195. Report Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research0

No. 8311


A. Original Soviet Intentions Regarding the Summit

Before attempting to dissect the motives underlying Khrushchev’s behavior at the Paris conference, it is essential to understand Soviet objectives and expectations regarding the summit conference as they existed prior to the U–2 incident on May 1. Khrushchev probably never regarded the summit conference as a benign encounter of East and West, designed primarily to prolong and deepen the atmosphere of détente following his trip to the US; rather, he envisaged the conference as an opportunity for advancing Soviet foreign policy interests.

[Page 520]

Khrushchev’s foremost summit objective was an interim Berlin agreement advantageous to the USSR. Khrushchev had in mind a Berlin agreement which would serve as a first step toward an Allied withdrawal, help insulate the GDR from West Berlin’s disruptive influence, and directly or indirectly promote the “two Germanies” concept. Other objectives included: agreement on the major points still at issue on a nuclear test ban, to be approached essentially in a spirit of mutual accommodation; a directive to the ten-power disarmament committee calling on it to negotiate on the basis of Soviet proposals; and an acknowledgment by the West, either symbolic or explicit, of the permanence and legitimacy of the communist bloc, and of the USSR’s full and equal voice vis-à-vis the West in world affairs.

Khrushchev, for some time at least, was probably confident of his chances of attaining or making progress toward these goals. Probably the basic reason for this confidence (and an important factor explaining the timing of his Berlin initiative) was his conviction that the USSR’s military position is improving rapidly as a result of Soviet advances in missilery and his power-conscious belief that political concessions on the part of the West should flow from the USSR’s increasing power. In his first major foreign policy review after his visit to the US (October 31 speech to the Supreme Soviet),1Khrushchev argued that the “main reason” for the recent improvement in the international atmosphere “lies in the growing might and international influence of the Soviet Union”; i.e., “a more reasonable understanding of the balance of forces on the international scene is gaining ascendancy in the West,” with the result that the West is recognizing the bankruptcy of its policies of “position of strength,” “roll-back,” and “intervention” in the affairs of communist bloc states.

The significance of some other developments was probably misinterpreted by Khrushchev and gave him an overly high degree of confidence of scoring a gain on the specific issue of Berlin. These seem to have included the negotiation at Geneva in 1959 on an agreement limited to Berlin, after NATO in December 1958 had declared that the issue of Berlin could only be solved in the context of German reunification; the unconcealed willingness of British leaders to negotiate a new status for Berlin; Khrushchev’s invitation to visit the US, which some Soviet foreign experts—writing for a limited domestic audience—interpreted as designed to avoid a showdown over Berlin; and the Camp David agreement to resume talks on Berlin. Khrushchev’s praise for President Eisenhower in the months following the US visit suggests that Khrushchev also misinterpreted the President’s evident desire to improve [Page 521] US-Soviet relations and came to believe the President was amenable to a new agreement on Berlin. The intimations of several influential journalists in the US press (Walter Liftman in particular) during the winter of 1959–60 to the effect that the US and the UK were lined up against the Germans and the French in desiring a compromise Berlin solution probably reinforced this impression.

During late March and April, however, there were a series of developments which probably dampened somewhat Khrushchev’s hopes of obtaining an interim Berlin agreement on his terms. Khrushchev received no encouragement in this regard during his talks with General de Gaulle in late March and early April; Khrushchev himself publicly assessed his trip to France as only “fairly successful.” Later, in his speeches while touring the US and Canada April 22–29, De Gaulle took the line that the Berlin problem was insoluble at the summit and that the summit conference should create an atmosphere of détente to lead to a later solution of controversial issues. Secretary Herter and Vice President Nixon took the same general position in their speeches on April 4 and April 23,2 respectively, maintaining that Soviet threats against West Berlin could ruin the chances for arms control agreements and that the summit conference should “de-fuse” the Berlin threat. This approach was reflected in press accounts of the April 12–14 Western foreign ministers’ conference. In another foreign policy pronouncement on April 20, Mr. Dillon discussed summit issues in firm tones, although he also stated that “we are willing to consider interim arrangements.”3

