Elliot Fernandez

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World War II Peace Conferences

The Peace Conferences were held with the participation of the allied countries from 1941 to discuss the organization of the world after the Second World War.
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Elliot Fernández

Elliot Fernández

He has a degree in History from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (2009) and a Master's in World History from Pompeu Fabra University (2011).

27/06/2022 | Last update:

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Alliances before and after the war

The configuration of the post-war world

The organization of the world that emerged after World War II was decided at the peace conferences. These conferences were organized by the countries of the allied coalition (United States of America, Great Britain and the USSR). They were held from 1941, when the development of the war was more favourable to the allied bloc.

The most important peace conferences were those promoted by the three great allied powers:

  • The Tehran Conference of 1943.
  • The Yalta conference (Crimea) of February 1945.
  • The Potsdam conference (a town near Berlin) between the months of July and August 1945.
Allies victory
On May 8, 1945, an American newspaper announces the victory of the Allied troops on the European front.

The Second World War transformed the current geopolitical scheme in the world. A scheme that existed since the beginning of the Early Modern age. After the war, in 1945 the political, economic, social and military system was formed by two antagonistic blocks:

  • The western and capitalist bloc (led by the United States of America).
  • The eastern and socialist bloc (led by the Soviet Union, the USSR).

After the end of the war, these antagonistic blocs formed political and military alliances. They were hermetic and seamless blocks. They were in force until the end of the Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

From allies to enemies

The world war rehabilitated the vanquished by integrating them into the western side. The countries of the Nazi-Fascist bloc (Italy, West Germany and Japan) after the war, passed to the Western capitalist bloc. The war revealed that there were no structural antagonisms within the new Western bloc. All this despite the fact that they had fought on different sides during the war. In reality, it was a series of states that had the same social and economic model (capitalism).

A British poster from 1941, promoting the greater alliance against Germany
A British poster from 1941, promoting the greater alliance against Germany

The main question after the war was to decide what model of political organization the defeated countries should have. Two options were available: either a free-market democracy or a totalitarian state.

The victorious powers chose to liquidate the totalitarian model within the Western bloc. Where there had been dictatorial regimes, they promoted the creation of constitutional and parliamentary democracies.

The element that made possible the rehabilitation of the vanquished was the presence of the USSR on the allied side. The allied side during the Second World War was a circumstantial, cross-class alliance between social formations. With unthinkable speed, the reversal of alliances took place. Allies became enemies and enemies became allies.

United States: The New Western Power

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, a country that had practised the isolationist policy, became a great power. The foreign influence of the United States increased from its policy of direct involvement in Europe. The Marshall Plan meant the colonization and subordination of Europe to the United States.

The Soviet Union: strategic role in Eastern Europe

The USSR gained great prestige in the war. The winner of Nazism in Europe was the Red Army. But from the perspective of the new Western-capitalist bloc, the real post-war threat was the USSR. In Washington, there were more and more supporters of declaring covert war on him.

U.S. government poster showing a friendly Soviet soldier, 1942
U.S. government poster showing a friendly Soviet soldier, 1942

The real winner of the war in Europe against the Nazi enemy was the Red Army of the USSR. It was evidence to all the great losses suffered by the Soviet population in the war.

The balance of the USSR was catastrophic. 22 million deaths, 60% of industrial infrastructure lost, forced transfers, etc.

The victory of the USSR over Nazism was supposed to bring about changes in the political structures of Europe. This is how the anti-fascist resistance fighters saw it. The largest communist parties in Europe were those of France and Italy. After the war, they had great popular support. In France and Italy, prominent communist leaders were called to enter the governments.

The collaborationist states with Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan)

World War II also had resonances in Asia and Africa. Many collaborationist governments participated in the battle.

Some main collaborationist countries with Nazism were:

Japan

In 1927, the Tanaka Memorial proclaimed the legitimacy of the imperialist discourse against European occupation. Japan became an authoritarian state with an expansionist vocation and a firm ally of the Nazi regime in the Pacific. After the war, it was forced to withdraw within its borders. He also had to abandon the militaristic postulates.

