Once Eisenhower succeeded President Truman as president, and the post-World War II era had stabilized, the Cold War began, raising tensions throughout the world. Eisenhower did not wish to provoke the Soviet Union, so he adopted a strict policy of containment during his presidency. When Stalin died in March 1953, several leaders came forward to ascend Stalin’s position. By 1958, Nikita Khrushchev had become the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union and had already begun changing the image of the USSR by exposing Stalin’s atrocities in his Secret Speech, given on February 24, 1956 to the assembled Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress. Eisenhower, meanwhile, continued to negotiate with Soviets to lessen tensions. By 1959, Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to visit the United States.
Khrushchev arrived in the U.S. on September 15, 1959. He wanted to meet John Wayne and go to Disneyland on his tour of the United States. Khrushchev was disappointed when his security unit would not allow him into Disney’s Magic Kingdom. After nearly a two-week tour he met with President Eisenhower in a summit meeting to discuss their mutual desire for “peaceful coexistence.” The men went to Camp David and then to Eisenhower’s farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While no official agreements were made, this visit was intended to create goodwill and partially thaw Cold War tensions. The men agreed to meet again at a Paris conference in 1960.
The Paris conference turned into a catastrophe when a U.S. U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. When Khrushchev announced the incident, Eisenhower denied it, though he knew a plane had been lost. When evidence revealed that the Soviet Union had the wreckage and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, Eisenhower looked like a fool. This event set back U.S. and Soviet relations, and kept any treaty limiting or banning nuclear weapons from being signed. Although Khrushchev’s visit to the United States looked like a thaw in the Cold War, the crash of the U2 plane ruined any progress Eisenhower had achieved with the Soviet Union during his presidency.