Yalta is unfinished business. It has a longer past and it may have a more ominous future than is generally recognized. Forty years after the fateful Crimean meeting of February 4-11, 1945, between the Allied Big Three of World War II, much of our current preoccupation with Yalta focuses on its myth rather than on its continuing historical significance.

The myth is that at Yalta the West accepted the division of Europe. The fact is that Eastern Europe had been conceded de facto to Josef Stalin by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as early as the Teheran Conference (in November-December 1943), and at Yalta the British and American leaders had some halfhearted second thoughts about that concession. They then made a last-ditch but ineffective effort to fashion some arrangements to assure at least a modicum of freedom for Eastern Europe, in keeping with Anglo-American hopes for democracy on the European continent as a whole. The Western statesmen failed, however, to face up to the ruthlessness of the emerging postwar Soviet might, and in the ensuing clash between Stalinist power and Western naïvete, power prevailed.

Yalta's continuing significance lies in what it reveals about Russia's enduring ambitions toward Europe as a whole. Yalta was the last gasp of carefully calibrated Soviet diplomacy designed to obtain Anglo-American acquiescence to a preponderant Soviet role in all of Europe. At Yalta, in addition to timidly reopening the issue of Eastern Europe, the West also deflected, but again in a vague and timorous fashion, Soviet aspirations for a dominant position in the western extremity of the Eurasian land mass.

Yalta thus remains of great geopolitical significance because it symbolizes the unfinished struggle for the future of Europe. Forty years after Yalta that struggle still involves America and Russia, but by now it should be clear that the issue is unlikely to be resolved in a historically constructive manner until a more active role is assumed by the very object of the contest, Europe itself.


The setting for Yalta was prostrated Europe. That once globally dominant civilization had committed historical suicide in the course of two devastating wars fought within the span of a mere quarter-century. When the two leaders of the British and American democracies met with the Georgian tyrant of the Great Russian Empire to resolve the future of Europe, continental Europe was absent from the deliberations. In the meantime, much of Europe's future was being decided on the ground, by the great extra-European armies pushing from the east and the west into Germany, the heart of Europe.

Until Yalta, the key issue perplexing the wartime alliance was Poland, the key to control of Eastern Europe. Thereafter, the issue has increasingly been Germany, the key to control over Western Europe. Poland represented to Moscow the gate to the West, and thus the Kremlin in its wartime diplomacy adopted an attitude of utter intransigence on the question of Poland's future. Though in his memoirs Churchill later described the Polish issue as "the first of the great causes which led to the breakdown of the Grand Alliance," neither he nor his Atlantic partner, President Roosevelt, seemed to grasp the central strategic importance of the Polish issue; nor was either of them inclined to exploit Russia's initial weakness to obtain a satisfactory resolution of the Polish-Soviet dispute, initiated by the Soviet seizure of almost half of Poland in 1939 as a result of the Stalin-Ribbentrop agreement.

Stalin correctly saw in the territorial dispute the opportunity to transform Polish independence into dependence on Moscow. So did the Poles. Prior to the Teheran meeting, the Polish prime minister desperately warned Churchill (as recorded by Sir William Strang on September 9, 1943) that "what was at stake between Poland and Russia was not merely a question of frontiers but a question of general relations and indeed the question of the survival of Poland as an independent state. . . ." 1 A month later, Foreign Minister Anthony Eden reported to the British War Cabinet that the Polish prime minister had told him on October 6, "The general attitude of Stalin towards Poland, towards Germany and the Free German movement and towards questions touching other occupied countries, as well as his record and his whole mentality, implied more extensive ambitions than ambitions only in the eastern provinces of Poland which were strategically important to Poland but in no sense vital to Russia." Finally, on the eve of the Teheran meeting, Eden briefed the War Cabinet on November 22 that the Poles feared "that Russia's long-term aim is to set up a puppet government in Warsaw and turn Poland into a Soviet republic. . . ."

The British took a more benign view of Stalin's goals. Eden assured the Poles "that British experience suggested that Stalin was much less intransigent . . .," and his internal memorandum on preparations for the forthcoming Teheran Conference makes it clear that the United Kingdom was prepared to satisfy Stalin's territorial goals in the hope that this would produce acceptable political arrangements. If anything, the Americans were even more inclined to gratify Stalin. In keeping with the foregoing, at Teheran in late November and early December 1943, both Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to changes in the Polish frontiers, without any further consultation with the Poles, and more generally conceded to Moscow a preponderant role in the Balkans.

To make matters worse, while pressing the Poles to make territorial concessions to Moscow in the hope of assuaging Russian desires, the British and Americans were unwilling to offer the Poles any assurances regarding compensation in the West. Adopting the position that changes in Germany's frontiers must await the end of the war, London and Washington made the Polish plight more desperate. As a result, most Poles simply refused any compromise on the grounds that a truncated Poland could not survive as an independent entity, while others, shocked and embittered, increasingly saw in Moscow the only sponsor of major Polish territorial acquisition of German territory as a compensation for what was to be absorbed by Russia. The price, however, was the inevitable emergence of Polish dependence on Russia, and through it Soviet domination over Eastern Europe.

By the time of Yalta, not only was Poland occupied by the Red Army, but a new government, sponsored by Stalin, had been installed in Warsaw. At Yalta, the West exacted Soviet promises that the Soviet-installed government would be enlarged and would hold free elections, following which the West would recognize it, but Western leaders agreed not to have any binding obligations regarding the elections inserted into the joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference. As a result, how free elections were to be organized remained an exclusive Soviet prerogative, with the outcome thereby predetermined. (Indeed, the Western powers recognized the Warsaw government in mid-1945, even though—contrary to the Yalta agreement—no elections had been held.)


