Tehran Conference
First meeting of The Big Three
The Tehran conference was organized to resolve problems concerning the progress of the Second World War and the organization of the post-war world, following the Allied victory.

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The Tehran conference was organized to resolve problems concerning the progress of the Second World War and the organization of the post-war world, following the Allied victory.

It was the first meeting of ‘The Big Three’: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin.

On their way to the Iranian capital, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill stopped in Cairo. There they met with Jiang Jieshi, also known as Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese nationalists. The three signed a Declaration. In this document, they affirmed their firm resolve to wage war ‘to end Japan’s aggression and to punish the aggressor, without trying to obtain personal gain and without the intent of extending their own territories’.

Concerning the Tehran Conference, the specialists’ conclusion is that however many proposals of good faith were put forward, they were all refused in turn, due to the many variables: which interests were strongest in the conflict zones, which resources were available for resolving issues, and which needs were most pressing. The war was in full swing. The armies involved in the war were taking innocent victims. The politicians could not agree concerning the important goals of the conflict.

The way to the Tehran conference was paved by several earlier meetings between the foreign ministers of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, at Stalin’s suggestion. The most important of these meetings was the Moscow conference. Churchill proposed meeting in London, but Stalin insisted on Moscow. He also proposed that the tripartite meeting of the highest level be held in Iran.

Multiple military, political and economic problems were discussed. For the most part, a full accord was reached. First, military issues were addressed. The most important was settling the details of the Anglo-American landing in Europe. A series of decisions were also made concerning tripartite action concerning liberated territories, Italy, and the post-war status of Germany.

Hull announced that the government had been consulted and was in favor of the Declaration. They went on to analyze the document, whose essence was accepted, but with certain modifications. Thus, in the second paragraph there is a clause noting the four great powers’ commitment to act by occupying territories of countries which had helped the enemy. Molotov objected that the wording was unclear and that it should specify action through military operations. This clause was eliminated, since they were not able to reach a consensus.

Eden insisted that, in the fourth paragraph, the expression ‘the sovereign equality’ should be followed by the phrase ‘of peace-loving countries’ and not by ‘of member states’. Through this, they were trying to avoid premature complications around the idea of according equal rights to former enemy countries which became members of the international organization. They discussed the reformulation of the paragraph and agreed on the formula: ‘the signatories acknowledge the necessity of creating as soon as possible a general international organization based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving countries, and open for membership to all these countries, small or large, for maintaining international peace and security.’

Due to the general accord between the three Great Powers concerning the principal international political and economic issues, the Moscow Conference raised serious concerns for small and medium-sized countries. These felt left out of consultations and actual participation in international life. Both in the political arena, and also in economic, social and military post-war organization, the three Great Powers would have the final word.

The project for the Declaration of the four powers was also discussed, put forward by Cordell Hull, the American Secretary of State. He underlined the fact that the objective of post-war collaboration between the Great Powers must serve the interests of each country. The Secretary of state declared that the other countries of the United Nations were waiting impatiently for the Great Powers to announce the end of pre-war isolation and to show a desire for collaboration. Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, spoke warmly in favor of the document. Molotov, the Soviet Union’s minister of foreign affairs, declared that the Soviet government agreed with the principles included in the project, but he raised problems with procedure.

After signing the Declaration, Molotov proposed forming a tripartite committee. This would resolve preliminary issues concerning the creation of the new organization, and would consult with other allied governments. Hull remarked that negotiations would evolve faster if the initial discussions were carried out only by the tripartite alliance. Hull considered that the involvement of other countries could lead to rivalry and jealousy. Eden and Molotov accepted this point of view, along with the proposal that negotiations should not be revealed to the public.

Official circles and the press of the three participating countries proclaimed the Moscow Conference a great success. The terms used in the joint communication entirely reflected this evaluation. The Soviet press concentrated mostly on the military decisions, which would speed the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition. Stalin made a short reference to the historical decisions made at the Conference and to the strong resolve of the three countries to act together until the final victory. Each was planning the Allied landing in France in the near future. They were thus setting foundations for cooperation on equal standing, between the Soviet Union and the other great powers, after the war.

