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Day One at Yalta, the Conference That Shaped the World (lithub.com)
48 points by lermontov 20 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

I recommend people in the West to read more on the Yalta process. This single meeting was what set the fate of the world for the early cold war.

The parallels with today are just too much to ignore.

Some would argue that it was Bretton Woods in '44 which set the fate of the Cold War (and beyond), including setting the stage for Yalta in '45.

I agree that it was a very important process but what are the parallels with today? I think the current situation is more like 1920s and 1930s.

America made an overnight U-turn from the existing international community, which lead to creation of a new one.

Both NATO and the gradual decline of European major powers post-war was a result of that.

NATO coming to existence, and its initial strength was in many reasons due to Western European power fears that US may turn back on them too eventually.

The timidity of Western Europe on the global stage in that time period was also a result of them ceding primacy on the world stage to US.

The complete collapse of government in continental Europe immediately after WW2 along with the breakdown of social order likely had a lot to do with that.

Sure that's the case too, but most of Western Europe was spared a complete devastation, unlike Central and Eastern Europe.

A lot of them resumed their colonial ambitions, and small time squabbles within few years after the war, but they never resumed them in a way they did before WWII, and never tried to challenge US primacy.

They were very conscious of American reservations. Back in the early cold war, NATO was coming with a lot more of strings attached from US, with former great powers toning down their ambitions being one of them.

I'd be interested to hear in what ways you think it's similar to the 1920s and 1930s.

I think in the 1920s you saw a decay of established institutions, recession and consequently the rise of populists like the nazis. I think it’s very similar to that right now. A lot of people think that the system is not working for them anymore. That leaves an opening for strong leaders that explain everything by blaming problems on “others”. You see that with trump and also a lot of countries in Europe.

Yalta was about rebuilding a world system. Right now we have to be careful about existing systems falling apart.

> I think in the 1920s you saw a decay of established institutions, ...

No. The inter-war period was just a lull, as Germany was not occupied and did not feel defeated. The onerous reparations actually incentived Germany to re-ignite WW1 into WW2.

Britain and France might as well have asked for it.

> A lot of people think that the system is not working for them anymore.

Rulers don't care about people, especially Trump. Study the de Vos appointment to understand how profoundly an oligarch he is.

There’s more to it than just Germany. The postwar disillusionment with the old order and the boom/bust was amplified by things like radio and telephone.

The world moved faster, and that brought good and bad things. That’s what worries me... our institutions haven’t caught up with the internet.

Germany had hyperinflation and very unstable government. It was a bad time until hitler said “make Germany great again”.

Fraying alliances, inequality, out-of-date military doctrines, increasing American isolationism, increasing polarization, rising fascism, tension in Europe, tension in East Asia, tension between established powers and new powers...

This is something that has been bothering me lately and I am going to use your comment to extrapolate on it.

People keep comparing today to 1920's and 1930's and worried about another Hitler or WWII, but the world isn't like the 1920s or 1930s the world today is like the 1890s and the 1900s that led up to WWI.

After WWII we had pretty much every nation broken and crippled economically and militarily, there was no major power left, Hitler's conquest of Europe had much less to do with Nazism and populism and much more to do with the fact that no one wanted to pick a fight because they remembered the horrors of WWI and were anxious to avoid it. It was a leaderless world the eventually turned into a bipolar world, with a world culture that was still advancing but not as quickly as it had been 20 or 30 years ago, breakthroughs were still being made but engineering wasn't advancing like it was during the height of the industrial revolution, most everyone was much less concerned with international politics and much more interested in national politics and solving immediate problems like food and shelter, ideas of equality and social justice held much less sway than ideas about how to get people back to work.

Compare that with the days leading up to WWI. In the world at this time you had the rise of multiple powers, a multi-polar world, England, France, Germany, the Ottomans, Russia, etc. The world had changed drastically from the last major conflict, and military thinking was entirely unequipped to handle it. The world was linked by huge networks of trade agreements and multinational corporations, and Nationalism was on the rise across all the major players. Every country believed that it was big enough to really play with the big boys. In addition tensions were heightened because every country was trying desperately to outpace it's neighbors in military invention resulting in widespread espionage, and spying, because everyone knew he with the best tech would win the next war. People had jobs and world prosperity was at record levels with fewer people in poverty than ever before and consequently more people literate and with opinions on ideas like economic theory, and what made a legitimate society.

Now we have today, we have new world powers rising, India, China, Russia has moved back to a position of considerable world rather than just regional power. The EU is consolidating, the South American economy is on the rise and Africa is starting to boom. Multinational corporations have vast supply chains that stretch across the globe to produce goods as fast as they can, many governments are pushing protections and trying to tilt international agreements to the favor or their pet corporations. We have been decades since any real large scale war has occurred, we've had regional incidents which although tragic don't even approach the kind of combat seen historically. To add to all this many countries are seeing a rise in nationalism, believing their country to be the best equipped to lead into the future. Research and technology espionage is rife throughout all the world, every country desperately trying to get a leg up for the next conflict. Meanwhile more people are better off than they have ever been historically, global industry has brought many formerly impoverished nations to the forefront of manufacturing and prosperity, the brightest and best aren't flocking to just one or two major world powers but many are choosing to stay in their own country and develop it.

So let me ask you, does our world sound more like the world of 1910, or the world of 1930?

Neither. One crucial thing changed: nuclear weapons can hurt leaders as much as they can hurt their armies or their populations. We've never had such experiment in the entire history. And oh boy aren't the results just fine.

In 1910 or 1930 going to war was a breeze. There was no incentive for major leaders not to do it.