By finally foreclosing the issue of Poland in Russia's favor, Yalta opened the battle for the future of Germany. Eastern Poland had been incorporated into the Soviet Union, but the West continued to oppose major Polish expansion at Germany's expense. The Russians at first hesitated in deciding how extensively they ought to support Polish claims. But at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, following Germany's final collapse, Stalin apparently concluded that with his armies firmly implanted in the middle of Germany he could afford to satisfy Polish needs (thereby permanently cementing Polish dependence on Russia), while continuing to wage his struggle for a preeminent Soviet role in Western Europe.

For Stalin, that struggle was the vital substance of his wartime alliance with the West. Late in 1943, on the eve of the Teheran Conference, Stalin, whose armies were then still fighting on Soviet soil, had succeeded in obtaining Western accord for a major Soviet role in both postwar Germany and Italy, and Western acquiescence to the scuttling of the Polish-Czechoslovak plans for a Central European confederation which might have presented an obstacle to Soviet domination over the region.

The Teheran Conference further nurtured Stalins's grandiose hopes that the British would be unable and the Americans unwilling to oppose his larger designs, which he revealed cautiously, while continuously probing the intentions and the will of his British and American interlocutors. Throughout, Stalin and his associates skillfully played on the anti-imperialist sentiments of the Americans to weaken the British role in any postwar arrangements and on the British rivalry with France to make certain that no center of effective power would emerge in postwar Western Europe. In the Soviet interpretation, Roosevelt's penchant for speaking of the world's "four policemen" could have had only one geopolitical meaning: America's central concern would be the Western Hemisphere, a weak China would be preoccupied with its own problems, and a bankrupt Britain would be enmeshed in its imperial dilemmas, leaving most of Eurasia to the care of the fourth policeman.

In testing Western reactions to his design, Stalin used as bait two somewhat varying schemes for Europe. Though one will never know to what extent these plans were alternative scenarios or competing concepts, both plans provided for a major Soviet role in all of Europe. The two options were succinctly summed up in a conversation on August 31, 1943, between British Foreign Minister Eden and the Soviet ambassador to London, Ivan Maisky, as reported by Eden:

. . . Maisky continued that there were two possible ways of trying to organize Europe after the war. Either we could agree each to have a sphere of interest, the Russians in the East and ourselves and the Americans in the West. He did not himself think this was a good plan, but if it were adopted we should be at liberty to exclude the Russians from French Affairs, the Mediterranean and so forth, and the Russians would claim similar freedom in the East. If, on the other hand, we would both, and the United States also, agree that all Europe was one, as his Government would greatly prefer, then we must each admit the right of the other to an interest in all parts of Europe. If we were concerned with Czechoslovakia and Poland, and the United States with the Baltic States, then we must understand Russian concern in respect of France and the Mediterranean. . . . 2

The latter variant was apparently advocated at least until Yalta by Maxim Litvinov, the former Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs and former ambassador to Washington. Postulated on the unstated assumption that America would disengage militarily from Europe but that at least a semblance of congeniality between the Soviet Union and its principal wartime allies would continue even after the war, and bound to appeal to the idealistic American dislike of spheres of influence, the plan envisaged not only a Soviet role in all of occupied Germany but in effect a thinly camouflaged arrangement for a Europe dominated indirectly by the Soviet Union, the only effective power in the region. British influence was to be confined to several narrow maritime enclaves, France was to play a negligible role, while continued Soviet-American accommodation would be tacitly premised on American noninvolvement in European affairs. There can be little doubt that the Soviets took seriously Roosevelt's repeated hints both at Teheran and even later at Yalta that the United States would not maintain a postwar military presence in Europe. Given their ideological cast, they must also have been reassured by Roosevelt's tendency to speak privately to Stalin in most negative terms both of the British and of the French, seeing in that confirmation of their theory of "inherent capitalist contradictions."

The alternative to this strategy of domination through Western acquiescence was associated with Litvinov's principal rival and successor at the helm for foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov. It took more for granted that an American-Soviet collision would eventually occur, presumably after the expected U.S. disengagement from Europe and probably in the context of sharpened intercapitalist conflicts. Molotov's alternative strategy of exclusive control by fait accompli put more emphasis, therefore, on directly subordinating eastern Europe and as much of central Europe as possible, while vigorously asserting Soviet claims to a major role in the West and to a coequal veto-wielding status in relations with the United States. In more specific discussions regarding postwar arrangements for Germany, Stalin was careful to keep his options open. At times he seemed to be favoring a central German government, at other times he would opt for the fragmentation of Germany into several constituent states. In either case, he was always insistent that the Soviet Union have a major say in all of Germany, while making certain that no major West European power was reconstituted.

As the Soviet armies marched westward, Stalin's claims became more explicit both territorially and politically. In addition to retaining everything seized during the collaboration with Hitler, by late 1944 and early 1945 the Soviet Union made territorial demands on Norway (Bear Island and the Spitzbergen) and regarding the Far East (southern Sakhalin, the Kurile Islands, and a preponderant role in Manchuria and Outer Mongolia). Stalin also sought a share in controlling Tangier and a slice of the Italian colonies on the Mediterranean, in addition to proposals for joint action against Franco's Spain and increased political pressure on neutral Switzerland and Sweden. This was followed later by demands for territorial concessions by Turkey. Moreover, the Soviets consistently spoke of France as totally demoralized and worthless, underlining the proposition that Europe was a political vacuum.