India

Subhas Chandra Bose, leader of the Congress Party, entered into an alliance with the Japanese Nazi and militarist regime. The goal: freedom from British occupation.

French Indochina

Emperor Bao-Dai, proclaimed in 1925 as Emperor of Vietnam, was a puppet ruler of the Nazis during the war.

Hungary

In the same list of collaborationist governments is the government of the regent Miklós Horthy. He headed a pro-fascist authoritarian government.

Philippines

José P. Laurel became President of the Philippines thanks to his cooperation with the Japanese.

Norway

Government of Vidkun Quisling in Norway. He took power thanks to a coup d’état that had the support of the Nazi regime.

Jerusalem

Another ruler close to the German regime was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

Protectorate of Morocco

Allal Al-Fasi, leader of the nationalist movement of the French Protectorate of Morocco. Instead, other French colonies in Africa sided with the anti-fascist resistance, such as Algeria, Cameroon, and Senegal.

1943: United States of America entered the war

The United States of America entered the war in 1943. Until then, the German advance seemed unstoppable. The entry of the United States tipped the balance in favour of the Allied side. It was then that the allies organized the peace conferences. The foundations of the new post-war world had to be laid. And delimit the spaces of influence of the future two dominant blocs.

France and Italy also participated in the peace conferences. The two countries had managed to change their status from enemy countries to allies during the course of the war. The most important meetings were:

  • Tehran Conference (November-December 1943). Participants: Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
  • The Fourth Moscow Conference (October 1944). Participants: Stalin and Churchill.
  • Yalta Conference (February 1945). Participants: Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
  • Potsdam Conference (July-August 1945). Participate: Truman, Churchill / Attlee and Stalin.

The peace conferences and the development of the war in 1943

The situation of the battle fronts

At the time of the Tehran conference in November 1943, the general situation was as follows:

  • On the Pacific front, Japan was in retreat. Decisive Battle of Guadalcanal in February 1943. The United States and Great Britain dominated the Pacific area. Allied victory in the war very close.
  • In Africa, the war had ended with the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El-Alamein.
  • On the Eastern European front, two major battles. Soviet victories at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942-February 1943) and the Battle of Kursk (July-August 1943). They mark the beginning of the liberation of the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. France and the Netherlands were still in German hands.

Italy in 1943: the fall of the fascist regime

In July 1943, British and Canadian troops landed on the Italian island of Sicily. The operation of occupation of Italian territory by the allies began. In 1943 Mussolini’s regime was falling apart. The antifascist opposition was stronger.

The Grand Council of Fascism (held on July 25, 1943) had to analyse the progress of the war. The meeting was attended by the great fascist leaders of the regime:

The Grand Council questioned the way the Duce was conducting the war. A resolution calling for Mussolini’s dismissal was voted on. But nobody dared to ask for the armistice.

The next day, on July 26, King Victor Emmanuel III deposed and imprisoned Mussolini. He officially liquidated fascism. The king appointed General Badoglio as prime minister, giving him the secret order to conclude an armistice with the allies. The fascist leaders had certain personal guarantees from the allies. But they fell into the hands of the new fascist state in the north. In January 1944 they were tried and sentenced to death by the Fascist Social Republic during the Verona Trial.

When Mussolini was imprisoned, the Germans entered Italy to free him. Leading the SS unit was Colonel Otto Skorzeny. His goal was to free Mussolini and create the Social Republic of Salon in the north of the country. It was a puppet state of Nazi Germany.

From that moment, Italy was divided into several territories :

  • The south was in the hands of the allies.
  • The centre of the country was under the jurisdiction of General Badoglio. The territory stretched from the capital, Rome, to Brindisi. In September 1943, the Cassabile armistice was signed. With him, the Kingdom of Italy joined the allied side in the fight against Germany.
  • The north belonged to the Republic of Saló (Nazi puppet state). It was the new republican fascist regime. A puppet state supported by Nazi Germany, with Mussolini at the helm.

Starting in September 1943, a harsh civil war began in Italy. The popular anti-fascist resistance fought alongside the monarchists of Badoglio. The enemy to defeat was the Germans and the fascists from Saló. The goal of the resistance was to defeat fascism and build a socialist and democratic republic. The leader of the Italian Communist Party Palmiro Togliatti accepted Badoglio’s legitimacy. From exile, he called for the fight against the fascist regime of Saló.