Good observation, the advent of modern technology made it much harder to have "small, victorious war".

All conflicts in between major powers risks becoming a total war, or a deep conflict very quickly.

Paradoxically, the deep economic interdependence today can actually incentivise conflict, with thinking "it will hurt them more than us"

I agree that it is well worth studying, but with the realization that much of what happened there, and afterwards, was determined by the realities of the strategic situation. For example, Stalin was going to occupy eastern Europe regardless of what transpired in Yalta.

It’s more an example of the fog of war and timing.

If the Germans collapsed a few months later or the trinity test had happened earlier, the US would have had the opportunity for a lasting victory instead of a stalemate.

Once available, the US was very willing to use its monopoly to wave the baton of atomic destruction. The constraints of finishing off Japan and the possibility of open war with the Soviets would have been very different.

> … the US would have had the opportunity for a lasting victory instead of a stalemate.

I am sure I'm missing the point, but the US (together with the other allies) did achieve a lasting victory. It surely wasn't a theoretically optimal victory, but it was unquestionably lasting (for about 70 years, apparently). Am I factually wrong, did I misinterpret your meaning, or is it something else?

> Within just weeks Stalin violated protocols signed at the conference that should have guaranteed democratic freedoms for the countries of Eastern Europe, and the Iron Curtain began to descend.

> The new United Nations organization set up at Yalta should have been able to intervene, but the voting arrangements agreed there allowed the Soviet Union, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council possessing a veto, to prevent action.

The Soviet Union had 6.4 million men along the Eastern Front [0], composed of battle hardened veterans led by brilliant generals such as Zhukov, with many millions more back in Russia that could be called into service. In 1945 there was no military force in the world that could have dislodged the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe.

In addition, while the US was developing nukes, nobody really could be sure how effective they would be. Thus, Yalta was very pragmatic in not wanting to get into a futile struggle with Stalin over Eastern Europe as well as enlist his aid in what was anticipated to be a very bloody invasion of the Japanese homeland.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_(World_War_II)#F...

If you read a little further in the article you cited, you'd see:

    Among other goods, Lend-Lease supplied:

    58% of the USSR's high octane aviation fuel
    33% of their motor vehicles
    53% of USSR domestic production of expended ordnance 
    (artillery shells, mines, assorted explosives)
    30% of fighters and bombers
    93% of railway equipment (locomotives, freight cars, wide gauge rails, etc.)
    50–80% of rolled steel, cable, lead, and aluminium
    43% of garage facilities (building materials & blueprints)
    12% of tanks and SPGs
    50% of TNT (1942–1944) and 33% of ammunition powder (in 1944)[55]
    16% of all explosives (from 1941–1945, the USSR produced 
    505,000 tons of explosives and received 105,000 tons of Lend-Lease imports)
And that is to say nothing of foodstuff.

So had the the British and Americans turned on the Soviets, they would have faced Zhukov and 6.5 million soldiers, but with limited supplies fuel and bullets.

Just for the note:

Here is the scan of original Stalin's letter to Soviet ambassador in Britain:


about situation when Britain decided to left to itself 156 American Aerocobras that was shipped to USSR as one of Lend-Lease shipments. This was before Stalingrad - at the time when Germany advance was perceived as unstoppable.

Yet to note that GB received 3 times more stuff on Lend-Lease than USSR.

My translation (as a beginner in Russian language) of Stalin's letter is:

"In negotiations with Eden on the issue of Aerocobras you acted cowardly. This is not worthy of the Soviet ambassador. The British behaviour on the question of the Aerocobras, I consider the height of arrogance. The British had no right to redirect our cargo to their account without prior consent. The reference of the British to the fact that forwarding occurred by order of America is a jesuitism(?). Not hard to understand that America acted here at the request of the British. Don't let the British think that we will tolerate the insults inflicted on us not the first time by the English rulers. Soviet government requires that 154 Aerocobras captured by the British be immediately returned to the Soviet Union. We urge you to bring this British piracy to the attention of layers of British society. I regret departure of Beaverbrook: while Beaverbrook was in charge of British supply, England faithfully fulfilled its obligations, after Beaverbrook departed England became treacherous."

Don't confuse facts with a logical argument.

Stalin didn't care if they all died charging with empty magazines.

Even if there was a force capable of pushing back the USSR in 1945, I dread to think what a retreating Soviet Army would have done to the civilian population of occupied countries.

They treated them well when they were liberating them why would they harm them if they were retreating? Did you mean scorched earth policy?

I'd use the word liberated when referring to the peoples of Western Europe. But I'd be much more hesitant say Eastern European nations were liberated... Especially considering most would be Soviet puppet states for decades to come.

Does your comment about "treating them well" mean objectively well, or merely in comparison to the Nazis?

> With the UN hamstrung ever since by these voting rules, the world continues to struggle over how to contain Russian territorial ambitions such as their recent occupation of the Crimea ...

That's funny if to take into account that this is about conference held in just liberated Crimea that was part of Russia (RSFSR) at the time.

Indeed that irony will be completely lost on most (western) readers.

"Churchill wanted to [...] ensure fair and free government in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, for whom in 1939 Britain had gone to war." Poland was left largely without help during WW2. If Britain and France would agree for a preemptive strike against Hitler the whole ordeal could be avoided in the first place. If the help would come in the 3 first months of the war, most of the destruction could be averted. Lets not forget about Warsaw uprising in which 11 old kids were fighting waiting for some sort of help to come from "allies". Percentage of the destruction was bigger than in Nagasaki, yet no brit around.

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