Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Open Skies Proposal (21 July 1955)

Plan proposed by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 21 July 1955 at the Geneva Conference that called for mutual inspection of Western and Eastern bloc military establishments through aerial reconnaissance, thereby diminishing the likelihood of surprise attacks by either side. The Open Skies Proposal was the American response to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 10 May 1955 proposal calling for deep and mutual cuts in nuclear weapons.

While Khrushchev accepted planned U.S. reconnaissance flights over Eastern Europe, he refused to allow such flights over the Soviet Union because they would expose Soviet weaknesses and provide the United States with verification of Soviet targets. Khrushchev's refusal to accept the proposal gave Eisenhower an advantage in the propaganda war, as it belied his contention that the Soviet Union wanted peace.

Historians are divided over the sincerity of the Open Skies Proposal. Some, citing various administration studies such as Operation candor, the Killian Report, and the report of the Nelson Rockefeller working group (which called for, respectively, explaining the danger of nuclear weapons, a nuclear test ban, and the exchange of atomic information between the two blocs as a means to prevent accidental nuclear war), consider the proposal sincere. Others argue that because the United States enjoyed a clear technological advantage, Eisenhower knew that his proposal would never be accepted. They argue that the proposal represented an easy way for Eisenhower to claim moral superiority over the Soviet Union without committing to any concrete measures.

Chris Tudda


Further Reading
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.; Rostow, Walt W. Open Skies: Eisenhower's Proposal of July 21, 1955. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.
 

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