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Essay/Term paper: U-2 incident

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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On May 1, 1960, two weeks prior to the United

States-Soviet Summit in Paris, a U-2 high altitude

reconnaissance airplane was shot down while flying a

spy mission over the Soviet Union. The Eisenhower

administration was forced to own up to the mission,

and Khrushchev canceled the Paris Summit. As a

result, The Cold War between the United States and

the Soviet Union continued for over 30 years.

Shortly after the end of World War II, United States

and the Soviet Union emerged as the two superpowers.

These two former wartime allies found themselves

locked in a struggle that came to be known as the Cold

War. Eisenhower saw the Cold War in stark moral

terms: "This is a war of light against darkness,

freedom against slavery, Godliness against atheism."

But the President refused to undertake an effort to

"roll back" Soviet gains in the years after WW II.

Early in his administration he embraced a policy of

containment as the cornerstone of his administration's

Soviet policy. Eisenhower rejected the notion of a

"fortress America" isolated from the rest of the

world, safe behind its nuclear shield. He believed

that active US engagement in world affairs was the

best means of presenting the promise of democracy to

nations susceptible to the encroachment of

Soviet-sponsored communism. Additionally, Eisenhower

maintained that dialogue between the US and the Soviet

Union was crucial to the security of the entire globe,

even if, in the process, each side was adding to its

pile of nuclear weapons.

The death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, two months

into the Eisenhower presidency, gave rise to hopes of

a more flexible, accommodating Soviet leadership. In

1953, Eisenhower delivered a speech underscoring the

potential human cost of the Cold War to both sides.

Hoping to strike a more compatible tone with Georgi

Malenkov, Stalin's successor, Eisenhower suggested the

Soviets cease their brazen expansion of territory and

influence in exchange for American cooperation and

goodwill. The Soviets responded coolly to the speech,

especially to the US's insistence on free elections

for German unification, self-determination for Eastern

Europe, and a Korean armistice. The two sides would

not meet face-to-face until the Geneva Summit of 1955.

At the Summit, Eisenhower asserted, "I came to Geneva

because I believe mankind longs for freedom from war

and the rumors of war. I came here because my lasting

faith in the decent instincts and good sense of the

people who populate this world of ours." In this

spirit of good will, Eisenhower presented the Soviets

with his Open Skies proposal. In it he proposed that

each side provide full descriptions of all their

military facilities and allow for aerial inspections

to insure the information was correct. The Soviets

rejected the proposal. Eisenhower was disappointed,

but not surprised. In truth, the Open Skies proposal

would have benefited the US much more than the

Soviets: the Russians already knew the location of

most American strategic defense facilities, it was the

Americans who stood to gain new information.

On the heels of the unproductive Geneva Summit, came

a 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary that strained

US-Soviet relations even further. In the face of such

Soviet aggression, Democrats in Congress were

insisting that the Eisenhower administration had

allowed a "missile gap" to develop. Their accusations

became more piercing in October 1957 when the Soviets

launched a space satellite called Sputnik. Panicked

Americans feared that a rocket that could deliver a

satellite into space could as easily deliver a nuclear


Eisenhower took a measured approach to the launching

of Sputnik. He refused to be swept up in the rush to

increase weapons production and defense spending. His

goal, he made clear, was to end what he considered a

wasteful arms race, not accelerate it. To that end,

Eisenhower instructed US negotiators to continue

working with their Soviet counterparts on an agreement

to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere. In 1959

Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed

to a September meeting in the United States to further

discussions regarding a test ban and arms reductions.

Eisenhower held out great hopes for Khrushchev's US

visit. As he began to look toward his final year in

the White House he knew time was running out on his

opportunity to end the Cold War. Khrushchev's visit

yielded promising results as the two sides agreed to

meet again in May 1960 in Paris, a city that held fond

memories for Eisenhower. But the promise of Paris

would be buried in the wreckage of a downed spy plane

called the U-2.

Since 1956, Eisenhower had authorized theU-2, an

ultra-light, high-flying spy plane, to conduct secret

reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union.

Ironically, Eisenhower approved of the flights in

order to obtain information that would crush rumors of

Soviet military superiority. The data gathered by the

U-2 might also help silence Eisenhower's critics, who

were claiming that his administration had compromised

US security. Because the Soviets lacked the

interceptor aircraft and missiles to shoot down the

U-2, the US could always deny its existence even when

it was spotted on Soviet radar. Eisenhower was never

comfortable with the provocative nature of the U-2

missions. In fact he admitted that he would consider a

similar violation of US airspace by the Soviets an act

of war.

As the Paris summit approached, the cautious

Eisenhower allowed one last flight, the longest and

most daring to date. On May 1, 1960, pilot Frances

Gary Powers left Pakistan and started his overflight

across the Soviet Union. Hours later, Eisenhower was

informed that the plane was missing. His worst fears

were coming true.

A belligerent Khrushchev announced to the world that

the Soviets had shot down a "bandit" US spy plane. He

then went on to charge the US with willfully

sabotaging the upcoming Paris Summit. Since no proof

of the pilot or Plane was presented by Khrushchev,

Eisenhower denied the charges, saying only that a US

weather plane may have accidentally strayed into

Soviet air space. Days later Eisenhower was stunned to

learn that the Soviets not only had the downed U-2

plane, but that they had captured the pilot.

Eisenhower's denials had been revealed to be


Khrushchev used the downing of the U-2 to present the

Soviet Union as the wronged party in a game of

superpower espionage. He attended the Paris Summit

only long enough to storm out when Eisenhower would

not apologize for the incident. No treaty was signed.

Eisenhower left Paris sadly convinced that US-Soviet

relations had been dealt a serious setback.

In conclusion, the end to the Cold War was apparent

in May 1960 with an agreed United States-Solviet

Summit in Paris. But the likelihood to end the Cold

War collapsed when President Eisenhower authorized a

U-2 spy plane mission over Soviet airspace which was

shot down. Because of the U-2 incident the end of the

Cold War was not securable for over 30 years.


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