U-2 SPY PLANE INCIDENT
The Cold War can be remembered as the conflict of threats and advancement. Both the United States and the Soviet Union wanted to show their strength to the other in case a full blown war broke out between the two sides. It was a propaganda battle of communism vs. democracy. This increased a desire to know what was going on behind the scenes of their opposition, leading to the usage of spies by both sides. During President Eisenhower’s terms from 1953-1961, he was informed of rapid developments of technology in the Russian military. Alarmed of this as he was, Eisenhower approved a plan to consistently send high-altitude spy planes, known as U-2’s, on flights over USSR Military bases to try and gain information about the feared advancements.
The photos that were being provided to Eisenhower were very revealing and uplifting to Eisenhower’s opinions and feelings towards the conflict. What the photos showed was that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had vastly exaggerated the nuclear capabilities of the Russian bombs. Even though the initial intent was to simply ease the mind of the President, which had been accomplished, the CIA saw no reason to stop sending the spy planes on missions as the Soviets knew that they were there, but simply didn’t have the weapons or resources to stop them. After 4 years of spying on the military bases harm free, things suddenly changed for the spy missions. On May 1, 1960 the newly developed Zenith surface-to-air missiles were fired by a Soviet military base and they took down a U-2 spy flown by CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers.
Powers was able to bail out of the plane that was falling quickly from the air, but after releasing his parachute, he was still over Soviet land, and about to smoothly fall into the center of a major diplomatic crisis. After Powers was capture, President Eisenhower publically denied that the plane was a spy plane, simply crediting it as a weather plane that had accidentally flown off course. Khrushchev quickly refuted this claim by showing pictures of Powers and surveillance evidence that clearly showed the aircraft was a spy. The crucial point in the incident was that this further increased tension between the two sides in advance of the very important Paris Summit that was to discuss nuclear regulations on May 14. Eisenhower did take responsibility for the lying in regards to the plane, but it was not enough to mend the relationship with Soviet leadership. A mere hours after the Summit began, Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders left the Summit claiming that they could not negotiate with Eisenhower and talks of nuclear disarmament were ceased.
After two years of imprisonment, Powers was released in the first ever “spy swap” between the two sides. Even though he was returned and would go on to live a normal life as a media Helicopter pilot, the damage had already been done. If it was not for the U-2 Spy Plane Incident, it is quite possible that the Cold War and the threat of nuclear disaster could have ended much sooner than it did.