Anglo-American surprise and protracted failure to come to grips with the scope of these Soviet ambitions is all the more remarkable when one considers the extent to which Stalin's aspirations mirrored traditional Russian goals. Indeed, they so closely replicated Tsarist objectives in World War I that one may suspect that old Russian planning papers were disinterred for Stalin's and Molotov's use. Some 30 years earlier, in late 1914, the Russian Council of Ministers had also considered the related problems of Poland and of Russian postwar objectives. The majority report focused on the restoration of a Polish kingdom, but under Imperial Russian sway, as Russia's major postwar objective. However, the minority report prepared by the more reactionary members went beyond that priority and defined Russian war objectives much more ambitiously.

Russia's general aims were stated as involving the "strengthening of Russia herself, in an ethnic, economic and strategic way"; in addition to "the possible weakening of Germanism as the chief enemy of Slavdom and Russia at the present time"; and to "the possible liberation of other Slavic peoples from the authority of Germany and Austria-Hungary (insofar as such liberation does not conflict with the direct interests of Russia)." To accomplish the above, Russia was to attain the following specific goals in order of importance:

(1) Completion of the historic task of uniting all sections of the Russian people by reuniting eastern Galicia, northern Bukovina and Carpathian Rus' with Russia.

(2) Realization of the historic tasks of Russia in the Black Sea by the annexation of Tsar'grad (Constantinople) and the Turkish Straits.

(3) Rectification of the borders of the Russian state at the expense of East Prussia and also in Asiatic Turkey.

(4) The weakening of Germany internally in every possible way by means of her complete territorial reconstruction on a new basis, with a possible decrease in Prussian territory to the advantage of France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Denmark and the smaller German states as well, and, perhaps, the restoration of the Kingdom of Hanover, Hesse-Nassau, etc.

(5) Unification and liberation of Poland within the widest possible boundaries, but, in any case, within limits which are ethnographic rather than historic (which would be contrary to the basic interest and entire history of Russia).

(6) Liberation of the remaining Austrian Slavs. 3

What is striking about these war aims, drafted by the more nationalistic and reactionary members of the Council, is their identity with Soviet post-World War II objectives defined by Stalin and Molotov. Every one of the objectives became Stalin's: the incorporation of parts of Polish Galicia never previously held by Russia and of Czechoslovak Sub-Carpathia were identical with the first 1914 goal; the second objective was denied to the Soviets, but they did press for it in their conversations with the Western allies (presumably recalling that in the spring of 1915 France and Britain had conceded as much to Tsarist Russia); the third objective was obtained in East Prussia (again a surprise to Westerners), and the Soviets in 1945 pressed for territorial concessions from Turkey but without success; the fourth was achieved in a different form in Germany; the fifth pushed Poland further west than was thought possible in 1914 but with functionally the same result—the creation of a Poland highly dependent on Russia for its territorial integrity.

One can thus classify Soviet wartime objectives as falling into three categories: first, recovery of the territorial status quo ante as of June 1941; second, securing politically acquiescent regimes in east-central Europe; third, gaining a preponderant voice regarding the political organization of the rest of Europe. The Soviets were totally unyielding and quite open about the first objective; they were prepared, however, to camouflage the second objective if it served to promote the attainment of the third goal. It is easy to forget how uncertain at the time was America's postwar role in Europe, while American unwillingness during wartime to focus concretely on postwar issues fortified the expectation that it would again turn inward. As Soviet forces moved westward, their pursuit of the second objective became more brazen, and it assumed brutal manifestations when it dawned upon the Soviets that there might not be an American acquiescence to the attainment of the third objective. That realization dawned on Stalin and his colleagues with increasing intensity after Yalta.


Yalta can therefore be said to have initiated the postwar struggle for Europe. Yet it was hailed in the West as an unmitigated diplomatic triumph, foreshadowing a period of prolonged East-West accommodation. Forty years later this very same Yalta continues to evoke equally simplistic—though opposite—emotions. It is now the synonym for betrayal. At the time its decisions were said (according to a New York Times editorial of February 13, 1945) to "justify and surpass most of the hopes placed on this fateful meeting . . . they show the way to an early victory in Europe, to a secure peace and to a brighter world."

Sumner Wells might be accused of some partiality when he announced (in The Washington Post on February 28, 1945) that ". . . the Declaration of Yalta, whatever the future may bring forth, will always stand out as a gigantic step forward toward the ultimate establishment of a peaceful and orderly world." But even such an experienced observer as Walter Lippmann was not to be outdone. Writing in The New York Herald Tribune on February 15, 1945, Lippmann informed his readers that Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt "have checked and reversed the normal tendency of a victorious coalition to dissolve as the war, which called it into being, approaches its end. . . . The military alliance is proving itself to be no transitory thing, good only in the presence of a common enemy, but in truth the nucleus and core of a new international order."

Skeptical voices were few and far between. The Wall Street Journal warned on February 16, 1945, that the Yalta deal on central Europe "can only lead to increasingly unsatisfactory relations between the United States and Russia"; while a perceptive Frenchman, Andre Visson, (writing in The Washington Post on February 18, 1945, in an article entitled "Big Powers and Small Nations") noted that the United States was finally becoming committed to the future of Europe and was showing signs of a willingness even to contest the Soviet domination over Eastern Europe-unlike at Teheran, where it seemed uninterested in postwar arrangements and willing to settle for "the division of Europe into two zones of influence."

In fact, Yalta was the last effort by the wartime partners to construct the postwar world jointly. Unlike Teheran, where Churchill was still clearly Roosevelt's equal, at Yalta the lead was taken by the Americans, foreshadowing the bipolar world that was in fact emerging. The real collision at Yalta was between Roosevelt's well-meaning vagueness about arrangements for Europe's postwar future and Stalin's studied vagueness about the extent of Russia's desire to dominate that future. The former desperately wanted to believe in postwar cooperation while the latter deliberately exploited that faith to create facts on the ground while pressing for Western acceptance of Soviet claims in both the west and the far east of the Eurasian continent.

As a result, the Yalta declarations were manifestly escapist in character. The provisions regarding free elections in Poland were at best a transparent fig leaf for outright Soviet domination, while the rhetoric concerning future peace simply obscured the emerging and very basic differences between the major powers. However, that rhetoric did serve to further delude Western public opinion regarding Russia's true intentions, thereby making it more difficult for the Western democracies to cope effectively with the emerging East-West confrontation.

By failing to construct an agreed-upon world, while in effect sanctioning the concessions made earlier at Teheran, Yalta became subsequently the symbol of Europe's partition. The follow-on meeting at Potsdam was merely a contentious session to carve the spoils. It was at Yalta that the Westerners belatedly had their first inklings that the concession of Eastern Europe to Soviet domination might be the beginning of the contest for central and Western Europe, while to Stalin Western reticence regarding satisfaction of the wider Soviet goals foreshadowed a more difficult political struggle than apparently anticipated earlier. Henceforth, the increasingly overt preoccupation of Soviet policy became one of driving the United States out of Eurasia.


That preoccupation has endured for the 40 subsequent years—and today it is still the central motif of Soviet foreign policy. Its concomitant is the determination to prevent the emergence of a genuine Europe motivated by shared political will. The last four decades, however, also reveal an important strategic lesson: what has come to be seen as the legacy of Yalta—namely the partitioned Europe—can only be undone either in Soviet favor through Litvinov's more subtle design of domination through acquiescence, or to Europe's historical advantage by the emergence of a truly European Europe capable both of attracting Eastern Europe and of diluting Soviet control over the region. America does not have the power or the will to change basically the situation in Eastern Europe, while crude and heavy-handed Soviet efforts to intimidate West Europe merely consolidate the Atlantic connection.

Of the two principal sides, it has been the Soviet that has sought much more persistently than the American to achieve a geopolitical breakthrough, settling the fate of Eurasia. Yalta had stimulated Soviet anxieties that America might not in fact disengage totally from Europe; Potsdam reinforced them, while the subsequent announcement of the Marshall Plan confirmed Moscow's worst fears: America, contrary to Stalin's hopes and expectations, was becoming implanted on the continent, de facto checking the expansion of Soviet power.

Subsequent history has been punctuated by more overt and direct Soviet efforts to challenge that reality head-on—above and beyond the relentless attempts to undermine it. The political campaign against the Marshall Plan, and Stalin's open decision to keep both Czechoslovakia and Poland out of it, were undertaken in the context of the strategic conclusion that not only would America remain engaged in European affairs but that a protracted political conflict was now inevitable. The subsequent Berlin crisis was thus an important test of will, designed to challenge America's suddenly improvised determination to play a major role in the truncated Germany.

It is important to be clear about it: neither Stalin's blockade of Berlin, nor Khrushchev's Berlin crisis of a decade later, was about Berlin itself. In both cases, the stake was the American security connection with Western Europe. This is why both Stalin and Khrushchev were willing to risk even a period of very high tension—dangerously high tension—with America, something which Berlin itself did not merit. Had the Soviets prevailed, Germany would have been panicked, and the vaunted American commitment to the defense of Europe would have been rendered impotent. The geopolitical effect of a Soviet success in Berlin would have been to establish Soviet paramountcy over Western Europe.

Though the two Berlin crises were the most overt indicators of the enduring Soviet determination to sever the Atlantic security connection, Soviet diplomacy throughout the postwar era has pursued also the cardinal objective of ensuring that a geopolitically vital Europe does not surface as a competitor or even as a neighbor. Soviet foreign policy—using all its diplomatic leverage as well as such overt and hidden tools as the West European Communist parties and the myriad of fellow travelers—has been active in opposing such schemes as the European Defense Community, and it has above all persistently tried to place obstacles in the way of the Common Market's evolution toward a political personality. Even if Western Europe cannot be severed from America, it must at least be kept divided and weak.

The commitment to the goal of expelling America from Europe is not just lingering in the Kremlin. It animates the current Soviet leadership, a leadership more Stalinist in substance than any since 1953. Attempting to exploit the West European "peace movements" and unease regarding the anti-Soviet rhetoric of the Reagan Administration, the current Soviet leadership decided to elevate the INF (intermediate-range nuclear forces) issue into a new test of will, again making the Atlantic security connection the ultimate stake. The Soviet decision to refuse to negotiate with the United States on arms control issues unless the United States dismantles and removes its Pershing IIs and ground-launched cruise missiles is tantamount to an attempt to impose on America a public humiliation with wide-ranging strategic consequences. It is the functional equivalent to the earlier Berlin crises.

But the Soviet leadership has again overreached itself. Its heavy-handed tactics contributed to the defeat of the neutralist Social Democratic Party in Germany, to the discrediting of the unilateral disarmers in the Labour Party in Britain, and to the strong show of solidarity with America displayed by Europe on this issue. (Parenthetically, one may add that almost simultaneously the present Soviet leadership has stimulated in Japan the highest degree of anti-Sovietism since World War II.) It did so because it overestimated the depth of the neutralist sentiments and the extent of the West European, even the German, stake in the East-West détente. It may also have overestimated the impact on West European public opinion of the greatly increased Soviet strategic power, especially in comparison to the Berlin crises of the late 1940s and the late 1950s. The Soviet leaders may have calculated that the combination of a specifically West European interest in détente with the growing fear of Soviet military power (especially with the massive deployment of the SS-20s targeted on Western Europe) might stampede the West Europeans—even if not the Americans—into a unilateral accommodation. They thus relied too much on simple political intimidation.

Nonetheless, in addition to noting Soviet persistence in seeking to achieve the subordination of Western Europe, it is important not to be overly reassured by the Soviet failure. For that failure is due more to the crudeness of the Soviet tactics than to the resilience of Western Europe. The fact is that Western Europe as such has not emerged politically. In that respect the Soviet Union can be said to have achieved at least a part of what it has been seeking since Yalta. In the meantime, the continued division of Europe breeds growing resentment not only of the direct Soviet domination over Eastern Europe but also of the American role in Europe, a situation which more skillfull Soviet diplomacy could at some point more intelligently exploit.

The political reality is that America cannot undo Europe's partition, but the existence of that partition intensifies the American-Soviet rivalry which in turn perpetuates the partition. Though America has at times sought to loosen the bonds that both tie and subordinate Eastern Europe to Moscow, at the truly critical junctures America has chosen not to contest Soviet domination directly. American policy has aimed at carefully encouraging the peaceful evolution of a somewhat more pluralistic Eastern Europe, a process that is bound to take time and which can periodically be reversed by force, as through martial law in Poland in 1981. However, when the East German regime collapsed in 1953, when Hungary arose in 1956, when Czechoslovakia peacefully emancipated itself in 1968 only to be invaded by Soviet armed forces, the United States adopted a passive posture masked by anti-Soviet rhetoric. Whether more could have been done is debatable, but that not much was done is undeniable.


American prudence is one reason why the Europeans sense that America cannot undo the division of Europe. The other reason is even more basic. America cannot undo the partition of Europe without in effect defeating Russia. And that the Russians must and will resist firmly—just as the direct expulsion of America from Western Europe would be resisted by America as an intolerable defeat. At the same time, the partition of Germany in the context of the partition of Europe makes both partitions a live issue. It ensures a continuing political struggle for the future of Germany and thus for the future of Europe. It locks America and Russia into a strategically central conflict, but with the stakes so high that neither can countenance a direct defeat. With divided Germany thus serving as the permanent catalyst for change, the issue of the future of Europe remains a live issue, despite the stalemate of the last 40 years.

The situation might have been altogether different if the division of Europe had not entailed simultaneously the division of Germany. If instead of the Elbe the geopolitical American-Soviet frontier had been fixed on the Rhine or on the Oder-Neisse line, the division of Europe into two spheres of influence would have been neater and politically easier to maintain. With the Rhine as the dividing line, the West European rump would have felt so threatened by the Soviet presence, backed by a Sovietized Germany, that henceforth its enduring preoccupation would have been to insure the closest possible ties with America, forgetting altogether about the fate of the Soviet-dominated central and eastern Europe. If, on the other hand, Soviet sway had been extended only to the Oder-Neisse line, the Poles and the Czechs would have been so fearful that an American-backed Germany might resume its traditional Drang nach Osten that the partition of Europe would have been of very secondary concern.

As it happens, the existing stalemate is increasingly resented by all Europeans. The Germans—no longer dominated by feelings of war guilt, less mesmerized by the American ideal, distressed by the failure of Europe to become an alternative to divisive nationalisms—are naturally drawn to a growing preoccupation with the fate of their brethren living under an alien system. The notion that the destiny of a united Germany depends on a close relationship with Russia is not a new one in German political tradition. Frustration with the nation's division is giving it a new lease on life.

Moreover, for Germany especially but also for Western Europe as a whole, the East holds a special economic attraction. It has been the traditional market for West European industrial goods. As Western Europe discovers that in its fragmented condition it is becoming less competitive with the high-tech economies of America and Japan, the notion of a special economic relationship with the East becomes particularly appealing. The fear that America may be turning from the Atlantic to the Pacific has in this connection a self-fulfilling and a self-validating function: it justifies a wider economic, and potentially even a political, accommodation between an industrially obsolescent Western Europe and the even more backward Soviet bloc, a logical consumer for what Western Europe can produce.

More than most Europeans, the East Europeans, no longer expecting American liberation, long for a genuine Europe, which would free them from the Soviet yoke. That longing explains the extraordinary standing to this day in Eastern Europe of de Gaulle—simply because he raised the standard of "Europe to the Urals." It explains also the special appeal of the Pope, whose vision of Europe's spiritual unity has obvious political implications. But the East Europeans will settle for half a loaf if they cannot have the whole. Faced with the choice of exclusive Soviet domination, only occasionally contested by American policy, or of at least growing ties with even a politically weak Western Europe, the East Europeans clearly prefer the latter.

To register all of this is not to say that Europe will simply drift into a separate accommodation with the Soviet Union, fulfilling long-standing Soviet ambitions. It is to note, however, the potential and growing West European susceptibility to a Soviet policy based more on Litvinov's prescriptions than on Stalinist practices. A Soviet policy designed to exploit more subtly the continued absence of a united Europe, the mounting American frustration with the low level of the European defense effort, and the inevitable appeal of escapist notions regarding disarmament, nuclear freezes, and the like could have a significant impact on both American and European public opinion. Indeed, under certain circumstances, one can even envisage a spontaneous American inclination to disengage from Europe, with conservatives advocating it out of irritation with European unwillingness to do more for common defense, and with liberals propounding it because of their current tendency to deal with difficult security matters by evasion. The U.S. deficit will, in any case, drive Congress toward a more critical look at the cost of the U.S. NATO commitment.

