Appeasement at Yalta by William Henry Chamberlin
"Appeasement at Yalta"
William Henry Chamberlin
Morally, politically and militarily the Yalta Conference of February 4-11, 1945, was held under unfavorable conditions. The Soviet armies had recently launched a successful offensive. The memory of what proved to be the last German offensive, in the Ardennes region, was still fresh. The speed with which Germany would crumble before Eisenhower's offensive in the spring was not anticipated. Singularly faulty intelligence work had conveyed the impression that Japan still possessed large and effective forces in Manchuria.
The two leading figures in the American delegation, Roosevelt and Hopkins, were in very poor health and were committed by past attitudes to the policy of trusting Stalin and hoping for the best. The newly appointed Secretary of State, Edward R. Stettinius, possessed no visible qualifications for this office except an impressive shock of white hair, an adulatory attitude toward Roosevelt and a naive faith that all international problems could be solved by a determined application of goodwill and optimism.
A measure of the political judgment of Mr. Stettinius is furnished by his expression of opinion, four years after Yalta, that the Soviet Union at this conference made greater concessions than the United States, and that Yalta was an American diplomatic triumph.
In his record of the Yalta proceedings Mr. Stettinius is effusive in his praise of one of his subordinates whose name inspires little confidence in most American minds today. Alger Hiss, according to Stettinius, "performed brilliantly" at Yalta, as in the Dumbarton Oaks conversations where preliminary details of the United Nations organization were worked out, at the San Francisco conference and the first meeting of the UN Assembly. When Roosevelt asked Stettinius to get a lawyer to consult with him on the Polish boundary statement Stettinius promptly called for this "brilliant performer."
Of the other members of the American delegation only two, Averell Harriman, Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Charles E. Bohlen, assistant to the Secretary of State and a Russian language expert who acted as translator, possessed a background of Soviet experience. There is nothing in the records of the conference to indicate that either Harriman or Bohlen did anything to avert moral and diplomatic debacle. Years later Harriman and Bohlen, nominated Ambassador to the Soviet Union by the Eisenhower Administration, were stubbornly maintaining that nothing was wrong with the Yalta Agreement except Soviet nonobservance of its provisions.
The principal decisions at Yalta, some revealed in a communiqu� after the end of the meeting, some kept secret for a year or longer, dealt with the following subjects.
Poland. It was agreed that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow substantially the so-called Curzon Line, with minor digressions in favor of Poland. This was a ratification, for Stalin, of the spoils of his pact with Hitler. Poland was to receive accessions of German territory not precisely specified.
The existing Provisional Government of Poland was to be reorganized on a broader democratic basis, "with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad." The new government was to be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity and was to receive diplomatic recognition from the Big Three powers. This government was to be pledged to "the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot."
Germany. "We are determined to disarm and disband all German armed forces, break up for all time the German General Staff, remove or destroy all German military equipment, eliminate or control all German industry that could be used for military production, bring all war criminals to swift and just punishment and exact reparation in kind for the destruction wrought by the Germans; wipe out the Nazi Party, Nazi laws, organizations and institutions, etc." It was specified in the protocol of the conference that German labor might be used as a source of "reparations." A commission with American, Soviet, and British representatives was set up to study the question of dismemberment of Germany.
The Far East. According to an agreement that was kept strictly secret at the time and that was published a year later, on February 11, 1946, the Soviet Union promised to enter the war against Japan "two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe has terminated" on the following conditions:
That the status quo in Outer Mongolia be preserved. (Outer Mongolia, nominally a part of China, had been a Soviet protected state since 1921.)
That the southern part of Sakhalin with adjacent islands be returned to the Soviet Union. That the commercial port of Dairen be internationalized, "the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union in this port being safeguarded, and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the Soviet Union restored."
That the Chinese Eastern Railway and South Manchuria Railway (the principal railways of Manchuria) be operated by a joint Soviet-Chinese company, "it being understood that the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union shall be safeguarded and that China shall retain full sovereignty in Manchuria. "That the Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviets"
Declaration on Liberated Europe. There was to be mutual agreement between the three powers to concert their policies "in assisting the peoples of the former Axis satellite states of Europe to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems." Interim government authorities were to be formed "broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people."
It was agreed that a conference to prepare the Charter of the United Nations should meet in San Francisco in April and that two of the affiliated Soviet Republics, the Ukraine and Byelorussia, should have individual seats in the UN Assembly. An agreement on Yugoslavia substantially confirmed the establishment of Tito's dictatorship, with one or two face saving reservations, which, in practice, proved quite meaningless.
A separate important compact at Yalta, signed by Major General John R. Deane, chief of the United States military mission in Moscow, and Major General A. A. Gryzlov, on behalf of the Soviet Government, provided that all Soviet citizens liberated by the United States and all United States citizens liberated by the Soviet Union should be segregated from enemy war prisoners and maintained in separate camps until they had been handed over to their respective military authorities.