The Soviet press and Khrushchev personally, in his April 25 Baku speech,4 reacted vigorously to these developments. It is possible that Khrushchev’s real interpretation of these events was that the West was following the same pre-summit tactics as he was; i.e., stating its maximum position on the Berlin issue in order to buttress its negotiating position at the summit. However, soundings conducted in Washington by Ambassador Menshikov in early April and Yuri Zhukov (head of the USSR State Committee for Foreign Relations with Foreign Countries) during April 19–27 indicate that Khrushchev was concerned (from the point of view of both the USSR’s interests and his personal prestige) that he might return from the summit empty-handed.

[Page 522]

B. The U–2 Incident: The Soviet Decision To Exploit It

The summit conference probably would have taken place had the U–2 incident not occurred. However, Moscow’s decision to exploit the incident and later to demand a US capitulation as its price for participating in the conference stemmed from a complex of factors, including some not directly related to the incident.

Moscow’s most fateful move on the U–2 incident was its decision—taken sometime between May 1 and May 4—to exploit the failure of the mission. The Soviet Government could have chosen to deny all knowledge of the aircraft (as it did in the case of several other US aircraft which have disappeared near the Soviet border) or otherwise to play down the incident until the summit conference was under way, if its only concern was to engage the West in negotiations in Paris. In choosing the opposite course—giving maximum publicity to the incident at the Supreme Soviet after a lapse of four days, and laying a trap, so to speak, for the US— the Soviet Government was undoubtedly aware that this action would have a serious effect on the summit conference, whether the US denied Khrushchev’s charges (with a consequent spiraling series of charges and countercharges) or defended the flights. On May 6 the Soviet Embassy in Washington instructed Cuneo Press, publisher of the magazine USSR, to cancel extensive advance coverage of the President’s trip to the Soviet Union; this indicates that as of May 5 or 6, the Soviet Government or at least elements thereof, foresaw the possibility that its airing of the U–2 incident would at least result in a cancellation of the President’s trip.

As for Moscow’s motives in taking this decision, probably the most important factor was its desire to exploit the downing of the U–2 and capture of the pilot to its advantage. The Soviets wanted to get the US to renounce aerial reconnaissance missions directed at the USSR; this would be of considerable strategic importance to the Soviet Union, particularly in view of the fact that the USSR had no assurance of being able to shoot down other U–2’s, that the construction of Soviet IBM sites may well be entering a new, intensified phase in the coming months, and that such a renunciation of U–2 flights by the United States could be used to agitate against the future use of reconnaissance earth satellites. In addition, Moscow almost certainly calculated at this time that exploitation of the incident would enable it to cast doubt on the integrity and peaceful intentions of the US and to buttress its long-standing campaign in third countries against US overseas bases.

As noted above, the Soviet Government between May 1 and 4 undoubtedly weighed the possibility that all-out exploitation of the air incident might result in the rupture of the summit conference which it had labored so long to bring about. The lessening prospect of a victory on Berlin or on other issues at the summit, as the Soviets evidently viewed [Page 523] it, was an important factor in the Soviet decision to exploit the U–2 incident and play the summit conference by ear. Moscow probably calculated that if the conference failed to materialize, relatively little would be lost and the way would be clear to press the U–2 incident. If the US Government, in the face of strong evidence supporting the Soviet charges, could be brought to renounce the flights and if the conference then took place, so much the better from the point of view of Soviet summit objectives, as Moscow would gain an important psychological advantage at the conference. Khrushchev probably had the latter objective in mind when, in his May 7 speech,5 he all but invited President Eisenhower to disassociate himself from the flights. It is unlikely, however, that Khrushchev would have been satisfied if the President had merely disavowed this particular U–2 overflight: as indicated by his May 9 speech at the Czech Embassy,6Khrushchev would have argued that the US Government’s inability to control the activities of its “militarist” generals posed a threat to peace, and would have pressed for a general renunciation of such flights.

