Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads by Fraser J. Harbutt

Harbutt's book was published around the same time as S.M. Plokhy's "Yalta: The Price of Peace". If you're wondering which is the more interesting read, it's this one. While Plokhy used a greater amount of Russian/Soviet sources, Harbutt's analysis is miles ahead of Plokhy.

Fraser J. Harbutt's "Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads" presents an analysis that disassociates itself from previous studies. The author initially presents a thick description of Allied diplomacy before addressing the conference itself. For Harbutt, where Yalta was presented as an Anglo-American (Western) bloc attempting to confront its Soviet (Eastern) bloc at the negotiating table, he argues that "Yalta was, in many respects, essentially an American revolt against a European `order' agreed upon months before within the long-developing Anglo-Soviet nexus." Consequently, Harbutt aims to show how a confrontation originally between England and the Soviets turned into a Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States.

His main argument rests on the fact that American concerns before Yalta did not feature any interest in European affairs. Roosevelt more than once told Churchill and Stalin that American troops would be out of Europe within two years after Germany's defeat. The main contention for the United States was an agreement on the United Nations and Soviet entry into the War against Japan, points far removed from the debates over Europe. Essentially, while other authors view Yalta in light of the ensuing Cold War, Harbutt steps back and assesses the conference in the context of 1930s diplomacy, when the United States remained in its isolationist shell and England and the Soviet Union stood on the periphery of Europe, attempting to keep in place their spheres of interest.

Where previous histories have concentrated on the close relationship between Roosevelt and Stalin during the conference, Harbutt views the real bond to be between Churchill and Stalin, the two European leaders to be left standing after the American departure from the continent. Only by the end of the "war, when apparent British and Soviet excesses in the reordering of Europe forced President Roosevelt to engage more fully than he wished with the old continent's politics at Yalta" does the relationship "change significantly." In support of his argument, Harbutt makes a convincing case for why the relationship in need of attention is that of Churchill and Stalin. Before the Yalta Conference, neither statesman gave as much thought to the United Nations as Roosevelt. Their vision of European post-war security was not based "on the creation of a successor to the League of Nations or the vindication of the principles of the Atlantic Charter," instead it was based "on a steadily growing Anglo-Soviet understanding about future security from which, partly by its own choice, partly by Anglo-Soviet preference, the United States was excluded."

Throughout his monograph, Harbutt's focus remains fixed to the personalities of Churchill and Roosevelt. He portrays the American President as cognizant of the developed Anglo-Soviet bloc. As a result, Roosevelt's main aim at Yalta was to see a separation between Churchill and Stalin and initiate the creation of the United Nations, a goal he feared was endangered by the "now well-established Anglo-Soviet concert" and "its sudden display of vitality and activism", which he saw as "threatening in late 1944 to destroy public support in the United States for his policy of a postwar internationalism focused on a United Nations organization." In the end, Roosevelt was successful, but in achieving his goal he sealed the fate of both Europe and the United States for the rest of the twentieth century. "...the consequence of Roosevelt's Yalta success was not the tripartite tranquility or the beneficent Yalta Order he had hoped for, but the entanglement of the United States at last in the complex and constraining politics of Europe."

Soon after the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, according to Harbutt, Churchill was looking for a "showdown" with the Soviets through which he could "bring about a better postwar settlement." While this was not representative of the Cold War that soon broke out, American backing provided Churchill with the support he needed to face-off with Stalin. The Soviets, unknowingly, continued along a path of mutual understanding. Along with the United States, "they shared an interest in avoiding" any type of crisis. But it was Churchill who continued to expose "the as yet unresolved realities behind the delicate Polish situation that both Roosevelt and Stalin were trying in their different ways to put aside with their political embroidery." Finally, after multiple attempts by Churchill to provoke Roosevelt to action, the American President came out in favor of the Prime Minister and ignored the decisions agreed to at Yalta. FDR's mistake, according to Harbutt, was an exaggerated appeal to the public about "the ease with which...problems could now be resolved by the Wilsonian moral codes and Atlantic Charter enshrined in the Yalta documents and apparently accepted by the Soviets..." As Roosevelt tried to avoid confrontation with the Soviets he was falling into a situation beyond his control. Due to his proclamations to the public exalting the ease with which disagreements were solved, domestic support was turned away from conditions abroad. This, combined with "a Churchillian campaign to press the United States ever more strongly into an Anglo-American political front in defense of what the prime minister feared would be seen, if it were not defended, as `a fraudulent prospectus'" firmly pushed Roosevelt into committing the United States to having a stake in the future of Europe. In the end, without a British dominated Western European bloc, Harbutt contends the United States was set on a course to meet the Soviets as the new leaders of a Western European bloc, now wholly dependent economically and militarily on support from across the Atlantic.

1 comment:

gilbert said...

this book along the new book by plohky are two great additions to the history of the crimea conference of 1945