The king of Italy needed to distance himself from the fascist dictatorship. The referendum of June 2 and 3, 1946 sanctioned the abolition of the monarchy.

The Tehran Conference of 1943

Why was the first Allied peace conference held in Tehran? On the one hand, a previous British-Soviet presence on Iranian territory had to be stabilized and consolidated. Control of hydrocarbons in the area also had to be exercised in situ. The oil had to be in the hands of the allies. It was necessary to end the war.

The historic colonial power in the Middle East was Great Britain. Its main objective was to prevent public opinion from sympathizing with the Axis cause. The Nazis supported the decolonization of the area. After the war, the Iranian and Greek scenarios became the first conflicts of the Cold War. Iran ended up being a dictatorial monarchy useful in curbing communist expansion in the Middle East.

Tehran Conference
The “Big Three”: From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European theater of 1943.

The question of the second European front in the west

At the Tehran Conference, Stalin insistently called for opening a front in the west. Stalin wanted an action to force the dispersion of German troops in Europe. Stalin insisted on asking for more solidarity from the rest of the allies.

In accordance with the request for help, the United States decided to support the USSR. They did it in a calculated and very gradual way. The aid of the United States never responded to the real needs of the USSR. The USSR never had access to the program of loans or aid from the Americans. The alliance of the allied side superficially did not present any fissure. But throughout the war, the union weakened.

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

Stalin insisted on the opening of a second front in Europe. As a gesture of goodwill towards the allies was the suppression of the Third International. With his decision, Stalin annulled the operational capacity of an institution that coordinated the international communist movement. He also decided, in January 1944, to suppress the International anthem in the USSR. He had to recover the grandeur of tsarist Russia.

The Teheran Conference decided to open a second front in Europe. The second front became effective on June 6, 1944 with the Allied landing in Normandy.

Help anti-fascist forces

The allies decided to help the popular anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia, Italy and France. They also demanded the unconditional surrender of Germany. For now, Japan was left out. The surrender was to be unconditional, without any preconditions to the Germans. It was thought that with the end of the war, a peace treaty would be made. Peace was never signed with Germany. The war ended with de facto sanctions: a scientific looting and a certain robbery of industrial infrastructure.

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 a surrender with Nazi Germany. He suspected that the British and Americans were going to sign a unilateral peace with Germany without the USSR. He feared that his allies would create a new war front against the Soviets. Stalin suspected that the United States was afraid of Soviet successes. The Americans did not want European public opinion to favour the communist cause.

The design of the United Nations

Finally, in Tehran, the allied powers decided to create an institution to safeguard international peace. The new institution had the responsibility of maintaining “perpetual peace“. It was to replace the ineffective League of Nations. The victorious powers would have differentiated prerogatives. The most important prerogative was the “veto” in the Permanent Council. They had it: the United States, Great Britain, the USSR, France and National China (government in exile on the island of Formosa).

In 1943 France was still occupied by the German army. After the landing in Normandy, a collaboration between the Free French army and the Allies was articulated. The allies supported the moderate bourgeois resistance of General de Gaulle. The weight of the communists in the fight against Nazism had to be limited. The communist parties had to remain in the opposition, integrated into 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. There was no established agreement. The “conversations” were the embryo of the future division of the zones of influence. There, the eastern zone was drawn that would remain under the influence of the USSR in the form of “popular democracies. In the western zone, leftist political alternatives would be aborted.

Fourth Moscow Conference
Winston Churchill, W. Averell Harriman, Joseph Stalin, and Vyacheslav Molotov at Fourth Moscow Conference, Russia, Oct 1944. Photograph credits: Public domain.

The establishment of moderate centre governments was established. The percentages of the distribution areas were as follows:

  • Romania: Russia: 90% and the rest: 10%
  • Greece: Great Britain (in agreement with the United States): 90%, Russia: 10%,
  • Yugoslavia: 50/50%.
  • Hungary: 50/50%.
  • Bulgaria: Russia: 75% and the rest: 25%

The liberation of Europe and the fear of the communist partisans

In October 1944 France had already been liberated. The weight of the maquis (rural guerrilla) in the liberation of Provence was very present in Churchill.

