The Big Three Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) and post-war controversies
Victory in May 1945 drove an aspen stake into the Nazi bloc. And if with regard to the defeated Germany, the allies in the anti-Hitler coalition decided on its collective management with the aim of denazification and demilitarization, then with the former European allies of Berlin – Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland, who retained state sovereignty, at the Potsdam Peace Conference it was decided to conclude peace treaties.
The leaders of the Big Three instructed the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), representing the USSR, the USA, Great Britain and France, to directly develop the texts of the treaties (China’s participation was provided exclusively when considering issues of a peaceful settlement with Japan, this issue was also decided by the Council, but its coverage is beyond the scope of this articles).
According to the decision taken in Potsdam, when developing peace treaties, the Council was to consist of “From members representing those states that have signed the terms of surrender”… This meant that the terms of the peace treaty with Finland were to be developed by the Soviet Union and Great Britain as powers that were at war with this country and signed the terms of the surrender of Helsinki; peace treaties with Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria – the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the USA. When considering the issues of a peaceful settlement with Italy, France was equated with the powers that signed the terms of surrender with her. Council members who did not participate in the preparation of a particular peace treaty, nevertheless, could be invited to the meeting.
The Soviet delegation at all stages of a peaceful settlement with Germany’s former allies in Europe was headed by the USSR Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov, American – Secretary of State J. Byrnes, British – British Foreign Secretary E. Bevin. The latter two, reflecting the increasingly clear course of the Western allies towards confrontation with the Soviet Union, pursued an agreed line.
This manifested itself already at the first session of the Ministerial Council (there were six of them in 1945-1946) in London in September-October 1945. Here the Soviet delegation faced attempts by the allies to revise the decisions of Potsdam. At the very first meeting, Byrnes expressed the readiness of his delegation to immediately revise the Potsdam decisions regarding the procedure for the development of peace treaties, thereby creating a precedent for revising other jointly adopted decisions. And in order to strengthen their positions, Bevin and Byrnes invited the delegations of France and Kuomintang China to be present at the talks.
The Soviet delegation firmly declared that it was not authorized to revise the decisions adopted by the heads of government, and proposed to proceed to the consideration of issues on the merits, and to return to the American-British proposal at one of the next meetings of the Council.
The conversation, in essence, also proceeded with great difficulty. Western diplomats were concerned not so much with the essence of the peace treaties as with the desire to prevent the strengthening of the influence of the USSR in the Balkans and in the Danube states. American diplomat D. Campbell put it very clearly on this score: “The United States and Great Britain are faced with a problem: will they be able to achieve in the process of peace negotiations what they so unsuccessfully sought during the truce, namely to put a foot in the door leading to Eastern Europe.”…
For example, the American delegation declared in an ultimatum that the United States will not negotiate treaties with Romania and Bulgaria until governments are established there that meet the standards of Western democracy and are recognized by the United States. The British delegation joined this American demand.
In response, V.M. Molotov was categorical: “The Romanian people like this government, the American government doesn’t like it. How to be? Is it possible that because the American government does not like the current government of Romania, it is necessary to overthrow it and impose another government that will be unfriendly to the Soviet Union? In such a case, we cannot be an assistant to the American delegation “…
The demand of Western delegations to change the composition of the governments of these two countries actually made it impossible to consider specific issues of the Romanian and Bulgarian peace treaties.
On September 22, the Soviet delegation returned the meeting participants to the question of the procedure for the Council’s work and suggested that they be strictly guided by the decisions of the Potsdam Conference. Bevin made an ultimatum statement that he did not want to take part in the discussion of this issue. The CFM work on the development of peace treaties was blocked.
On September 29, Byrnes unexpectedly came up with a proposal to convene a conference to consider peace treaties with Germany’s former allies. Byrnes proposed to include all European UN members and most of its non-European members in the conference. It was proposed to take the reports of the Deputy Ministers on the results of the London session of the Council as a basis for the discussion, that is, it was proposed to bring up uncoordinated draft peace treaties for discussion. Their final text was to be worked out by those invited states that declared war on this country.
Such a proposal was in complete contradiction with the Potsdam decisions and actually liquidated the CFM as the main authority for the development of peace treaties; if accepted, the terms of the peace would depend on the conference, where Washington and London could count on an overwhelming majority of votes at the expense of their dependent countries. Without rejecting in principle the idea of convening a conference, the Soviet delegation emphasized that this issue should be decided by those states that signed the terms of surrender.
To find a way out of the impasse, the Soviet side proposed on October 2 to sign the protocols of agreed decisions in the manner established by the Potsdam Conference, and to consider the uncoordinated issues at the next meeting, on October 3. However, by agreement of Byrnes with the head of the Kuomintang delegation, Wang Shiji, who presided that day, the latter said that the session would immediately end its work.
Byrnes, for his part, relying on the atomic “club” after President Truman, threateningly blamed the disruption of the session on the Soviet Union, which had allegedly shown “intractability.”
In a conversation with US Ambassador A. Harriman on October 24 and 25, 1945 I.V. Stalin proposed once again to try to convene a Ministerial Council meeting and work out draft peace treaties there, and only then to convene a conference of those countries that will be on the agreed list. The Allies were convinced of the advisability of such a decision. The result was the decision on a new session of the Ministerial Council in Moscow, which took place from December 16 to 26, 1945.
Here, at the insistence of the Soviet delegation, the procedure for drafting peace treaties established in Potsdam was confirmed. In addition, the participants in the session agreed that the discussion of the draft peace treaties prepared by the CFM will become the subject of a conference specially convened for this.
The question of the composition of the future conference again provoked an acute struggle. As a result, a compromise agreement was reached: the number of participants included 21 states – five great powers, as well as Austria, Belgium, Byelorussian SSR, Brazil, Greece, India, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Ukrainian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Union of South Africa. The session decided that the resolutions of the conference will be recommendations that the Ministerial Council will consider in accordance with the procedure established by the Potsdam conference, after which it will develop the final text of the peace treaties.
The last point was of the utmost importance. It meant that the Soviet delegation at the Moscow session was able to return the allies to the principles of the last conference of the Big Three. At the same time, a compromise was proposed that made it possible to overcome the resistance of Washington and London. By decision of the Moscow session of the Ministerial Council, the deputy foreign ministers were to resume work on drafting the texts of peace treaties, and the date for convening a peace conference was set on May 1, 1946. The preparation of peace treaties was completed at the third session of the Ministerial Council in New York in 1946.
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