|Host country||Soviet-occupied Germany|
|Date||17 July – 2 August 1945|
|Participants|| Joseph Stalin|
Harry S. Truman
The Potsdam Conference (German: Potsdamer Konferenz) was held at Potsdam in the Soviet occupation zone from July 17 to August 2, 1945, to allow the three leading Allies to plan the postwar peace, while avoiding the mistakes of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They were represented respectively by General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and President Harry S. Truman. They gathered to decide how to administer Germany, which had agreed to an unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier. The goals of the conference also included establishing the postwar order, solving issues on the peace treaty, and countering the effects of the war.
The foreign ministers and aides played key roles: Vyacheslav Molotov, Anthony Eden and Ernest Bevin, and James F. Byrnes. From July 17 to July 25, nine meetings were held, when the Conference was interrupted for two days, as the results of the British general election were announced. By July 28, Attlee had defeated Churchill and replaced him as Britain’s representative, with Britain's new Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ernest Bevin, replacing Anthony Eden. Four days of further discussion followed. During the conference, there were meetings of the three heads of government with their foreign secretaries, as well as meetings of only the foreign secretaries. Committees that were appointed by the latter for precursory consideration of questions before the conference also met daily. During the Conference, Truman was secretly informed that the Trinity test of the first atomic bomb on July 16 had been successful. He hinted to Stalin that the U.S. was about to use a new kind of weapon against the Japanese. Though this was the first time the Soviets had been officially given information about the atomic bomb, Stalin was already aware of the bomb project, having learned about it through espionage long before Truman did.
Key final decisions included: Germany would be divided into the four occupation zones (among the three powers and France) that had been agreed to earlier; Germany's eastern border was to be shifted west to the Oder–Neisse line; a Soviet-backed group was recognized as the legitimate government of Poland; and Vietnam was to be partitioned at the 16th parallel. The Soviets also reaffirmed their Yalta promise to promptly launch an invasion of Japanese-held areas.
Views were also exchanged on a plethora of other questions. However, consideration of those matters was postponed into the Council of Foreign Ministers, which the conference established. The conference ended with a stronger relationship among the three governments as a consequence of their collaboration, which renewed confidence that together with the other United Nations, they would ensure the creation of a just and enduring peace. Nevertheless, within 18 months relations had deteriorated and the Cold War had emerged.
In May 1945, Churchill wrote Truman hoping to arrange a meeting of the three governments to occur in June. Truman hoped for Stalin to propose the meeting so as to avoid the appearance that the Americans and British were ganging up on the Soviets. With some prompting from Truman's aide Harry Hopkins, Stalin proposed a meeting in the Berlin area. Informed of this by the US, Churchill sent a letter agreeing that he'd be happy to meet in “what is left of Berlin”.
Some sources suggest Truman delayed the conference in order for it to meet after the results of the first atomic bomb test were known. The conference was eventually set to begin July 16 at Cecilienhof in Potsdam, near Berlin.
Stalin arrived a day late, a choice he made, according to biographer D.N. Volkogonov, “because he was accustomed to having people wait for him”. He was coming from a meeting with Mao, where he’d made the Chinese wait a day to meet with him, and then he told the Potsdam attendees he had been held up by the Chinese. He traveled to Berlin on a heavily guarded train out of fear of flying.
A number of changes had taken place in the five months since the Yalta Conference and greatly affected the relationships among the leaders. The Soviets occupied Central and Eastern Europe. The Baltic states were forcibly re-incorporated into the USSR, while the Red Army also occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Refugees fled from those countries. Stalin had set up a puppet communist government in Poland, 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.
Winston Churchill, who had served for most of the war as British prime minister in a coalition government, was replaced during the conference by Clement Attlee. Churchill's administration had a Soviet policy since the early 1940s that differed considerably from Roosevelt's and believed Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant, who led a vile system. A general election was held in the United Kingdom on 5 July 1945, but its results were delayed to allow the votes of armed forces personnel to be counted in their home constituencies. The outcome became known during the conference, when Attlee became the new prime minister.