Internal bloc politics probably also influenced the Soviet decision to exploit the air incident, although the degree of this influence is difficult to measure at the present time. Perhaps most important was the fact that Communist China’s long-standing but submerged dispute with Moscow over the batter’s foreign policy had erupted in the open in late March and April with the publication by Peiping of two major articles which were highly critical, albeit obliquely, of Soviet foreign policy.7 While the scope of this dispute is considerably broader than the question of the Paris summit conference, Khrushchev’s original pre-summit approach—his public praise of the President, his agreement to exchange visits with the President, and his cultivation of a détente atmosphere— was one important source of the dispute. These circumstances were probably an important consideration in Khrushchev’s mind in weighing the pros and cons of pressing the U–2 issue. In taking this decision, Khrushchev may have calculated that if the U–2 incident helped him pull off a coup at the summit, this would justify his foreign policy approach which the Chinese have criticized; and if the summit failed to materialize as a result, this would give him time and greater maneuverability to adjust Moscow’s relations with Peeping.

[Page 524]

There is no evidence that Khrushchev opposed the decision to exploit the U–2 incident. Indeed, the manner in which Khrushchev raised the incident suggests an attempt on his part clearly to associate himself with this decision; and he quite obviously enjoyed himself when, in his May 7 speech, he presented evidence to buttress the charges he made on May 5.8

At the same time, Khrushchev was, and still is, politically vulnerable on a number of other counts. The harvest for which he had assumed nearly direct responsibility in 1959, had been bad; and there had been other troubles in Kazakhstan, with which region his “virgin lands” program had closely associated him. There had been troubles of one sort or another in the leadership group. Kirichenko, a former protegé of his, was demoted, and a major reorganization undertaken, although apparently at Khrushchev’s initiative. Khrushchev, moreover, had run into opposition at least among the military in connection with the announced 1.2-million-man troop cut and the apparently increased reliance on missile weapons which his military program called for. Here, too, Khrushchev apparently felt compelled to resort to shifts among high-ranking personnel.

Thus, it is quite possible that Khrushchev, faced with actual or potential domestic criticism of his conduct of Soviet affairs and with the prospect of no tangible gains at the summit, welcomed the U–2 incident as a means of scoring personal success. It is also likely that the Soviet military were especially eager to exploit the U–2 incident.

C. The Decision To Demand US Capitulation as Summit Price

While realizing the possible grave consequences for the summit conference of the decision to exploit the U–2 incident, the Soviet leadership evidently believed as late as May 9 that there was at least a 50-50 chance that the conference would take place. On that day, Soviet Ambassador Vinogradov delivered to President de Gaulle an aide-mémoire setting forth Soviet proposals for an interim Berlin agreement.9 It is unlikely that Moscow would have so tipped its negotiating hand on the Berlin issue if it had already concluded that negotiations would not take place.

It is not entirely clear what this Soviet estimate was based on. Moscow may have interpreted the Department’s May 7 statement on the U–2 incident10 as an indication that the President would disassociate [Page 525] himself from the flight, express regret, and eventually renounce further reconnaissance flights. (Presumably the May 9 memorandum was delivered to De Gaulle before the Department’s May 9 statement on the U–211 had been issued.) On the other hand, Moscow at this point might have been willing to go ahead with the summit with less than the “condemnation” of these “provocative acts,” renunciation of such flights in the future, punishment of those “immediately guilty,” and expression of regret which Khrushchev finally demanded of the US. Probably both of these suppositions are true.

The Soviet decision to retract the President’s invitation to visit the USSR and to demand a US capitulation on the U–2 issue as a precondition for holding the summit was evidently made sometime between May 9 and May 13. It seems almost certain that this decision was made before Khrushchev left for Paris on May 14. There is considerable evidence that the decision was made as early as May 11.