The Tehran conference was the first meeting between the leaders of the most important countries in the anti-Nazi alliance. It was an important moment in which the delegates were able to negotiate concerning the post-war world. The organization of the conference took into account the situation on the front.

At Tehran, Roosevelt had planned to stay with the American delegation, keeping his distance from the embassies of Great Britain and the Soviet Union. However, there was a permanent worry that he would be attacked by a sympathiser of the Axis cause during one of the journeys he would have to make to the meetings. Thus, at the first conference meeting, which took place at the American delegation’s headquarters, Roosevelt accepted Stalin’s invitation to move to a villa in the Soviet’s complex.

The American delegation was made up of: F.D. Roosevelt, his son, the head of the army and of its three branches, Harry Hopkins, Averell Harriman and Charles Bohlen, General Deane, and experts.

In the British delegation were: W. Churchill, the heads of the army, General Martel, Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, Admiral Mountbatten, and experts.

The Soviet delegation included: J.V. Stalin, V. Molotov, Marshall Voroshilov, and experts.

Also present at Tehran were Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader, and Soong Mei-ling, his wife, who arrived from Cairo in president Roosevelt’s airplane.

Stalin invited Roosevelt to moderate the discussions between the three. This eased their communication. The American delegation was put in the position of referee between the British and Soviet delegations.

Roosevelt and Stalin got on well after discussions during the first meeting held in the Iranian capital. Besides the official meetings, there was also opportunity for separate discussions between leaders.

After a private meeting between Stalin and Roosevelt, it was decided that discussions could continue without a formal agenda. The conference lasted three days. A second front line needed to be opened, and it was decided that it would take place in north-western France in May, taking into account the phases of the moon. Churchill’s suggestion for a landing in the Balkans was rejected. An offensive was fixed for the south of France, to scatter the German forces from the English Channel. Stalin’s proposal was to hit Germany at its heart, in Berlin, with troops from all sides. He said that he would resolve the Balkan problem at the end of the conflict.

They agreed to the dismemberment of Germany, so that it could not recreate itself and become a danger again. It was agreed that Poland would receive part of Western Prussia in exchange for the part occupied by the Russians. Concerning the small countries, Stalin didn’t even want to hear about their rights. In order to guarantee the landing operation in France, Stalin promised to launch a big offensive on the eastern front. He promised to enter the war against Japan as soon as Hitler was overthrown. From Tehran, Roosevelt and Churchill went on to Cairo, where they had also invited the president of Turkey.

Roosevelt warned Stalin that it would be best not to mention India in Churchill’s presence. He suggested that the problem could be resolved after the war, in a different way to that preferred by the British. When the British prime minister met Stalin, he emphasised the importance of the Mediterranean for Great Britain.

In spite of appearances, it seemed that the three-way discussions were less useful than the arrangements made separately between two parties.

The main points of contention between the three were Poland and Germany. Although they accepted the Curzon line as the eastern border of Poland, settled at the end of the First World War, the western allies were not at all happy with the idea of the western border being defined by the Oder-Neisse line. They protested that this would mean the relocation of millions of Germans.

Churchill and Roosevelt did not like the fact that the Soviets would not let them get involved in Central and Eastern Europe. They considered the amounts of damages which Stalin was requesting from Germany to be excessive. They were also dissatisfied with the behavior of the Red Army, a problem in which they were however more understanding. They took into account the Russians’ experience with the German army at the moment of invasion. The brutality of the Nazi army on and off the battlefield was well known.

After he assured the western allies of all his support, Stalin imposed some conditions, which Roosevelt and Churchill accepted. Stalin’s demands concerned: modifying Poland’s borders with the USSR, increasing the USSR’s territory, supporting Yugoslav partisans and installing communist puppet governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Baltic states. The acceptance of these situations by the westerners would later lead to the outbreak of the Cold War, after the end of the World War.

Among the subjects most hotly debated at Tehran was the fate of Germany after the end of the war.

Stalin was very pessimistic about the possibility of reform for the German people. Like his allies, he was in favor of the dismemberment of Germany, fearing that a unified Germany could regain its military strength within 15-20 years.

Churchill proposed the creation of three countries: Prussia, Central Germany and Southern Germany.

Roosevelt proposed the creation of five autonomous states in Germany: a smaller Prussia, Hanover and the north-east, Saxony and the Leipzig zone, Hessa and southern Rhineland, the great duchy Baden and Wurttemberg.

The Kiel Canal, Hamburg, Ruhr and Saar must be placed under the international control of the United Nations.

Stalin was very sceptical about these two plans. It was decided that they would be sent for discussion to the European Consultative Commision.

Concerning military issues, there was much discussion about the Normandy landing. Over a million British troops would land in Normandy the following year. Roosevelt and Stalin opposed Churchill’s plan for a similar operation in the Balkans. For Stalin, it was important to reach directly into the heart of Germany. The Balkans were not a point of interest for him.

Roosevelt agreed with Churchill’s propositions, and didn’t reject the initial plan for a Balkan landing. Stalin was also a fiery supporter of the second front. However, his motives were more geopolitical than military. What Stalin found attractive about the idea of a Normandy landing, was the great distance from Eastern and Central Europe.

After the meeting, General Eisenhower was called to the Mediterranean front. He was given command of the General Headquarters of the Allied forces, which was to lead the organization of the operation.

In the later debates concerning the beginning of the Cold War, it was maintained that Stalin’s intransigence was caused by the fact that the second front was not opened on time.

On D-Day, the day of the invasion, the First American Army, under the command of General Omar Bradley, and the Second British Army, under the command of General Miles C. Dempsey, reached their objective on the beach on the French coast of the channel. The German resistance led by Erwin Rommel was strong, and the Allied positions were not as good as they had expected. Still, the powerful counter-attack Hitler had imagined did not take place that day, nor in the days that followed.

Hitler was expecting an Allied invasion in north-western Europe, which he saw as his chance of winning the war. He would have liked to get rid of the Americans and British as soon as they reached the beach, thinking that they would not try to attack again soon. Then he could throw all his forces, of which half were on the western front, against the Soviet Union. Hitler sent word to his commanders on the eastern front, that they would only receive backup after the invasion was defeated.

In northern France, the net superiority of the Allied air fleet had made the delivery of supplies - already limited - difficult. Hitler was convinced that this attack was just a distraction and that the principal assault would take place north of the Seine. As a result, he refused to retreat and insisted that back-up be brought from great distances. Eisenhower had 850,000 troops and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy.

The Tehran meeting was a key moment in the process of the creation of the United Nations.

Roosevelt proposed that the United Nations be made up of three main elements: an Assembly, with participants from all nations, discussing the problems of the world; an Executive Committee dealing with non-military problems, made up of the USSR, USA, Great Britain, China, two European countries, one South American country, one from the Middle East, one from the Far East and one dominion; and the ‘four police agents’, ie the USSR, USA, Great Britain and China, which had the task of taking immediate measures in military problems threatening world peace.

Roosevelt’s vision was not yet clearly defined. In discussions, he mentioned both a permanent organization and a provisional one. However it is very probable that he was inclined to create only a permanent organization. Stalin considered that certain European nations would not accept an organism in which China was a member, since it was not a great power.

The Soviet leader suggested creating a tripartite committee for Europe, formed of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States, and another, with four members, for Asia. Roosevelt considered this idea to be similar to the regional British project and stated that the American Senate could not approve the country’s participation in a purely European organism. Stalin asked if Congress would oppose sending American troops based on the decision of an international committee. The president emphasised that the US would only send naval and air fleets, with land troops being supplied by the Soviet Union and Great Britain.

Roosevelt’s argument was inconsistent and was determined by his desire to include China in the ranks of the great powers. Stalin came back to this issue and expressed his uncertainty about Chinese participation in maintaining international security. The president declared that he was aware of China’s current weakness. However he was taking into consideration the huge potential of this nation of 400 million inhabitants, which should be included in international cooperation, so that it would not become a source of agitation.

Roosevelt’s politics were a violent mix of American exceptionalism, Wilsonian idealism and personal intuition concerning the American psyche, which was always more attuned to universal causes than to immediate recompense.

Roosevelt’s scheme, of ‘four policemen’, which would determine and guarantee world peace, was a compromise between the traditional approach of power balance and the Wilsonianism of the councillors of the American president.

The American officials pleaded again for the inclusion of China, in order to stamp out the impression that the Great Powers were trying to obtain supremacy in the world. Since Asia was mostly transformed into colonies, it was anticipated that the acceptance of China as a great power would lead to massive decolonization after the war. Hull insisted that Moscow accept China’s status and in the end obtained their agreement. The American project also included a series of economic issues of international interest.

Roosevelt was determined to avoid a repeat of the failure of the League of Nations and the system which was built after the First World War. He wanted a form of collective security. He knew from the interwar period that collective security required the existence of powers to impose peace.

The president predicted that, immediately after the war, international security would be provided by the four great powers, the only ones which could turn to force to maintain the peace. These were all general ideas, beyond which the president did not want to elaborate. He also declared that the preventive use of air forces against aggressors did not mean that it would be necessary to maintain significant American forces abroad.

While Roosevelt wanted to apply the Wilsonian concept of world peace, Stalin’s ideas were strictly linked to the concept of realpolitik.

When an American General congratulated Stalin on the fact that the Soviet armies had reached Berlin, the Soviet leader responded drily: “Tsar Alexander I reached Paris.”

Stalin defined peace terms the way Russian heads of state had done for centuries. The USSR wanted to have the widest possible buffer of protection around its borders. For this reason, it accepted the idea of the unconditional surrender of Germany and its allies, as this would eliminate the Axis powers as a factor in the governance of the post-war world.

Churchill tried to diplomatically manipulate the USSR and the USA, which were threatening Great Britain. The American president’s support for self-governance was a challenge to the British Empire. Stalin’s attempt to thrust the Soviet Union into central Europe put England’s security at risk.

Caught between these two super powers, Churchill did all he could to support the old policies of his country. According to these policies, peace must be based on a certain balance, and the world must not be left at the mercy of the strongest and most ruthless power.

The British prime minister understood very clearly that, at the end of the war, Great Britain would no longer have the capacity to defend its own vital interests. In spite of his seeming confidence, Churchill knew that Great Britain would no longer be able to maintain peace and harmony in Europe on its own.

The authorities in London considered that the entire plan, politically and economically, was applicable to Europe, where the situation was more dangerous than in Asia. The main danger in Europe was the central position of Germany, with its great human and economic resources. European peace depended on the military and economic disarmament of Germany and on strengthening the power of the neighboring countries. Measures could include encouraging the tendencies towards federalization in Germany and the military occupation of this country.

The best guarantee for the prevention of the rebirth of German aggression was the creation of a Commission of United Nations for Europe, formed of British, Soviet, American and French delegates. Representatives of other small countries from Europe or other continents would be added later. The Commission must have wide-reaching attributes, exercising power in the name of the United Nations and resolving all disputes which could degenerate into war.

For the London government, the colonial problem was a crucial issue, the solution of which would determine whether it remained a first-class world power. In memorandum, the creation of three regional supervisory organizations in the colonial system was proposed, including representatives of the possessor state and of other countries with economic and strategic interests in the area. Thus, the colonies of south-eastern Asia could associate for economic development, but also to encourage evolution towards self-governance. The second system could be created in tropical Africa, and the third in the Caribbean Islands.

The United States’ ambivalence towards Great Britain was centred around three important issues: America’s anti-colonial tradition, the nature of wartime strategy, and the configuration of post-war Europe.

Russian or Soviet imperialism never had such a strong confrontation with the American collective conscience, as did British Imperialism. At the first meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt, the American president assured his counterpart that the principles of the Atlantic Charter would not only apply in Europe, but also in the colonies. The freedom of citizens to choose their own form of government was thus a right which also applied to the colonies of the British Empire.

In the American mindset, foreign policy and strategy were separate in national policy. According to this vision, diplomats were excluded from strategy. In contrast, for Churchill, war strategy and foreign policy were closely linked. Since the resources of Great Britain were much more limited than those of the United States, the strategies adopted were chosen so as to concentrate on the means as much as on the ends.

Important discussions concerning the future of the world took place not only between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, but also between the foreign affairs ministers of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union: Hopkins, Eden and Molotov.

At a lunch offered by Anthony Eden at the British delegation, he discussed a series of political problems with Molotov and Harry Hopkins. The Soviet minister of foreign affairs seemed less enthusiastic about the ideas for world reorganization discussed by the other leaders. He was concerned about the way in which the fate of the French Colonial Empire had been decided, which should have been an issue for the yet unformed international organization. His guests however were in favor of the dismemberment of the French empire.

Harry Hopkins had great influence over the American president. He declared that the three great powers should create a system of control through strategic security points, to offer guarantees against future enemies. In his conception, the American bases in the Philippines should not have international status, as in the case of the islands taken by the United States from Japan. From these declarations, the real American view of post-war organization was being drawn.

Molotov suggested that Bizerte and Dakar become international bases, even if France did not want to accept this. Eden opposed this, arguing that Great Britain was the traditional ally of France and that the ‘bad ones’ were Petain and Laval, not all the French.

The Pacific would become an ‘American lake’, guarded by strategic military bases and supported by Chinese troops. The Soviet Union would be allowed access to the north of the Pacific, with Great Britain demoted to second place.

France was completely excluded from any presence in the Pacific. In Europe, Great Britain and the Soviet Union would occupy first place. The United States intended to withdraw its troops from Europe, leaving European security in the hands of the Soviets and the English.

The Tehran conference had great political and military significance: it set foundations for present and future cooperation, and coordinated the action plans of the three Great Powers. The joint declaration, published at the end of the meeting, contained few references to post-war organization. It simply affirmed the desire of the three powers to continue cooperation after the war in order to ensure world peace. They acknowledged their responsibility to install peace and eliminate any danger of war, a responsibility also pertaining to the United Nations.

Churchill considered that the discussions took place in Tehran in an atmosphere of unity and friendship. For him, the significance of the conference was conferred by the Soviet Union’s acceptance to enter the war against Japan, and by the confirmation that the Great Powers would participate together in creating an international instrument for maintaining order, based on their united force. Stalin was obviously satisfied by the military decisions made at the conference. Perhaps the most satisfied was Roosevelt, who expressed these feelings in his New Year Message to the American nation.

President Roosevelt stressed the fact that at Tehran, problems of international relations were discussed from the various points of view of the participants at the meeting, and that they reached agreement. Since the Great Powers had great human, economic and military strength, the president said that ‘in the future it will be impossible for an aggressor to start another world war.’ However, in their roles, the Great Powers must only intervene as necessary, respecting the rights of each nation, great or small, and rejecting the doctrine of the domination of the weak by the strong.

The three leaders had a preliminary discussion concerning the post-war organization of Asia. Stalin was in favor of the American idea of preventing new aggression by occupying islands around the Nippon archipelago. He didn’t object to Roosevelt’s proposition that the islands with the status of mandates, given to Japan after the First World War, should enter an international regime.

After the Tehran Conference, Roosevelt asked the Department of State to present recommendations for the institution of post-war security. Thus the plan was made to create an international organization for maintaining world peace and security. Hull and his colleagues analyzed the plan, which was then sent to the White House, where it was officially approved. The plan contained the first official proposals formulated by the Department of State. These proposals sketched the main ideas of the process of creating the projected organization.

After leaving Tehran, Roosevelt and Churchill stopped off in Cairo to coordinate the Anglo-American plans, after the strategic decisions adopted at the tripartite conference.

This was the second meeting in the Egyptian capital. The first, with the code-name ‘Sextant’ took place before Tehran. This first conference was attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of Kuomintang. They discussed current military problems, a series of territorial issues, and the post-war status of China. Roosevelt was the one who declared that Hong Kong, which was a free port, should return to China.

At the second Anglo-American conference in Cairo, discussions took place concerning drawing Turkey into the war, about the Greek situation, financial reports between Great Britain and the USA, and problems concerning preparations for the landing in Europe. Sure of Soviet support in the war against Japan, Roosevelt turned his whole energy towards the European military situation.

China began to lose the military importance it had before, especially since great material effort was required to prepare and equip Chinese divisions. The analysis of financial relations revealed the extremely difficult situation of Great Britain.

At this point, the question left unsaid by the Americans comes up: how will the British be able to aspire to the role of great power in the post-war world with an exhausted economy? Even with all the doubts appearing concerning the position of Great Britain and China, the projects concerning the creation of an international post-war organization still evolved based on the idea of cooperation between ‘the four’.