine of 1970. Ostpolitik wanted to break Germany’s isolation and normalize its relations with its neighbours.

In 1955, the FRG was admitted to NATO. A few days earlier, on 15 May 1955, the Warsaw Pact (the military alliance of the communist countries) was founded. The role of the German state in the two post-war periods presents a very similar strategy: territorial advance against hypothetical Soviet expansion. Counter-revolutionary role.

Another important decision: the USSR committed itself to declare war on Japan after the war in Europe ended. This set off all the alarm bells in the US.

Potsdam Conference (July-August 1945)

In July 1945, the USSR entered the war against Japan. And Korea was occupied in the North by Soviet troops.

Conferencia de Potsdam
Group photo after the conference. Behind from left to right: William D. Leahy, Ernest Bevin, James F. Byrnes and Viacheslav Molotov. Front left to right: Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman and Stalin.

At the Potsdam conference, it was agreed that all European territories annexed by Germany since 1937 would be returned and that Austria would be separated.

For Germany, it was decided to demilitarize, de-Nazify, democratize and persecute the Nazi war criminals.

For Poland, the adoption of its new borders in 1945; the “humane and orderly” resettlement of the German minorities in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia; a reconstruction agreement was approved (the Allies estimated their losses at $200 billion).

Germany was forced to pay only $20 billion in industrial products and labour.

And finally, the terms of the surrender for Japan were decided.


All articles of the course: History of the Contemporary World (1945-1991)

The WWII Peace ConferencesThe ideological, economic and military framework of the Cold WarMcCarthyism and the Persecution of Inner Enemies in the Cold War

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