February 06, 2010

The modern world was born in Yalta

RIA Novosti

The Yalta Conference was unique. The week from February 4 to 11, 1945, at the Grand Livadia Palace more than changed the world - it created a new world order.

This leads to a statement that perhaps inspires doubt: Yalta created the world we live in. Is this true?

Let us take a look at a visual aid - the best-known photograph of the Big Three, seated in front of the Livadia Palace, depicting, from left to right, Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Another photograph shows the three of them standing, on one of the rare occasions Roosevelt could stand in spite of his failing health. Standing in the same order, the Allied leaders look striking -the huge, bulky Churchill, the lanky Roosevelt, who was no taller than the British leader, and Stalin, with his unexpectedly small and fragile stature.

Heights and weights did matter, because conferences like Yalta determined, first of all, who would hold the most weight in the new, postwar world. The Tehran Conference, which took place toward the end of 1943, outlined the future victors' alliance. The Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945 determined Germany's fate in detail. And the Yalta Conference was for the most important thing of all -dividing the world.

In the world before 1939, the status of the United Kingdom closely matched the stature of its Prime Minister when he stood for the Yalta photograph. Political maps painted a third of the globe pink, the color used for the British colonies. Britain was the world's only superpower. It could not have occurred to anyone in Yalta that India's independence would signal the beginning of the British Empire's collapse a mere two years later, forcing the UK out of the political foreground -with the help of Stalin's and Roosevelt's successors. The idea would have appeared preposterous in February of 1945. Not a word was said about it in Yalta. Was it worthwhile to win a huge war only to lose global dominance and much else soon afterwards? That was the bizarre fate that awaited Britain after Yalta.

The United States entered the war as the "sick-man of the world" - the country where the Great Depression started. Though American economic might was only slightly less than that of Britain, the U.S. was an isolationist state with no Great Power aspirations. The task of dividing the world with Britain and the Soviet Union caught it somewhat unawares at Yalta.

America emerged as a Great Power not at Yalta, but rather soon afterwards, when the circumspect FDR was no more and when Washington obtained something that was only in the making in Roosevelt's time. This was The Bomb. The first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945, and another two were detonated, this time on humans in Japan, on August 6 and 8. That was when it occurred to Americans that they had made a bad bargain in Yalta. What did they care about the Big Three, and what did Britain matter after America now had the A-bomb, which no one else had? The Americans first realized this during the presidency of Harry S. Truman, an outstanding man who combined daring vision with a cool head. Anyway, it was not Yalta that ushered in the half-century of U.S. superiority that is now coming to an end.

Of no lesser interest is the story of the U.S.S.R. and Stalin. It is not that the U.S.S.R. was a rogue country before World War II - and what's a "rogue country," for that matter? At any rate, it was a revolutionary country with the Internationale as its anthem; a power intent on undermining the influence of other strong nations and imposing Communism on them. It possessed many tools for this purpose - suffice to mention the sprawling, spying nongovernment organization known as the Comintern.

The Comintern was disbanded and the Internationale suppressed after the Yalta Conference. What the world got instead was a normal, recognized country with the right to protect its European and Asian borders with a buffer zone of friendly, neutral states. No one said at that time that they would become socialist. The U.S.S.R. was merely giving up its schemes of world revolution for coexistence with the world. To prevent Moscow from gaining too much power, the Allies invented a muzzle for it - the United Nations, an updated version of the League of Nations, which granted the Big Three veto power in the issues of war and peace. This power was eventually expanded to two friendly victims of WWII - Chiang Kai-shek's China, which was forced to retreat to a tiny strip of land after the rest was occupied by Japan, and Charles de Gaulle's France, which had no land at all at the peak of the war. It did not occur to anyone in Yalta that China would ever turn Red with Moscow's help. The new Communist China was kept away from the United Nations for some twenty-odd years.

The abandonment of the Yalta resolutions went on. The United Nations was conceived as the victorious Allies' conference rostrum - a small organization of fifty countries. All other nations were colonies, and thus did not need to be reckoned with politically. Who would think at the time that the number of independent countries would soon reach a hundred, and that it could now be approaching two hundred? Or that the words "Europe" and "the world" would no longer be synonymous? And that the United Nations, established in an era with quite a different mentality, would become an essential factor in a new and extremely complicated world order?

After Yalta, the world order went on changing, even in matters on which the conference had crossed all its t's and dotted all its i's. Who could have thought that three occupation zones would create a new country, West Germany, in 1949, and that another one, East Germany, would emerge out of the Soviet zone five months later? More than that, Berlin went to neither, and became its own entity. No one would have admitted in Yalta that things could have taken this turn. Likewise, it never occurred to the Big Three that the unexpected developments in Germany would give rise to a new, and rapidly developing, confrontation between East and West, with a vast Third World outside.

Many think that the final breakup of the Yalta system came with the dissolution of the inviolable European borders, that is, the collapse of the U.S.S.R. As we see, things were far more complex. The Yalta system was disintegrating during the entire time of its existence. Even more amazing were the stability and longevity of the world order created by the two competing camps during the Cold War. Just as surprisingly, East and West came to terms again and again, though with huge difficulties, and the United Nations became highly reliable, with its agencies working to supplement the East-West dialogue. In fact, the system has still not entirely disappeared - some of its aspects, at least. The powers have changed greatly, and so have their strength in each other's respect - but certain principles of the world order still survive from that time, however much the entire structure has changed. It is up to a group of strong countries to settle pivotal issues, no matter what their ideology may be. In this, they proceed from the United Nations Charter and other principles. The names of the leading countries may change, but the rules of the game remain - for the time being.

Was it all done at Yalta? Or both at Yalta and afterwards? Or despite Yalta? Whatever the case, the process got its start at the Livadia Palace.

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev)

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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