Between the spring and winter of 1944 in Italy, the monarchical government of Badoglio acted with criminal passivity. The regular military forces refrained from carrying out a military advance in the north. They left the entire burden of liberation to the anti-fascist partisans. They had to face alone the double Nazi-fascist coalition.

In France, General De Gaulle decided to disarm the partisans in order to avoid dual power.

In October 1944, on the Eastern Front, the USSR launched its final offensive against Germany.

The USSR had already been liberated. On April 16, 1945, the Soviets reached Berlin, which was finally liberated on May 9. The paradox that occurred once Europe was liberated was that the forces that led the resistance were pushed aside. The allies agreed to restore liberal capitalist regimes. The fear that communism transferred to the ruling classes forced the introduction of social policies and regulation of capitalism. In Western Europe, where liberal parliamentary regimes were established, elements of pseudo-socialism had to be introduced. The Marshall Plan was the political solution to make Europeans accept the new capitalist economic framework.

Yalta Conference (February 1945)

In February 1945 the Battle of the Bulge has already taken place. Practically all of Europe was liberated. Only Berlin was still under the Nazis. On the Pacific Front, there remained some pocket of Japanese resistance. Allied success at Iwo Jima (February 19-March 26). Massive bombing of Japan accelerated.

Agreements of the Yalta conference

What was decided in Yalta? The allies accepted what had been informally understood at the talks in Moscow. The future was set for the central and eastern states of Europe liberated and occupied by the Soviet army. It was decided that there would be respect for self-determination.

The establishment of parliamentary democracies in Western Europe

The go-ahead was also given for the holding of elections in Western Europe, eliminating the totalitarian forces. In France, Germany and Italy, countries controlled by the Americans, parliamentary democracy was established. In economics, economic liberalism was established with state interventionism where it was necessary. Any hegemony that could catapult the left in government was rejected. Communist political forces could exist, but without majority representation in parliaments.

At Yalta, it was established that Austria and Germany would be divided into 4 occupation zones. The occupying powers were Great Britain, the United States, the USSR and France. Germany remained in this situation until 1947. Austria until 1955.

France was granted the status of winning power: from a collaborationist state, it became a winning power. It was a postwar, Cold War decision. In this way, the allies strengthened the candidacy of the conservative political forces headed by General Charles de Gaulle. Bet in favour of a De Gaulle government with parliamentary structures in the hands of the centre-right.

In 1946 the first elections were held after the war that gave rise to the Fourth Republic led by De Gaulle, but still with a front-populist logic, at least until 1947.

In Austria, the results were different. The plausible solution did not come until the signing of the 1955 treaty. The four victorious powers decided to evacuate Austria. A neutral, demilitarized federal republic was established, which was not integrated into international organizations.

Central and Eastern Europe

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

The border between Germany and Poland was established at the Oder/Neisse rivers. It would be ratified at the time of signing peace (which never came). It was a temporary border limit. Furthermore, it entailed two things: Poland was recognized for expanding westward. And to make up for what she was losing to the east, she won Danzig (six million Germans were expelled). And the USSR was granted Ukraine and Belarus.

The allied powers aspired to the reunification of Germany. This did not come until the dissolution of the RDA and its absorption by the FRG. The FRG, with the Hallstein doctrine (1955), applied a very harsh policy towards the RDA. He declared broken any diplomatic relationship with all those states that accepted the sovereignty of the GDR. This lasted until the Ostpolitik doctrine of 1970. The Ostpolitik wanted to break Germany’s isolation and normalize its relations with neighbours.

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

Another important decision: the USSR promised to declare war on Japan after the war in Europe ended. This set off all the alarm signals 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.

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

In the Potsdam Conference, it was approved the return of all the European territories annexed by Germany since 1937 and the separation from Austria.

For Germany, it was decided of its demilitarization, denazification, democratization and the persecution of Nazi war criminals.

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

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

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


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

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