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Bernard Weiner: The Secret "Percentages Agreement"

The Secret "Percentages Agreement"


From: Bernard Weiner's Blog
May 19, 2005

Turns out that my Ph.D. dissertation -- that tome yellowing in a closet upstairs -- contains information that corrects Bush's ignorant distortions about World War II history. Bush, in Europe recently for ceremonies marking the end of that war, revived the old conservative canard that the U.S. and Britain "gave away" Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Bush compared the Yalta Agreement to Chamberlain's Munich capitulation and to the Hitler-Stalin pact. He couldn't have been more wrong.

And, even though there were numerous corrective articles since Bush's May 7 speech in Riga -- see here, here, and here -- none of them mentioned the key element of the wartime meetings between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin: the so-called "percentages agreement."

Few know about this episode -- in fact, few in government at the time were brought into the loop about it, it was such a closely guarded secret -- and I'm happy to share it here, based on the research done for my dissertation, the essence of which involved the origins of the Cold War.

As war in Europe was heading toward a victory for the Americans, Brits and Russians, the Big Three had to figure out the post-war geopolitical landscape. At a meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow in 1944 (which may or may not have included Roosevelt's representative Averill Harriman), Churchill, on a half-sheet of paper, improvised some numbers that would indicate which ally should have what share of responsibility in the various countries -- "take the lead" was the euphemism -- both in the immediate situation and, by implication, after the war was over.

Churchill, the ultimate realist, realized that the Soviet Union had many millions of troops on the ground in Eastern Europe, and in no way was he going to convince President Roosevelt that America should take on that Red Army while the Allies were still trying to defeat Germany and Japan.

HERE ARE THE NUMBERS

Churchill, interested in protecting what he could of the collapsing British Empire, kept Greece in England's "sphere of influence" and, acknowledging that Stalin already had Eastern Europe in his grasp, OKd the Soviet Union "taking the lead" in that region. Churchill wrote Roosevelt that they might as well acknowledge the realities on the ground in Eastern Europe since "neither you nor we have any troops there at all, and [the Soviets] probably will do what they like anyhow."

The percentages agreed to by Stalin and Churchill, and acquiesced to by Roosevelt, included the Soviet Union "taking the lead" in Eastern Europe at 50% in Yugoslavia, 90% in Rumania and so on in Hungary, Bulgaria, et al.; Great Britain would "take the lead" in Greece at 90%. During the rest of the war, the three allies scrupulously abided by the "percentages agreement." Stalin believed he had been given carte blanche in Eastern Europe, and likewise that Churchill could do what he wanted in Greece.

Realizing that carving up Europe into zones of influence might not look good if the word got out, Churchill suggested to Stalin that maybe it would be a good idea to burn the half-sheet of paper with the percentages on it. (Stalin said it was OK for Churchill to keep it.)

At Yalta in 1945, worried about what Stalin might do in post-war Eastern Europe, the Americans and English tried to ameliorate the situation by having everyone sign a "Declaration on Liberated Europe," promising democracy and all other good things. But Stalin saw the document as little more than a piece-of-paper formality; he didn't let that stop him from setting up the protective satellite-state governments in Eastern Europe, which eventually became the Warsaw Pact alliance.

And, the U.S. and Great Britain, not anxious immediately to fight another major war, this one against their Soviet ally, and anxious to rebuild their own war-torn societies, did little but bluster against Stalin's post-war tactics in Eastern Europe. (In truth, Stalin saw the Eastern European satellites as a strategic buffer between the Soviet Union and the West; he gave no indication that he was interested in moving militarily into Western Europe.)

JOSH MARSHALL GETS TO THE NUB

Josh Marshall sums up the controversy:

"In making this argument [Bush joined] a rich tradition of maniacs who believe that at the end of World War II we should have joined with the defeated remainder of the German army and fought our way through Eastern Europe to the border of Russia and, in all likelihood, on to Moscow to overthrow the Soviet Union itself -- certainly not a difficult proposition considering what an insubstantial land Army the Soviet Union had at the time.

"If that seems like an over-dramatic alternative scenario, then you just aren't familiar with the history of the period.

"Roosevelt didn't hand the Baltics, Poland and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact countries over to Soviet rule. The Red Army was there in force already. The question was whether we were able and willing to remove them by force.

"The president also makes common cause, though whether he's familiar with the history he's wading into I don't know, with those who argued before the war and after that the US and the UK made their fundamental error in the war itself, by allying with the Soviets against Nazism rather than with Nazism against the Soviets."

Bush, for whatever partisan motive, chose to revive this historical period in his Riga speech -- as seen through a dated, Cold War, anti-Communist prism -- but he got a good deal of his facts wrong.

And now you know the Rest of the Story.

*************

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, blogs on The Crisis Papers ( www.crisispapers.org/features/bw-blogs.htm ), which he co-edits.


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