In Europe itself, such a more subtle Litvinov-type Soviet policy would aim not at the dismantling of NATO as such but at depriving it of any political or military substance. Exploiting the duality of German feelings and the growing ties between Bonn and East Berlin, it would seek to transform Germany into a quasi-neutral member of NATO, thereby alarming and further fragmenting Western Europe. Instead of concentrating on trying to inflict on America a visible and direct political defeat in Europe, it would play on European unwillingness to associate itself with America in the wider global and ideological rivalry with Russia, in order to achieve European acquiescence to a subordinate relationship with Moscow.

It is not self-fulfilling pessimism to note that a Europe dependent militarily, fragmented politically, and anachronistic economically remains a Europe more vulnerable to such blandishments. In brief, a sustained Soviet peace offensive poses the greater danger that Moscow finally might succeed in splitting Europe from America and thus, taking advantage of Europe's continued historical fatigue, attain finally a Yaltanized Europe.


As President Mitterrand put it some two years ago, "tout ce qui permettera de sortir de Yalta sera bon. . . ." But how to escape from Yalta? Forty years later, there must be a better option for both Europe and America than either a partitioned and prostrated Europe that perpetuates the American-Soviet collision, or a disunited Europe divorced from America acquiescing piecemeal to Soviet domination over Eurasia. And there is such a third option: the emergence of a politically more vital Europe less dependent militarily on the United States, encouraged in that direction by an America guided by a timely historic vision, and leading eventually to a fundamentally altered relationship with Eastern Europe and with Russia.

This third option requires a long-term strategy of the kind that the West simply has not devised in dealing with the enduring post-Yalta European dilemma. The point of departure for such a long-term strategy has to be joint recognition of the important conclusion which the experience of the last several decades teaches: the historic balance in Europe will be changed gradually in the West's favor only if Russia comes to be faced west of the Elbe rather less by America and rather more by Europe.

Thoughtful Europeans realize, moreover, that the future of Europe is intertwined with the future of Germany and of Poland. Without spanning, in some non-threatening fashion, the division of Germany, there will not be a genuine Europe; but continuing Russian domination of Poland makes Russian control over East Germany geopolitically possible. Thus the relationship between Russia on the one hand and Germany and Poland on the other must be peacefully transformed if a larger Europe is ever to emerge.

Both Americans and Europeans must also face up to the implications of the fact that the division of Europe is not only the unnatural consequence of the destruction of Europe in the course of two world wars; in the long run it is also an inherently unstable and potentially dangerous situation. It is likely to produce new explosions in Eastern Europe and it could also generate a basic and destabilizing reorientation in Western Europe, especially since for many Europeans the existence of the two alliances across the dividing line in the middle of Europe is seen as an extension of superpower efforts to perpetuate the status quo.

Accordingly, concentration on the purely military dimension of the East-West problem, or trying to get the West Europeans to hew to the U.S. line in the Middle East or in Central America, is not going to preserve Western unity. America has to identify itself with a cause which has deeply felt emotional significance to most Europeans. Undoing the division of Europe, which is so essential to its spiritual and moral recovery, is a goal worthy of the Western democracies and one capable of galvanizing a shared sense of historic purpose.

But that objective, so essential to Europe's restoration, cannot be accomplished as an American victory over Russia. Nor will it be achieved by an explicit Russian acceptance, through a negotiated agreement, of Eastern Europe's emancipation from Russian vassalage. Moscow will not yield voluntarily. A wider Europe can only emerge as a consequence of a deliberately but subtly induced process of change, by historical stealth so to speak, which can neither be quickly detected nor easily resisted.

The West must shape that process and give it historical direction. As the point of departure for seeking the common goal, one can envisage a strategy combining five broad political, economic and military dimensions. Some involve relatively simple acts and can be summarized succinctly; some require more complicated processes of change, are bound to be more controversial, and thus require a fuller justification.

First, on the symbolic plane, it would be appropriate for the heads of the democratic West as a whole, perhaps on February 4, 1985, to clarify jointly, through a solemn declaration, the West's attitude toward the historic legacy of Yalta. In publicly repudiating that bequest—the partition of Europe—the West should underline its commitment to a restored Europe, free of extra-European control. It should stress its belief that there now exists a genuine European political identity, the heir to Europe's civilization, which is entitled to unfettered expression. It should affirm the right of every European nation to choose its sociopolitical system in keeping with its history and tradition. It should explicitly reject and condemn Moscow's imposition on so many Europeans of a system that is culturally and politically so alien to them. Finally, by drawing attention to the positive experience of neutral Austria and Finland, it should pledge that a more authentic Europe would not entail the extension of the American sphere of influence to the European state frontiers of the Soviet Union.

Second, and in direct connection with the renunciation of Yalta's burden, the West should simultaneously reconfirm its commitment to the Helsinki Final Act. This is absolutely essential, for otherwise the repudiation of Yalta could give the Soviets the convenient argument that the territorial integrity of Poland and of Czechoslovakia is thereby again endangered. The Helsinki agreements confirmed the durability of the existing frontiers in central and eastern Europe, and the eastern nations must be reassured on this score. At the same time, the Helsinki agreements legalized and institutionalized the notion that the West has a right to comment on the internal practices of East European governments and that respect of human rights is a general international obligation. Accordingly, the repudiation of Yalta's historic legacy should be accompanied by the reaffirmation of the West's commitment to peaceful East-West relations, to the maintenance of the existing territorial status quo, and to the indivisibility of the concepts of freedom and human rights.

Moreover, reaffirmation of the continued Western commitment to the Helsinki Final Act could help to resolve the potentially fatal European ambivalence regarding Germany. The fact is that, while the Europeans resent their historic partition, they fear almost as much a reunited Germany. Therefore, the renunciation of Yalta's legacy—the division of Europe—should be accompanied by an explicit pledge, through the reaffirmation of Helsinki's continued relevance, that the purpose of healing the East-West rift in Europe is not to dismantle any existing state but to give every European people the opportunity to participate fully in wider all-European cooperation. In that context, the division of Germany need not be undone through formal reunification but by the gradual emergence of a much less threatening loose confederation of the existing two states.