It was on the latter day that Khrushchev held his famous “impromptu” press conference in Gorki Park.12 (TASS did not publish the text of the press conference for another 24 hours, most likely in order to edit and clear it.) Although Khrushchev left the door ajar, he all but disinvited the President on this occasion. Moreover, in discussing the air incident, he implied that condemnation of the air intrusion and renunciation by the US Government of “such methods” were preconditions for an improvement in international relations. Khrushchev stated that the U–2 incident should not be placed on the summit agenda, which is consonant with his later position that the summit conference could not begin until the US acceded to Soviet demands regarding the incident. He then went on to say that he would go to Paris on May 14, that it would not be his fault if the conference did not take place as this would “depend on our partners,” and that he could live without a summit conference. The publication of Khrushchev’s press conference in the Soviet press on May 13 was a signal for a new, even greater wave of protest meetings in the USSR which continued unabated until the conference broke up.

There may have been some flexibility in Khrushchev’s demands—presented first to De Gaulle on May 15 and then at the summit conference on May 16—for US renunciation, condemnation, expression of regret, and punishment of the “immediately guilty.” However, Khrushchev probably believed that there was only a small chance that the US would give sufficiently to meet whatever the minimum Soviet demands might have been. Thus, there was a definite shift in Soviet [Page 526] tactics and summit expectations between May 8–9 (when the Berlin aide-mémoire was presumably transmitted from Moscow and was delivered in Paris) and May 11–13.

It is likely that the basic factors determining Khrushchev’s final position at the summit were the same reasons—discussed above—motivating the Soviet decision to exploit the U–2 incident in the first place. At the same time, it seems probable that the Department’s May 9 statement—the new element introduced in the picture between May 8–9 and 11–13—was an important factor in Moscow’s decision to adopt its final summit position. For one thing, the statement deprived Khrushchev of any illusion that the President would disassociate himself from the U–2 incident. Second, the US declaration that it had regularly been conducting aerial reconnaissance since 1956, and the widely-accepted implication that the flights would continue, conveyed the distinct impression of Soviet military vulnerability. This made it all the more important, from Khrushchev’s point of view, to press the issue of aerial reconnaissance in order to force the US to renounce these flights and to suffer a diplomatic defeat. Indeed, the US statement laid Khrushchev open to domestic criticism of mismanagement of the U–2 incident on the grounds that he had publicized the flights—and Soviet vulnerability—without being certain of being able to stop the flights by military means. Against the background of his other troubles, Khrushchev may have estimated that his handling of the Paris meeting could well in the final analysis prove a crucial test in the maintenance of his power, even though he had no organized opposition in the hierarchy at the moment. In sum, the May 9 statement probably had the effect of crystallizing the final Soviet position and may have caused Khrushchev to up his price for a summit conference.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, OSS–INR Intelligence Reports. Secret; Noforn. No drafting information appears on the source text. OIR No. 8311 consists of a cover sheet, table of contents, summary, analysis, and a chronology of events. Only the analysis is printed here.
  2. For text, see Pravda, November 1, 1959, or Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XI, no. 44, pp. 3–11.
  3. For text of Heater’s speech, see Department of State Bulletin, April 25, 1960, pp. 635–640; for text of Nixon’s speech, see The New York Times, April 24, 1960, p. 58.
  4. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, May 9, 1960, pp. 723–729.
  5. For extracts, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1960, pp. 404–406.
  6. For excerpts from the May 7 speech, see ibid., pp. 415-417.
  7. For text of this speech, see Background Documents, pp. 12-17.
  8. For texts of the articles “On Imperialism As the Source of War in Modern Times and On the Way For All Peoples To Struggle for Peace” and “Long Live Leninism,” see Red Flag, March 30 and April 19, 1960.
  9. For extracts of Khrushchev’s May 5 speech, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1960, pp. 409–412.
  10. See Document 154.
  11. For text of this statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1960, pp. 417–418.
  12. For text of this statement, see ibid., pp. 418–420.
  13. For a transcript of this press conference, see The New York Times, May 13, 1960, p. 4.