During the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear war, there were numerous occasions when the United States and the USSR seemed to be on the brink of open warfare. These episodes, which did not escalate, are usually referred to as "standoffs." Two such episodes were the U-2 Spy...
During the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear war, there were numerous occasions when the United States and the USSR seemed to be on the brink of open warfare. These episodes, which did not escalate, are usually referred to as "standoffs." Two such episodes were the U-2 Spy Plane incident of 1960 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Beginning in the late 1950s, the United States sent jets to fly over Soviet airspace and look for nuclear facilities. The U-2 planes, in a program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), supposedly would not be detected because they flew at very high altitudes. In May 1960, a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was flying from Pakistan to Norway by passing through Soviet airspace. USSR forces shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile. The plane crashed, but Powers survived and was captured.
Initial US denials of its function—pretending it was a weather flight that had veered off course—only worsened the situation. The surveillance equipment onboard made the plane's function obvious. President Eisenhower refused to issue an apology for violating the existing agreement, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev broke off Soviet participation in the scheduled Paris arms talks. Powers was tried and convicted of spying but was released less than two years into his sentence in a February 1962 prisoner exchange (along with another American held in the Soviet Union) for a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, who was in American custody.
Following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Cuba became a Soviet ally. In 1961, the United States took steps toward invading and taking over the country, planning to enter at the Bay of Pigs. Although the invasion was called off, Cuba sought greater protection from the Soviet Union, which began constructing on the island sites from which nuclear missiles could be launched, as well as building up air power. By summer 1962, these efforts were clearly visible.
In October of the same year, President Kennedy ordered a quarantine of Cuba, an action even more drastic than a blockade, and spoke out sternly of the implications of any missile launch in the Western Hemisphere. It seemed that a US invasion of Cuba was imminent. Operating at times through informal rather than established diplomatic channels, President Kennedy negotiated a peaceful solution with Khrushchev; the missiles were removed and the United States guaranteed not to invade.