The Yalta Conference was an inter-Allied meeting to discuss Germany and the reorganization of post-war Europe. During the meeting, US President Franklin D. Roosvelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin met near Yalta, Crimeea. Roosevelt certainly tried everything – including straightforward flattery – to try to bring Stalin round to a reasonable stance on any number of important post-war issues, such as the creation of a meaningful United Nations, but he overestimated what his charm could achieve.
The Allied leaders met in a series of sessions which have gained more fame — or notoriety — than perhaps they deserve. Most of the major diplomatic choices were prefigured at the Tehran Conference, and the most contentious political issue between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies — the fate of Poland and Southeast Europe — had been effectively settled between Tehran and Yalta by the occupation — or liberation — of practically the whole of that area by the Red Army in the interim. If one major factor overshadowing the Yalta deliberations was the control which the Soviet Union in fact already exercised over almost all of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the other side of the coin was the British control of Greece, and American and British predominance in Italy, France, and most of the Low Countries.
The Western Powers had become increasingly committed to a major role for France in post-war Europe. With very great reluctance, Stalin agreed to an occupation zone for the French in Germany but insisted absolutely and successfully that this zone be carved out of the zones allocated to the United States and Great Britain. The Soviet Union was not about to give up any portions of the territory assigned to it; Stalin may well have thought of France as simply a satellite of the Western Powers. Furthermore, it was only after Roosevelt changed his mind on the subject of assigning France a place on the Allied Control Council for Germany that Stalin also agreed to this.
Rosvelt had taken to Yalta the new Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, and he carefully explained the United States compromise proposal at the meeting when Stalin claimed not to have studied it beforehand. Although on this point the Soviet leader, to the enormous relief of the American delegation, agreed to accept the proposal to the effect that the great power veto would not apply to procedural matters, he insisted on another concession: earlier the Soviets had asked for sixteen seats (and votes) in the Assembly of the United Nations, one for each of the constituent Soviet Socialist Republics in the USSR. The Americans had objected, but the British, who wanted a place for India as well as for each of the self-governing Dominions, were not so sure. Now Stalin insisted on two extra votes, one each for the Ukrainian and the Belorussian SSRs; the British agreed to the demand, and the Americans reluctantly went along.
The future of Germany was certainly a major topic of discussion. The agreement on occupation zones, previously worked out in the European Advisory Commission, was approved with the addition of a French zone. An Allied Control Council, meeting in Berlin, would set policy, but other than the aims of de-nazification and de-militarization, there was little agreement on what to do. The Soviet Union and the Western Powers interpreted ‘democratization’ very differently. Since the line between the eastern and western zones had been agreed upon, the extent of territorial cession to Poland would, in effect, be left to the Soviets. The line of the Oder and western Neisse would come to be the new border.
Since Stalin had originally promised to join the war in East Asia for a suitable price after the defeat of Germany, several major changes had taken place in that war. The Americans and Australians had made major advances in the Southwest and the Central Pacific theaters and the British had defeated the Japanese in Burma, but the fighting had been exceedingly bloody and bitter. Now Roosevelt obtained not only Stalin's promise to join the war against Japan two to three months after the end of hostilities in Europe, but also two concessions highly important for the Chinese government. Stalin agreed to help the Chinese Nationalists and he recognized that, once cleared of Japanese troops by the Red Army, Manchuria would be returned to Chinese sovereignty.
Two secondary topics were also dealt with at the conference. The effort to bring some representatives of the Yugoslav government-in-exile into the new regime being established by Tito proved unsuccessful. An agreement with more dramatic repercussions was that designed to assure the return to Britain and the United States of their many soldiers who had been captured by the Germans and kept in prisoner of war camps overrun by the Red Army. In return for assurances on their prompt repatriation, the Western Powers committed themselves to returning to the Soviet Union all Soviet citizens — prisoners of war, forced laborers, or those who had agreed to serve in or with the German army.
In subsequent years, the Yalta Conference came to be denounced as a sell-out to the Soviet Union, especially in the United States where, in the first great wave of revisionist writing on war-time relations between the Allies, American leaders were accused of giving away everything to the Russians. Later, when a new group of revisionists asserted that those same leaders had in fact been plotting against the Soviet Union during the same period when earlier critics thought they were plotting with her, the emphasis came to be on the concessions made by the Soviet Union. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to take a view which sees the three Allies as trying hard for an accommodation of divergent ideologies and interests, with the great problem being that some of the agreements reached were not afterwards carried out, so that the high water mark of cooperation was followed by new crises rather than more steps toward continued working together.