By the late 1950s, the relationship between the two superpowers was relatively calm. The two leaders, Premier Khrushchev and President Eisenhower, pursued a quiet policy of co-existence even though they remained ideologically opposed. However, their domestic political situations demanded that they be seen to defend their country against the other in the Cold War. Eisenhower, especially, was under pressure from American military leaders to build up the USA’s reserves of nuclear weapons, especially after the Soviet Union surpassed it in satellite technology with the launch of Sputnik in 1957.
The American military constructed the idea of a missile gap between the US and the USSR, claiming that the Soviets were ahead in the arms race and that the President should spend more money on weapons. They also wanted to spy on the Soviets to discover evidence of this missile building. Eisenhower agreed to the spy missions because he believed it would show that the missile gap did not exist.
There was a summit meeting between Eisenhower and Khrushchev in the US in 1959, and the two leaders agreed to meet again in Paris the following year.
Just thirteen days before the summit, on 1 May 1960, an American U2 spy plane, piloted by Gary Powers, was shot down over the USSR. The USA claimed that the U2 was a weather monitoring plane that had lost its way. However, the film that the Soviets retrieved from the plane clearly indicated that Powers had been on a spying mission.
When President Eisenhower arrived in Paris for the summit meeting, Khrushchev demanded he apologise for the mission, and when Eisenhower refused Khrushchev walked out.
The Paris Summit ended in failure: