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World War II: The Postwar World

Ending the Conflict


World War II: The Postwar World

President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, January 1943.

Photograph is in the Public Domain
World War II: The Postwar World

General Secretary of the Communist Party Joseph Stalin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference, November/December 1943.

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress
World War II: The Postwar World

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt, & Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Confernce, February 1945.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army
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The Atlantic Charter: Laying the Groundwork

Planning for the post-World War II world began before the United States even entered the conflict. On August 9, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill first met aboard the cruiser USS Augusta. The meeting took place while the ship was anchored at US Naval Station Argentia (Newfoundland), which had recently been acquired from Britain as part of the Bases for Destroyers Agreement. Meeting over two days, the leaders produced the Atlantic Charter which called for self-determination of peoples, freedom of the seas, global economic cooperation, disarmament of aggressor nations, reduced trade barriers, and freedom from want and fear. In addition, the United State and Britain stated that they sought no territorial gains from the conflict and called for the defeat of Germany. Announced on August 14, it was soon adopted by the other Allied nations as well as the Soviet Union. The charter was met with suspicion by the Axis powers, who interpreted it as a budding alliance against them.

The Arcadia Conference: Europe First

Shortly after the US entrance into the war, the two leaders met again in Washington DC. Codenamed the Arcadia Conference, Roosevelt and Churchill held meetings between December 22, 1941 and January 14, 1942. The key decision from this conference was agreement on a "Europe First" strategy for winning the war. Due to the proximity of many of the Allied nations to Germany, it was felt that the Nazis offered a greater threat. While the majority of resources would be devoted to Europe, the Allies planned on fighting a holding battle with Japan. This decision met with some resistance in the United States as public sentiment favored exacting revenge on the Japanese for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Arcadia Conference also produced the Declaration by the United Nations. Devised by Roosevelt, the term "United Nations" became the official name for the Allies. Initially signed by 26 nations, the declaration called for the signatories to uphold the Atlantic Charter, employ all their resources against the Axis, and forbade nations from signing a separate peace with Germany or Japan. The tenets set forth in the declaration became the basis for the modern United Nations which was created after the war.

Wartime Conferences

While Churchill and Roosevelt met again in Washington in June 1942 to discuss strategy, it was their January 1943 conference in Casablanca that would effect the war's prosecution. Meeting with Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud, Roosevelt and Churchill recognized the two men as the joint leaders of the Free French. At the end of the conference, the Casablanca Declaration was announced which called for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers as well as aid for the Soviets and the invasion of Italy.

That summer, Churchill again crossed the Atlantic to confer with Roosevelt. Convening in Quebec, the two set the date of D-Day for May 1944 and drafted the secret Quebec Agreement. This called for a sharing of atomic research and outlined the basis of nuclear nonproliferation between their two nations. In November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill traveled to Cairo to meet with Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek. The first conference to primarily focus on the Pacific war, the meeting resulted in the Allies promising to seek the unconditional surrender of Japan, the return of Japanese-occupied Chinese lands, and Korean independence.

The Tehran Conference & the Big Three

On November 28, 1943, the two western leaders traveled to Tehran, Iran to meet with Joseph Stalin. The first meeting of the "Big Three" (United States, Britain, and Soviet Union), the Tehran Conference was one of only two wartime meetings between the three leaders. Initial conversations saw Roosevelt and Churchill receive Soviet support for their war policies in exchange for backing the communist Partisans in Yugoslavia and allowing Stalin to manipulate the Soviet-Polish border. Subsequent discussions centered on the opening of a second front in Western Europe. The meeting confirmed that this attack would come through France rather than through the Mediterranean as Churchill desired. Stalin also promised to declare war on Japan following the defeat of Germany. Before the conference concluded, the Big Three reaffirmed their demand for unconditional surrender and laid out the initial plans for occupying Axis territory after the war.

Bretton Woods & Dumbarton Oaks

While the Big Three leaders were directing the war, other efforts were moving forward to build the framework for the postwar world. In July 1944, representatives of 45 Allied nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH to design the postwar international monetary system. Officially dubbed the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, the meeting produced the agreements that formed the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, the meeting created the Bretton Woods system of exchange rate management which was used until 1971. The following month, delegates met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC to begin formulating the United Nations. Key discussions included the make-up of the organization as well as the design of the Security Council. The agreements from Dumbarton Oaks were reviewed April-June 1945, at the United Nations Conference on International Organization. This meeting produced the United Nations Charter which gave birth to modern United Nations.

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