Here, in brief summary, is the factual content of the Yalta agreements. What is their moral and political significance?
First, the principle of self-determination for all peoples, emphasized in the first three clauses of the Atlantic Charter, was clearly scrapped, although professions of respect for the principles of the Atlantic Charter are sprinkled through the Yalta Declaration. The Soviet annexation of Eastern Poland, of Koenigsberg and part of East Prussia and the Polish authorized seizure of ethnic German territory were clearly against the will of the vast majority of the peoples concerned. There was no pretense in any of these changes of an honestly conducted plebiscite. These decisions created millions of homeless, embittered refugees and drew frontier lines that were unjust and unnatural and a very probable cause of future conflicts.
Second, the independence and territorial integrity of Poland were sacrificed. The legitimate Polish government in London, composed of representatives of all the leading political parties in prewar Poland, was thrown over. A made-in-Moscow, communist dominated government which had come to Poland in the wake of the Red Army, received the prestige of promised diplomatic recognition by the western powers. (In actual practice the "enlargement" of this government by the addition of Poles in Poland and abroad made no change in its domination by Moscow puppets.) The Polish government in London was not a phantom. It had the undivided allegiance of hundreds of thousands of Poles who were fighting for the allied cause in the West, on land, on sea and in the air. It guided one of the most effective underground resistance movements in Europe.
It should not have been difficult to foresee how the pledges of "free unfettered elections" would work out, with Soviet-trained communists in charge of the police, the Red Army in occupation of the country and no safeguards for honest voting, such as the presence of foreign inspectors and American and British troop units, to counterbalance the effect of the Red Army. The effect of this abandonment of Poland was certain to be profound throughout Eastern Europe. For of all the countries in this area Poland had much the strongest legal and moral claim to American and British support. Polish resistance to Hitler's aggression had been the original occasion of the war. Poland had concluded an alliance with Great Britain on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities.
The treatment of Poland at Yalta offers a remarkably close parallel with the treatment of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. If one substitutes Poland for Czechoslovakia, Stalin for Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill for Daladier and Chamberlain the likeness is complete. Publicists of the Left showed (and sometimes still show) the same complacency about Yalta that some publicists of the Right displayed about Munich. There were the same distorted and irrelevant arguments to justify a shabby and dishonorable transaction, about Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia and Ukrainians in Eastern Poland. There was the same eagerness to find excuses for the rapacious dictator and there was the same impatient distaste with the protests of the victim against being murdered.
Harry Hopkins who, next to Roosevelt. bears the principal American responsibility for the Great Betrayal which reached its climax at Yalta, brushed the moral issue off with the remark: "The Poles are like the Irish. They are never satisfied with anything anyhow." And a junior diplomatic official in the United States told the Polish Ambassador that the Polish problem had to be settled because it had become "an intolerable headache"
Like Munich, Yalta must be set down as a dismal failure, practically as well as morally. For Hitler was not satiated by his acquisitions at Munich and Stalin was not appeased at Yalta. The human and industrial resources of Czechoslovakia became an asset for the Nazi war machine. Poland also, under its communist rulers, is being organized systematically against the West.
Third, the Yalta Agreement, besides foreshadowing the enslavement of tens of millions of people in Eastern Europe, represented, in two of its features, the endorsement by the United States of the principle of human slavery. One of these features was the recognition that German labor could be used as a source of reparations. This gave implied American sanction to the retention of large numbers of German war prisoners, years after the end of hostilities, as forced laborers in the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. And the agreement that Soviet citizens who were found in the western zones of occupation should be handed over to the Soviet authorities amounted, for the many Soviet refugees who did not wish to return, to the enactment of a fugitive slave law.
Fourth, the secret clauses of the Yalta Agreement which offered Stalin extensive territorial and economic concessions in the Far East as the price of Soviet participation in the war against Japan were immoral, unnecessary and unwise. These secret clauses were immoral because they gave away effective control of Manchuria, the most industrialized part of China, without consulting with or even informing the Chinese Government, an ally since Pearl Harbor. They were unnecessary because Stalin would almost certainly have entered the war without any bribe.
Moreover, it was a case of paying Stalin a second time for something he had already agreed to do, presumably in consideration of lend-lease aid and the second front, without any bribe. When Cordell Hull visited Moscow in October, 1943, Stalin proposed to enter the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany. According to Hull, this offer was unsolicited and had no strings attached to it.
Stalin repeated this promise at Teheran. But Roosevelt, without waiting for a request, suggested that the Soviet Union should have access to the key Manchurian port of Dairen. Finding Roosevelt so eager to anticipate his wishes, Stalin began to raise his price.
During Churchill's visit to Moscow in October, 1944, the Soviet dictator consented to take the offensive against Japan three months after the defeat of Germany, but on two conditions. The United States was to build up reserve lend-lease supplies for the operation and the "political aspects of Russian participation" were to be clarified.