Third, much in keeping with the spirit of these symbolic acts, Western Europe should strive to create the maximum number of opportunities for East European participation in various all-European bodies. There is today a proliferation of such institutions, both private and public. East Europeans should be encouraged quietly but systematically to increase their participation—even if initially only as observers—in such bodies as the European Parliament, as well as the myriad of more specialized technical agencies. The fostering in Eastern Europe of the European spirit, and of greater East European recognition that there is more to Europe today than meets the eye, is clearly in the interest of all Europe. But a new burst of energy in this regard is much needed.

It would also be appropriate for the major West European nations, as well as for America, to sponsor during the Yalta year of 1985—on either a private or public basis—a series of seminars and conferences on the future of post-Yalta Europe. A special effort should be made to invite East Europeans to participate, on whatever basis is possible, in deliberations designed to forge during that year a wider consensus on how best to undo peacefully Yalta's legacy.

In addition, Western Europe should reactivate efforts previously initiated but lately dormant designed to encourage closer contacts and eventually even some form of collaboration between the Common Market and Eastern Europe. In different ways, both East Germany and Yugoslavia today have practical relationships with that important West European entity. Precisely because the present Soviet leadership has stepped up its efforts to integrate Eastern Europe into COMECON and thus to bind it to the Soviet economy, additional initiative on the part of the Common Market is now badly needed. Even if the East Europeans, under Soviet pressure, were to rebuff such Western efforts at closer contacts, exchange of information and some cooperative projects, the Western initiative would still have a positive effect. The recent East German willingness to risk Soviet displeasure at growing inter-German ties reflects the widespread desire as well as economic need of Eastern Europe for closer links with the rest of Europe. The continued economic stagnation of the Soviet-type economies makes the timing for greater Western activism in this regard particularly propitious.

Fourth, and in no way in conflict with the preceding, Europe should intensify its aid to those East Europeans who are struggling actively for the political emancipation of Eastern Europe. That struggle is the necessary concomitant and at least partially also the cause of evolutionary change in Eastern Europe. Only too often do West European well-wishers of a more independent Eastern Europe look askance at those in the East who undertake more direct forms of struggle. While cultivation of East European officials enjoys a certain fashionable prestige in Western circles, tangible assistance to those resisting totalitarianism is viewed only too frequently as somehow "in the spirit of the cold war."

Yet a division of labor between America and Europe in which the former is seen as alone in supporting dissident "subversion" while the latter engages exclusively in official courtship would be self-defeating. West Europeans should undertake to provide support for some of the activities that America has quite generously, for Europe's sake as well as for its own, sustained for more than three decades. The French recently have done so for the Polish Solidarity movement, and so have some other Europeans. Radio Paris has been gaining more East European listeners. But much more needs to be done. Germany, for example, after Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in effect endorsed Wojciech Jaruzelski's martial law in Poland, confined itself to truly humanitarian private philanthropy; it has not been as active as it could be in sustaining various forms of East European political activity designed to induce the existing regimes to transform themselves.

In subtle but sustained fashion West Europe could aid the East Europeans in such efforts, because in the age of transistors and mass communications totalitarian control can be pierced, with positive political effect. Western Europe should, after all, be a direct partner in the struggle for Europe's future, and a well-funded Franco-British-German-Italian consortium (a Foundation for a Post-Yalta Europe) to aid East European efforts to emancipate peacefully the eastern portion of Europe would be an appropriate and long overdue contribution.

Fifth, the time has come for a more fundamental rethinking of the relationship between Western security and political change in Europe as a whole. The West can make the needed adjustment, and America—since it plays the central military role—should take the lead to that end. America is needed in Europe to deter Russia not only from military aggression but from political intimidation. That is obvious and it justifies NATO and the American military presence on the continent. But an American military presence that reduces the incentive for the Europeans to unite politically, yet simultaneously increases the incentive for the Soviets to stay put militarily in central and eastern Europe, is a military presence not guided by a subtle political-historical calculus. A more sensitive calibration of the political-military equation is needed in order to safeguard Western Europe while promoting change in the East-West relationship.

If Europe is to emerge politically, it must assume a more direct role in its own defense. A Europe that plays a larger defense role will require a lesser, or at least a redefined, American military presence. A Europe that can defend itself more on its own is a Europe that is also politically more vital, while less challenging to the Soviet Union from a purely military point of view, than a Europe with a large American military presence in its very center. Such a Europe would then be better able to satisfy the East European yearning for closer association without such association being tantamount to an American defeat of Russia.

But Europe must be prodded to move in that direction. Left as it is, Europe's cultural hedonism and political complacence will ensure that not much is done. Even the modest 1978 NATO commitment to a three percent per annum increase in defense expenditures was not honored by most European states. America should, therefore, initiate a longer-term process to alter the nature of its military presence in Europe gradually, while making it clear to the Europeans that the change is not an act of anger or a threat (à la the Mansfield resolution) but rather the product of a deliberate strategy designed to promote Europe's unity and its historic restoration.

Ultimately, the United States in NATO should be responsible primarily for offsetting Soviet strategic power, thus deterring both a Soviet attack or nuclear blackmail. But on the ground, the defense of Europe over the next decade should become an even more predominantly European responsibility. The needed process of replacing gradually but not totally (and certainly not in Berlin) the U.S. ground combat forces could perhaps be accelerated if, through the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions talks or otherwise, the Soviet Union were willing to reciprocate by comparable withdrawals of its own ground forces. But, in any case, it should be accompanied by appropriate European efforts to assume greater responsibility for the defense of Europe not only on a purely national basis but through enhanced European defense coordination.

