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Noted for Your Lunchtime Procrastination for February 7, 2015

Liveblogging World War II: February 7, 1945: Yalta

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S.M. Plokhty: Yalta: The Price of Peace:

The new Soviet documents reveal the mind-set of the Soviet leaders at the time of the Yalta Conference. If Stalin and his strategists did not entirely abandon their plans for world revolution, they significantly postponed them and were interested in peaceful relations with the West for at least twenty years. That would give them enough time to recover from the devastation of the world war and prepare for the next stage in the conflict between communism and capitalism, which they considered ineluctable. For the time being they were prepared to sacrifice the communist movements in Western Europe and wanted a quid pro quo from the West that would ensure their domination of Eastern Europe....

The new Soviet documents shed light on by far the most controversial question related to the Yalta Conference, that of the espionage activities of Alger Hiss. In the late 1940s and early 1950s it was alleged not only that Hiss spied for the Soviets but also that he had influenced some of FDR’s decisions, which were later regarded as a sellout of American national interests. New evidence from the Soviet archives supports the thesis that Hiss was a Soviet spy at the time of the Yalta Conference, but it also suggests that while he was working for the military branch of Soviet intelligence, he remained virtually unknown to its political branch until after the conference. His military handlers showed little interest in the political information that he could provide, and his performance at the Yalta Conference on political matters, including Soviet participation in the United Nations, did nothing to advance the Soviet agenda.

Owing to the activities of the Cambridge Five in Britain and the United States, the Soviet intelligence services were able to supply their masters with copies of most secret American and British documents related to the Yalta Conference. Stalin’s spymasters scored a number of impressive coups on the eve and in the course of the summit, but the handling of Hiss was not one of them.

Points on which the new Soviet sources are silent are as important as their revelations. They offer no evidence that Joseph Stalin or his entourage sought to take advantage of the poor health of the American president....

We now know that this peace was not just an armistice leading to a nuclear disaster. Both by design and by default, the Big Three managed to put together elements of an international system that helped preserve the longest peace in European history. There was a price to pay for ending the war in this way. It involved the sacrifice of publicly declared principles and the compromise of values not only officially professed but also deeply held by Western leaders. And then there was the price exacted from half of Europe, which was subjected to a new totalitarian regime, as the world was too soon engulfed in the Cold War.

How did it happen? Could the Western leaders have achieved more while sacrificing less? And, finally, are there lessons for the future?...