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In the final days of World War II, a pivotal event took place in the Crimean Riviera, in the sea resort of Yalta. Convening on 4 February 1945, what was to become known popularly as the Yalta Conference, or the Crimea Conference, had been code named the Argonaut Conference in the months leading up to the event. The plan was to bring together the heads of state of three of the most powerful countries of the time: the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America. The event significantly impacted the direction of the war effort, and shape the destinies of a number of nations.
At the time, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (USA) were already involved in the war effort against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. A previous meeting in Tehran in 1943, the Big Three had already coordinated some war efforts that were to the mutual benefit of the three countries. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States, came to Yalta with the hope that the Soviet Union would lend support to the war effort in the Pacific and help defeat Japan. The armies of the Soviet Union, at the time of Yalta, had already breached Germany’s defenses and were making their way to Berlin.
In addition, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, was hoping to gain support from the Soviet Union for free elections and democratic style of government for Poland. Joseph Stalin, as the leader of the USSR, sought the chance to create buffer states in Eastern Europe that would serve as protecting territories both politically and geographically for the Soviet Union. All three world leaders came to Yalta with concerns that had to do with how much influence each of them would have in the post war world.
Eventually, each of the Big Three at the Yalta Conference achieved unity on at least a part of what they wished to accomplish at the Yalta Conference. The Soviet Union entered the Pacific Theater, declaring war on Japan as Roosevelt had hoped Stalin would do. The USSR joined the UK and USA forces in bringing down the Imperial fleet. Churchill got a promise for free elections in Poland, which took place in 1947, although his hope of a democratic form of government did not come to pass. By 1949, Poland was definitely a socialist state. The Soviet Union, for its part, kept control of the eastern portion of Poland, which was expected to make up for the difference by acquiring German lands along its western borders. All three left the Yalta Conference with plans to begin the establishment of a worldwide organization that would replace the failed League of Nations.
The Yalta Conference has left a lasting legacy in a number of ways. Germany was forced to undergo demilitarization and the dissolution of the Nazi Party. Well into the late twentieth century, the Berlin wall separated the country into two sections, which were remnants of the original four occupied zones that were developed for postwar Germany, with the zones being overseen by the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and France. The Polish borders were realigned and remain in place to this day. The groundwork was laid for the creation of the United Nations, which still functions as the main forum used by most nations around the world to interact with one another. The original five founding members, who included the Big Three, were granted veto power by virtue of their permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
The Yalta Conference laid the groundwork for recovery from World War II, but it did not resolve all the issues that persisted between the three countries represented at the conference. Still, the Yalta Conference played a significant role in ending the war and helping to speed the establishment of a worldwide organization that would be more effective than the League of Nations had ever been. While many historians today question the methods applied by the USA, the UK, and the Soviet Union to attain those goals, the fact is that their cooperation as a result of the Yalta Conference made much of our modern world possible.
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