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COLD WAR: 1953-60 (6 of 11)

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Tensions and Geneva, 1955

Nikita Khrushchev was the most intellectually aggressive member of the new collective leadership in the Soviet Union, and the Presidium was coming under his influence. He wanted to lift some of the burden from people under Soviet control, and he wanted to ease Cold War tensions. But he did not trust the West. Ringing in his ears was Stalin's remark that after he died the capitalists would wring the necks of his successors like chickens.

In early 1955, tensions arose over small islands next to the China's mainland that were occupied by Chiang's forces – the islands of Quemoy and Ma-tsu. Communist China was shelling the islands and talking about liberating Taiwan, and Dulles talked about "tactical" atomic bombs. There was talk of bombing China's cities. The majority leader in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, denounced the talk of war among the Republicans. Public opinion in the US was disturbed and unenthusiastic about another war against China. Dulles' strategic policy called "massive retaliation" so far was just making people nervous. The Australians and Canadians were upset with Dulles. But the Soviet Union was not supporting China with a threat of nuclear retaliation should the United States use nuclear weapons. China ended its shelling, and the Eisenhower administration let the crisis pass.

On May 5, 1955, Soviet leaders were made more nervous as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) joined NATO. On May 14, the Soviet Union signed agreements with its satellite regimes, creating what was called the Warsaw Pact.  According to the agreement, each member nation would be defended against "imperialist" interference or military intervention.

In May, Britain and France proposed a conference with Soviet leaders to ease tensions, while the Soviet Union was trying to negotiate a withdrawal of the World War II allies from their occupation of Austria. The suspicions of Secretary of State Dulles were overcome, and the four powers – the US, Soviet Union, Britain and France – signed an agreement that reestablished Austria's independence, with the proviso that Austria would remain "forever neutral" in foreign affairs. The Kremlin pulled its troops out of Austria, and Austria became the first nation divided at the end of World War II to achieve reunification.

Eisenhower was impressed by the Soviet Union's behavior regarding Austria, and he argued in favor of accepting a British and French proposal for a summit meeting at Geneva. He was concerned about the arms race and was hopeful that a summit meeting would help create an atmosphere of trust between the Soviet Union and his administration. Dulles argued against it, and so too did some Republican Party hardliners who were reminded of the Yalta summit meeting.

The summit meeting opened on 18 July 1955. Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and Britain's new prime minister, Anthony Eden, discussed disarmament and European security. Eisenhower announced his "Open Skies" proposal. The British and French were enthusiastic, but Khrushchev was not. He believed that "Open Skies" would help LeMay improve his target data. Also he did not want to expose his bluff concerning the Soviet Union's retaliation capability: the United States had an overwhelming superiority in ability to deliver nuclear weapons. Khrushchev said that Eisenhower's proposal, "Open Skies'" amounted to spying.

Dulles left the Geneva summit impressed by the desire of Soviet leaders for good relations with everyone – what was called the spirit of Geneva. Khrushchev left Geneva still concerned about Soviet competition with the West and what he called their tricks. 

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