It was typical of the Soviet attitude toward obligations that, although there were repeated promises of bases for the American air force in Eastern Siberia, no such bases were ever made available. The United States, however, continued unusual efforts to build up the Soviet military reserve stocks in Eastern Siberia.
Finally, the invitation to the Soviet Union to take over the Kurile Islands, South Sakhalin and an economic stranglehold on Manchuria was unwise, from the standpoint of American national interests. To increase what was already a prospective formidable predominance of Soviet strength in the Far East after the war by giving the Soviet Union take-off points for threatening Japan (South Sakhalin and the Kuriles) and economic domination of Manchuria was not a demonstration of farsighted statesmanship.
Even now Yalta has its defenders. They are to be found mainly among the unreserved admirers of Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy and among those who, because of wartime association with the Administration, feel that their personal prestige is bound up with the vindication of this conference. Their four principal arguments are:
(1) That Yalta gave Stalin nothing that he was not in a position to take, or had not taken, anyway.
(2) That there was moral value in obtaining such Soviet promises as "free unfettered elections in Poland" and "democratic processes" in the "liberated countries."
(3) That the Yalta concessions were necessary to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany and to
bring about Soviet intervention in the war against Japan.
(4) That the only alternative to the Yalta Agreement was the politically impossible one of going to war with
the Soviet Union.
The first of these arguments misses the political and moral heart of the Yalta issue. The question was not what Stalin might have taken by military force in Eastern Europe and the Far East, but what he could take with the approval of the western powers. The difference is extremely important. In the case of Poland, for instance, it would have been far more difficult to maintain a Soviet satellite regime if this regime had not received the endorsement of the western powers. Nor was there anything inevitable about the Soviet domination of Manchuria and North Korea. It is a reasonable assumption that a peace treaty could have been concluded with Japan months before the end of the war if there had been enough farsighted statesmanship to propose the same terms which were finally signed in San Francisco in 1951. Had this been done before the Soviet Government was able to intervene in the Far Eastern war the Korean-Manchurian door could have been bolted against Soviet intrusion.
Argument two seems to be on a par with praising a man as a financial genius because he accepted a number of bad checks from a fraudulent bankrupt. The Yalta promises were not the first international obligations on which Stalin defaulted.
The third argument is based on the assumption that Stalin's own interests did not prompt him to seek to deliver a knockout blow against the two powers which were the greatest potential checks against his ambitions, in Europe and in Asia, Germany and Japan. There was no reason to bribe him to continue a war in Europe or to start a war in Asia so clearly prompted by his own sense of interest.
Was there an alternative to the appeasement of Yalta, besides war? Of course there was. Suppose the United States and Great Britain before Yalta and at Yalta had committed themselves to a firm, uncompromising declaration that they would neither use the war as a means of territorial gain themselves nor recognize any annexations carried out by other powers in violation of the principles of the Atlantic Charter. The Soviet frontiers of 1939 (frontiers with which the Soviet Government before the war often expressed itself as entirely satisfied) and not one square foot of Polish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Rumanian, German, Chinese or Japanese territory beyond these frontiers would have been acknowledged as legal and valid.
Behind such a declaration would have stood the mightiest concentration of sea anti air power the world had ever seen, a highly mechanized army and an American war economy capable of almost unlimited further achievement. On the other side would have been a Soviet Union devastated by invasion and bled white in manpower, dependent in the final drive to victory on American trucks, field telephones, canned food and other lend-lease supplies.
Moreover, at the time of Yalta the hope of a genuine liberation from Nazi tyranny was still high in Poland and other countries of Central and eastern Europe. Except in Czechoslovakia the communist parties in these lands were tiny minority groups, with no appreciable popular following. So hated was the very name communist in Poland that the revived Polish Communist Party, which had been written off as a bad fifth column investment by Moscow in the late thirties, tried to conceal its real nature by calling itself the Workers' Party.
In view of these circumstances, in view of Stalin's habitual caution in foreign affairs, the Soviet dictator might well have renounced his designs of conquest and been satisfied with the preservation of his original realm. And if Stalin had taken a tough and negative attitude the date of the cold war would have been advanced,--very much to the advantage of the West. For at the time of Yalta the power relation was less favorable to the Soviet Union than it became later, when the Soviet Union repaired its war damage, crushed all semblance of open dissent in the satellite countries and swung China against the West. It was not the least of the sins of Yalta that it helped to blind American and British public opinion to the threat of Soviet expansion and contributed to the mood of recklessly hasty demobilization as soon as the shooting war with the Axis was over. There was no corresponding demobilization on the Soviet side.
Yalta should not be regarded as an isolated accident or a piece of black magic. It was a consequence, as well as a cause, a consequence of the dry rot of appeasement which was already well advanced at the time of the Teheran Conference, if not earlier. But Yalta will be remembered as the climax of a gravely mistaken course in foreign affairs. It was the supreme example of giving Stalin an unlimited diplomatic blank check, of deserting friends and favoring enemies in the vain hope of appeasing a regime which, by its nature and philosophy, is unappeasable.