Roosevelt had died on 12 April 1945, and US Vice-President Harry Truman assumed the presidency, which saw VE Day (Victory in Europe) within a month and VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on the horizon. During the war, in the name of Allied unity, Roosevelt had brushed off warnings of potential domination by Stalin over parts of Europe by explaining, "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man.... 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."
While a United States Senator and later as Vice President, Truman had closely followed the Allied progress of the war. George Lenczowski noted 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." With the end of the war, the priority of Allied unity was replaced by the challenge of the relationship between the two emerging superpowers. Both leading powers continued to portray a cordial relationship to the public, but suspicion and distrust lingered between them. Despite this, on 17 July, the first day of the conference, Truman noted "I can deal with Stalin. He is honest — but smart as hell."
Truman was much more suspicious of the Soviets than Roosevelt had been and became increasingly suspicious of Stalin's intentions. Truman and his advisers saw Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as aggressive expansionism, which was incompatible with the agreements committed to by Stalin at Yalta in February. In addition, Truman became aware of possible complications elsewhere after Stalin had objected to Churchill's proposal for an Allied withdrawal from Iran ahead of the schedule that had been agreed at the Tehran Conference. The Potsdam Conference was the only time that Truman met Stalin in person.
At the Yalta Conference, France was granted an occupation zone within Germany. France was a participant in the Berlin Declaration and was to be an equal member of the Allied Control Council. Nevertheless, at the insistence of the Americans, Charles de Gaulle was not invited to Potsdam, just as he had been denied representation at Yalta for fear that he would reopen the Yalta decisions. De Gaulle thus felt a diplomatic slight, which became a cause of deep and lasting resentment for him. Other 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 the anticipated conflicts of interest over French Indochina. It also reflected the judgement of the British and the Americans that French aims, with respect to many items on the conference's agenda, were likely to contradict agreed-upon Anglo-American objectives.
Main article: Potsdam Agreement
At the end of the conference, the three heads of government agreed on the following actions. All other issues were to be resolved by the final peace conference, which was to be called as soon as possible.
See also: Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50), Allied plans for German industry after World War II, Oder–Neisse line, Former eastern territories of Germany, and German reparations for World War II
France, having been excluded from the conference, resisted implementing the Potsdam agreements within its occupation zone. In particular, the French refused to resettle any Germans expelled from the east. Moreover, the French did not accept any obligation to abide by the Potsdam agreements in the proceedings of the Allied Control Council. In particular, it reserved the right to block any proposals to establish common policies and institutions across Germany as a whole and anything that could lead to the eventual emergence of a unified German government.
The Soviet Union proposed for the authority of Karl Renner's provisional government to be extended to all of Austria. The Allies agreed to examine the proposal after British and American forces entered Vienna.
See also: Western betrayal and Territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II
The Soviet Union proposed to the Conference for the territorial questions to be resolved permanently after peace was established in those regions. More specifically, the proposal referred to the section of the western Soviet border near the Baltic Sea. The area would pass from the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg and Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic, and East Prussia.
After the conference considered the Soviet recommendation, it agreed for the city of Königsberg and the area next to it to be transferred to the Soviet Union.
Truman and Winston Churchill guaranteed that they would support the proposals of the conference when peace was eventually ensured.
The Soviet Union made a proposal to the conference concerning the mandated territories and conformed with what had been decided at the Yalta Conference and the Charter of the United Nations.
After various opinions on the question had been discussed, the foreign prime ministers agreed that it was essential to decide at once the preparation of a peace treaty for Italy, combined with the disposition of any former Italian territories. In September, the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs would examine the question of the Italian territory.
At the conference, the Allied leaders confirmed their previous commitment to the removal of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, which the provisional governments of those countries had already begun to put into effect. The three allied leaders agreed that transfers of German civilians should proceed in an orderly and humane manner, but according to modern estimates, between 600,000 and 2.2 million Germans died during the flight and expulsions.