The United States should particularly encourage efforts at increased Franco-German military cooperation and eventual integration. France has a historic awareness of a European identity while Germany chafes under Europe's partition. A Franco-German army would have the manpower, the resources, and the fighting potential to pick up the slack created by a gradual decrease in the American combat presence on the ground. The eventual fusion of these two national forces into a joint combat force would represent a giant step toward a politically more vital Europe, yet a Europe which would be less conflictual with the Soviet Union than a Europe hosting a large U.S. army and less threatening to Eastern Europe than a Europe with a powerful separate German army. A gradually reduced U.S. ground presence would in turn create pressure from even the existing East European regimes for a commensurate Soviet redeployment, thereby gradually creating a more flexible political situation.

To move Europe in this direction, the United States will have to take the first steps, even perhaps unilaterally through a ten-year program of annual cuts in the level of the U.S. ground forces in Europe. But these steps should be taken in the context of an articulated strategy that has a constructive political as well as military rationale. Its political purpose should be openly proclaimed: to create the setting for Europe's restoration and, through it, also for a more stable East-West relationship. It would also have to be made clear that some American combat forces would remain in Europe, as they do in Korea, thereby ensuring immediate American engagement in the event of hostilities. Moreover, continued American strategic protection of Europe should not remain confined only to the possible employment of nuclear weaponry. It should over time, with technological advance, be enhanced to include also some strategic defense. As strategic defense for America becomes more viable, it should be a major American goal to extend some of its protection to Europe as well.

A division of labor in NATO along the foregoing lines would make it much easier to consider by Yalta's fiftieth anniversary also those East-West security and political arrangements which at the moment seem premature, unrealistic, or excessively threatening to America or to Russia. These could include demilitarized or nuclear-free zones or extension of the Austrian-type neutrality to other areas, including later even to a loosely confederated Germany. It would encourage a process of change permitting the latent or frustrated West and East European impulses for the restoration of Europe gradually to surface. Eventually, it would permit Europe to emerge, and to play a major role on the Eurasian continent, along with the Soviet Union, India and China, while helping to ensure through its links with America that no single power dominates that geopolitically vital continent.


The fiftieth anniversary of Yalta is only ten years away. It should be our shared goal to fashion by then political-military arrangements which, instead of perpetuating the division of Europe—and perhaps even prompting West Europe's political decay, create the preconditions for peacefully undoing Yalta. A Western Europe essentially self-reliant in regional defense, while covered by the U.S. system of nuclear deterrence and also eventually by U.S. strategic defense, would be a Western Europe more capable of pursuing a positive policy toward the East without fear of domination by Moscow. In the final analysis, only Europeans can restore Europe; it cannot be done for them by others.

To be sure, Moscow will resist the aspirations of the Europeans. No empire dissolves itself voluntarily—at least not until it becomes evident that accommodation to gradual dissolution is preferable to the rising costs of preserving the imperial system. So it will be also with the Soviet empire. Moscow will violently protest any Western disavowal of Yalta's legacy and will accuse the West of worsening East-West relations; that is only to be expected. But such public disavowal is the necessary point of departure for more focused efforts by all the Europeans gradually to undo their continent's division. Once that historic commitment has been made, these efforts, as recommended here, need not be either aggressive or initially even very explicit. As time passes, with the organic growth of a larger Europe gathering momentum, it will become more and more difficult for the Kremlin to resist a process that over time may acquire the hallmarks of historical inevitability. At some point, then, even the Soviets may find it useful to codify some new neutrality arrangements in central Europe and to reduce and eventually to remove their occupation forces.

One should not underestimate in this connection Moscow's adaptability. Despite his ruthlessness, even Stalin accommodated himself to the reality of an independent Catholic Church in Poland; Khrushchev to a Polish peasantry free from collectivization and to a separate Romanian foreign policy; Brezhnev to "goulash communism" in Hungary and to army rule in Poland. Why then should not the next generation of Soviet leaders be pressed also to come to terms with the fact that even the interests of the Soviet people would be better served by a less frustrated and oppressed east-central Europe, partaking more directly of the benefits of all-European cooperation?

As divided Europe enters the fifth decade after Yalta, it is important to reiterate that undoing Yalta cannot involve a precise blueprint or a single dramatic initiative. The shape of the future cannot be reduced to a neat plan, with specific phases and detailed agreements. Rather, it requires an explicit commitment and a sense of strategic direction for a process of change that is bound to have also its own dynamic. In any case, for America the emergence of a more vital Europe would be a positive outcome, for ultimately a pluralistic world is in America's true interest. Moreover, such a development would avert the major danger that if Yalta's legacy is not deliberately—though peacefully—undone in the East, it will eventually become the reality in the West. In other words, Yalta must be consigned to Europe's past if it is not to become Europe's future.

1 This, and the other documents cited, are contained in the very useful collection edited by A. Polonsky, The Great Powers and the Polish Question, London: L.S.E., 1976. See also V. Mastny, Russia's Road to the Cold War, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

2 Polonsky, op. cit.

3 Gifford D. Malone, quoting Russko-pol'skie otnosheniia v period mirovoi voiny (Moscow, 1926), in Russian Diplomacy and Eastern Europe, 1914-1917, New York: King's Crown, 1963, pp. 20-21, 139-140

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  • Zbigniew Brzezinski was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1977 to 1981. He is currently Professor of Government at Columbia University and Senior Adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. His most recent book is Power and Principle. Copyright (c) 1984 by Zbigniew Brzezinski.
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