The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Tehran conference, code-named Eureka, was the first of a series of strategic conferences to take place between the premier of Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, and the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the height of the Second World War.
From the 28th of November to the 1st of December 1943, the three men discussed and deliberated on the requirements to win the war against the Axis powers, Nazi Germany, Italy, and Imperial Japan. This conference is particularly significant since it addressed the thorny issue of opening a second front in Europe and is considered the first such meeting with an agenda regarding the formation of an international organization to prevent the disruption of the world order.
Prelude of Events Leading up to the Conference
The Second World war marked yet another failure of the International relations, merely two decades after the end of the previous war. With numerous parties and their sights on the same objective, it is safe to assume that the war reached a tipping point where, further action; be it by the United States, the British Empire, or by the Soviet Union would ultimately lead to friction, mutual distrust and the possible inability of the Allied Nations to win against the Axis Powers. This inference is attributed to a very basic difference of ‘ideology’ of the allied nations; the United States and the British Empire as pioneers of Democracy, while the Soviet Union remained a staunch believer of Communism.
Earlier in 1941, during the German conquest of the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood the importance of counting Marshal Stalin as an ally and subsequently offered assistance to the Red Army. However to ensure the British public didn’t misinterpret this as a softening stance against Communism, Churchill, in a radio transmission clarified that his alliance with the Soviet Union did not change his stance against Communism. Stalin keenly observed the incident and secretly knew he could not trust his newfound allies wholeheartedly, but recognized that at the time, they needed to stand together against the seemingly unstoppable war machine of Nazi Germany.
Following this, there also remained the looming question on and willingness of the Western Allies to create a second front in Europe to ease pressure on the Red Army, which had been single-handedly pushing back the German invasion. Finally, the lack of a common goal and a common understanding with regards to reforming a war-torn Europe led to this conference.
THE THREE LEADERS FIND COMMON GROUND
The conference was set to begin on the 28th of November 1943 at 1600hrs (4 PM) in the Soviet Embassy in Tehran. Stalin, who had been proposing a Western Front from the beginning of 1941 to disperse the concentrated focus of the German Army (Wehrmacht) on his nation’s western border began the conference knowing that he had accomplished his main objective of the meeting. This objective was to take the reins of the conference, through the clout he had earned through the defense and victory of Stalingrad.
Using this to maneuver he was able to get the other two leaders into mounting an invasion of Nazi-occupied France in May 1944. Roosevelt and Churchill, besides planning for the future of the war, attended this meeting to keep in check the wishes and interests of the Soviet Union in terms of Western Expansion in the event of an Allied victory, as Stalin was persistent on the revision of the Polish borders.
Adding on to this declaration, it would be worthwhile to mention the non-aggression Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939 signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Under this pact, the two nations agreed to divide Poland, with the Soviet Union to advance into various territories of Poland, passing the Curzon line. Roosevelt and Churchill, eager to keep Stalin in good humor, agreed that the Soviet Union could occupy the territories granted in the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact.
In addition, the recently independent states of Iran and Turkey were discussed in great detail with the ‘Big Three’ agreeing in supporting the nations in terms of economic assistance as the conference had declared that the nations of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union recognize the difficulties faced by the nations due to the war. The reason for this declaration and interest in the nations was to gain their participation in the war on behalf of the allies.
A few noteworthy events that are to be treated with importance in our recollection of such an important conference was the request posed at Churchill and Roosevelt by Stalin to execute fifty thousand to a hundred thousand German officers and the war criminals be tried according to the Moscow Declaration which marked the beginning of a series of four declarations by the Allied Nations regarding their struggle against Axis Forces and the future of the Free World.
The Moscow Declarations were four declarations signed during the Moscow conference of 1943 in October, which were signed by all allied nations. The most important of which was the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security, in which the allies promised to continue hostility against the Axis nations and the declaration on the status of Italy.
After the ousting of Mussolini from power in May of 1943, the Allied Powers decided that fascism and its influence should be destroyed and the Italian people were to be given every opportunity to establish a stable government without foreign intervention. This declaration sounds controversial due to a very eye-catching detail, the Republic of China which would become a hub of fascist ideas, and up north, Soviet Union would remain a symbol of Communism for years to come. In other words, this declaration portrays that, against a common aggressor, nations are willing to forget their differences.
1st December 1943, marked the day when the three leaders came together to agree on declarations and with special importance given to the future of many nations who, at the end of the war would become independent.
Conclusions of a political nature were also made, between Stalin and Churchill about the future territory of Poland. It was agreed and settled on the Curzon line in the east and the Order-Eastern Neisse line in the west, Roosevelt was asked to be excused from this discussion, for he feared that due to his involvement he would be unable to secure the Polish votes back in the United States in the upcoming 1944 elections. This decision was put into effect only at the Potsdam Conference of 1945.
The Aftermath of the Conference
The Tehran Conference was not just a meeting of the most powerful individuals of the 20th Century, rather a precedent for the end of the century and the beginning of the 21st century. The United States of America, The British Empire, and the Soviet Union, all found themselves neck to neck in the race of getting on the driving seat of the world after the war. The United States and the USSR would find themselves clutching the driving wheel as the United Kingdom struggles at the seat.
In conclusion, this conference marked the very first diplomatic dialogue at the highest level of governance with a common agenda for the betterment of the whole world. It also determined the personal and professional relationship that these men shared. Some would also say, that due to this meeting; how the Western allies would go on to perceive the USSR given Stalin’s demand for Poland and Sphere of influence in Eastern Europe in a post-war era.
However, the dialogue did not end after the Tehran Conference, rather it saw the ‘Big Three’ attend two more such conferences, namely; The Yalta Conference of February 1945 and the Potsdam Conference of July 1945.
Written by Nilabha Mukherjea