The leaders decided that the Allied Control Council in Germany would deal with the matter, giving priority to the equal distribution of Germans among the various zones of occupation. Representatives on the Control Council were to report to their governments and to each zonal administration the number of people who had already entered Germany from the eastern countries. The representatives would also form an estimate of the future pace of transfers and focus on the German occupied government's capacity to process new arrivals. The provisional governments of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were instructed to temporarily suspend expulsions of German civilians until their respective Control Council representatives had reported these results and estimates.
The Big Three took notice that the Soviet representatives on the Allied Control Commissions in Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary had communicated to their British and Americans colleagues proposals for refining the work of the Control Commission since the war in Europe had ended. The three leaders agreed on the revision of the procedures of the commissions in these countries and took into consideration the interests and responsibilities of their own governments, which together presented the terms of the armistice to the occupied countries.
The Conference agreed on the establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers to represent the five principal powers, continue the essential preliminary work for the peace settlements, and assume other matters that could occasionally be committed to the Council by agreement of the governments participating it. The establishment of the Council in question did not contradict the agreement of the Yalta Conference that there should be periodic meetings among the foreign secretaries of the three governments. According to the text of the agreement for the establishment of the Council, this was decided:
The Conference agreed to apply common policies for determining, at the earliest opportunity, the terms of the peace.
In general, the Big Three desired that dispositions of Italy, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, and Romania should be resolved by the end of the negotiations. They believed that the other Allies would share their point of view.
As the disposition of Italy was one of the most important issues that required the attention of the new Council of Foreign Ministers, the three governments were especially concerned with concluding a peace treaty with Italy, especially as it had been the first of the Axis powers to break with Germany and to participate in Allied operations against Japan.
Italy was making significant progress in gaining its freedom and rejecting the previous fascist regime, and it had paved the way for the re-establishment of democratic governments. If Italy had a recognized and democratic government, it would be easier for the Americans, the British, and the Soviets to support the membership of Italy in the United Nations.
The Council of Foreign Ministers also had to examine and prepare the peace treaties for Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, and Romania. The termination of peace treaties with recognized and democratic governments in those four would allow the Big Three to accept their requests to be members of the United Nations. Moreover, after the termination of peace negotiations, the Big Three agreed to examine in the near future the restoration of the diplomatic relations with Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The Big Three were sure that the situation in Europe after the end of World War II would allow representatives of the Allied press to enjoy freedom of expression in the four countries.
Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations read:
1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving States who accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations;
2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
The leaders declared that they were willing to support any request for membership from states that had remained neutral during the war and fulfilled the other requirements. The Big Three felt the need to clarify that they were reluctant to support application for such membership from the Spanish government, which had been established with the support of the Axis powers.
Main article: Potsdam Declaration
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 yet at war against Japan), issued the Potsdam Declaration, which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during World War II in Asia.
Further information: Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Eastern Bloc, and Cold War
Truman had mentioned an unspecified "powerful new weapon" to Stalin during the conference. Towards the end of the conference, on July 26, the Potsdam Declaration gave Japan an ultimatum to surrender unconditionally or meet "prompt and utter destruction", which did not mention the new bomb but promised that "it was not intended to enslave Japan". The Soviet Union was not involved in that declaration since it was still neutral in the war against Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki did not respond, which was interpreted as a sign that the Japanese had ignored the ultimatum. As a result, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August and on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The justifications used were that both cities were legitimate military targets and that it was necessary to end the war swiftly and preserve American lives.
When Truman informed Stalin of the atomic bomb, he said that the United States "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force," but Stalin had full knowledge of the atomic bomb's development from Soviet spy networks inside the Manhattan Project and told Truman at the conference that he hoped Truman "would make good use of it against the Japanese."
The Soviet Union converted several 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, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People's Republic of Romania, and the People's Republic of Albania. Many of those countries had seen failed Socialist revolutions prior to World War II.
Regarding the establishment of the Oder-Neisse Line, President Truman reported that Stalin had presented the occupation of Eastern Poland by the Soviet Union and Polish annexation of Silesia and eastern Pomerania as a fait accompli. Taken by surprise, the Western Allies had been forced to abandon the principles of the Atlantic Charter.