Chapter 19 - Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Poland and Eastern Europe

[Soviet Military Intervention] Whatever the Soviet perception of the costs of intervention, they will quickly fade into secondary considerations if the Soviets see their vital interests threatened. Developments that would pose such a threat include:

     - A breakdown of internal order in Poland.

     - A frontal assault on the regime’s authority, such as a general strike of some duration. . . .

     - Indications that the Polish regime was becoming unwilling or unable to meet its Warsaw Pact commitments. . . .

We seriously doubt the Polish Army’s dependability if called upon to quell large-scale violence. . . . In any case, we do not believe the Polish Army alone would be capable of containing the situation. The introduction of regular Polish military forces under such circumstances would run a high risk of bringing about the intervention of Soviet forces. . . .

We estimate that, if the Soviets foresaw the possibility of significant, organized resistance from the Polish armed forces, they would intervene with a force of at least 30 divisions. . . . If the Soviets were to undertake the kind of intervention they apparently planned in November-December [1980] under the guise of a joint exercise, we estimate an intervention force of some 20 divisions could be readied within about a week. A substantially smaller force involving some half dozen divisions . . . could be readied in two to three days. . . .

[The Worsening Economic Situation.] [Key factors cited include deteriorating economic conditions: a falling GNP, a $25 billion foreign debt, large budget deficits, steep investments cuts, rising food prices, need for massive foreign aid.]

[Key Actors reviewed are the Polish Communist Party; Solidarity and the workers; the Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR); the Polish Catholic Church headed by Cardinal Wyzynski and strengthened by Pope John’s triumphant June 1979 visit to Poland; and the USSR and the Warsaw Pact.]

[Final Judgment] . . . We believe that Soviet pressure on the Polish regime will increase and that, if the pattern for domestic confrontation continues, the trend is toward ultimate intervention. (headings added)3

First Reagan NSC Meeting on Poland—February 1981. Reagan’s first NSC meeting took place three weeks after his inauguration. NSC 1—Caribbean Basin and Poland on February 6, 1981 focuses on U.S. responses to aggressive Soviet and Cuban actions in the Caribbean area (especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador), on which Reagan commented “We can’t afford a defeat.” Reagan’s brief remarks on Poland indicate very special Presidential attention (and secrecy) on U.S. contingency plans concerning Poland. Thus:

Secretary [of State] Haig: Regarding Poland, the Soviets view the situation there as more critical now than last November. We have a list of contingency actions ready. [Counselor] Meese: We must have agreement on how to deal with the press. We should not make available the agenda or content of these meetings—with no ifs, ands, or buts.

The President: There can be no room for argument on that point. For too many years, we have been telling adversaries what we can’t do. It’s time we make them start wondering what we will do.4

February 1981 Developments. Shortly after the above meeting, General Wojcech Jaruzelski was appointed prime minister of Poland to stabilize an increasingly volatile economic and political situation. On February 23, U.S. media reported the Reagan Administration ready to announce at an international meeting in Paris the next day that it would defer a Polish debt payment (via Commodity Credit Corporation funding) and that an increase in U.S. short-term aid to Poland was also under consideration. (When the Carter Administration was earlier asked by Poland for $3 billion in emergency assistance involving debt deferrals, new loans, and other types of aid, Carter’s team was divided on the request, and no action was taken.)

A Reagan-Brezhnev Exchange of Correspondence on the “Brezhnev Doctrine”—April, May 1981. Excerpts on Poland in an exchange of correspondence between Reagan and the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, reveals the wide Cold War gulf between the U.S. and Soviet policies and underlying ideologies.

In a Reagan Letter to Brezhnev—April 24, 1981, Reagan explained to the author of the Brezhnev Doctrine of August 1968 (which ended the “Prague Spring’s” hope for “Communism with a human face”) that:

[Soviet Interference] Further to our exchanges on Poland, I must reject charges that the United States is intervening in that country’s affairs. This is simply not true. As we have repeatedly made clear, our concern is that the Polish Government and people be allowed to resolve their problems peacefully and free from any outside interference. In our view, recent Soviet military behavior and tendentious propaganda amount to a threat of the use of force which represents interference in Poland’s internal affairs.

[Book pg. 463]