Negotiating a Postwar World Order
Even while the war was proceeding, the Allies
met to settle the details of the postwar world order. Their diplomatic
agreements, and disagreements, reached far beyond the war’s end.
The Tehran Conference
FDR and Churchill arrived at Tehran, Iran, to
meet Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943. At this
first meeting of the Big Three, the Allies planned the 1944 assault
on France and agreed to divide Germany into zones of occupation
after the war. They also agreed to establish a new international
peacekeeping organization, the United Nations.
The Yalta Conference
In February 1945, the Big Three met again in the Soviet
city of Yalta. Stalin, whose troops had overrun Eastern Europe,
had the most bargaining power at the Yalta Conference,
leaving the other Allies with much to request but little leverage
with which to force Stalin’s hand. Stalin did agree to declare war
against Japan soon after Germany surrendered and approved plans
for a United Nations conference in San Francisco in April 1945.
Discussion of reparations, large payments that Stalin demanded from
Germany that Roosevelt and Churchill opposed, was postponed.
The Potsdam Conference
After FDR’s death and the end of the war in Europe, Harry
Truman, new British prime minister Clement Atlee, and Stalin met
at the Potsdam Conference in Germany from
July 17 to August 2, 1945. Little was accomplished diplomatically,
as relations between the Americans and Soviets grew increasingly
chilly, but the three leaders did agree to demilitarize Germany and
agreed upon the concept of war crimes trials. The Potsdam Agreement
divided Germany into four zones, administrated by the Soviet Union,
France, Britain, and the U.S., and established joint administration
of Berlin, which lay well within the Soviet zone. This arrangement proved
to be a recipe for conflict in later years.
War Crime Trials at Nuremberg
The Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war
criminals began in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945. Prosecutors charged
twenty-four Germans with an assortment of crimes, including waging
aggressive war, extermination of ethnic and religious groups, and
murder and mistreatment of prisoners and inhabitants of occupied
territories. The tribunal heard testimony and saw documentation chronicling
the “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by the Nazis against European
Jews and others. The Nuremberg Tribunal concluded that though not
explicitly stated in international law, the instigation of aggressive
war was a crime and that the defendants’ claim that they were “just
following orders” was unsound because the opportunity for moral
choice always existed. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death
and seven others to prison sentences of varying length. After this
first trial, twelve more trials were held, with about 185 Germans indicted.
Only thirty-five were acquitted. The rest were sentenced to prison
terms or death.
The Postwar Settlement in Asia
After Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, American
forces under General Douglas MacArthur occupied the
country. MacArthur rigidly suppressed Japanese nationalism, held war
crimes trials, and imposed democratic norms on the Japanese government.
Under MacArthur’s supervision, which lasted until the end of occupation
in 1952, Japan became an economically powerful democracy.
Another element of the postwar settlement in
Asia was the division of Korea at the thirty-eighth parallel, an
agreement reached between the Soviet Union and the U.S. shortly
before the end of the war as part of the Japanese surrender. The
Soviets occupied North Korea and the U.S. occupied South Korea,
each supporting governments antagonistic toward each other. This antagonism
would erupt in the Korean War in 1950.
The United Nations
In April 1945, the United Nations Conference
on International Organization met in San Francisco. Delegates from
fifty countries outlined their aims for global peace and collective
security. In their charter, they created a General Assembly to make
policy and a Security Council to settle disputes. In October 1945,
the UN officially came into being, with fifty-one founding members.