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

[The Helsinki Accords versus the “Brezhnev Doctrine”] In this connection I have noted with concern repeated statements by Soviet officials suggesting that the form of a country’s political, social and economic systems bestows upon the Soviet Union special rights and, indeed, duties, to preserve a particular form of government in other countries. I must inform you frankly and emphatically that the United States rejects any such declaration as contrary to the charter of the United Nations and other international instruments including the Helsinki Final Act. Claims of special “rights,” however defined, cannot be used to justify the threat of force to infringe upon the sovereign rights of any country to determine its own political, economic and social institutions. (headings added)5

An excerpt from Brezhnev’s blunt reply to Reagan’s letter in a Brezhnev Letter to Reagan—May 27, 1981 reaffirms his explicitly imperialistic Brezhnev Doctrine (see Chapter 5) and the Kremlin’s traditional Marxist-Leninist view of history’s one-way march of Soviet-led Communist totalitarianism in Poland and elsewhere throughout the world. Thus:

A few words on Poland. It appears that some sinister plans on the part of the USSR are perceived by Washington in everything, and sometimes there is even talk on the possibility of some “internal aggression” in Poland. A question is in order—what at all is meant by the “internal aggression”? Is it possible, for example, that the USA can commit an aggression against itself? Earlier I already expressed to you our position as well as our assessment of the U.S. behavior with regard to Poland. It remains the same. The United States must in no way interfere in the Polish domestic affairs.6

NSPGs 19 and 20—July 1981. As the crisis was brewing, Reagan met twice with senior advisors in a National Security Planning Group. However, while the titles of those meetings have been declassified as NSPG 19—Poland; East-West Trade; Pakistan; China on July 14, 1981, and NSPG 20—Poland Corn; Soviet Grain on July 22, 1981, the meeting notes are not available as of this writing.

NSC Meeting—September 1981. An NSC 21—Further Economic Aid to Poland meeting on September 15, 1981 focused on short-term aid options that would not involve the risks of a long-term commitment in an unstable situation. Security Advisor Richard Allen indicated that there was general agreement that it would be risky to assume that over the longer term “a government of revisionist communists leading a bureaucracy accustomed to operating socialist controls will adopt and carry out market-oriented reform;” that the Kremlin would “tolerate further Westernization;” or that Western allies would adequately share the financial burdens of such aid.

Excerpts below from the meeting notes reflect Deputy Secretary of State William Clark’s recognition of the strategic importance of what was happening in Poland and Reagan’s policy comment on avoiding an attempted bailout of the Communist economy, while Allen calls attention to the funneling of U.S. aid through the Polish Catholic Church. Thus:

Deputy Secretary [of State] Clark: The liberalization process in Poland is the first successful break in the Soviet model of Eastern European communism. . . . The potential ripple effect throughout Eastern Europe is of major strategic importance. The benefits of establishing a more independent and freer Poland can’t be quantified . . . [in] this process. . . . We can provide $50 million in food aid at this time, using [reallocated FY 82] PL480 funds. . . . The conditions we attach to Western aid should indicate general directions of reform we wish to support. . . .

The President . . . raised two basic concerns: whether the economic problems of a communist country can be effectively cured by Western aid, and whether our aid would only strengthen a communist government’s control and repression of domestic movements for greater freedom. Food aid to the people, he said, might be another matter. . . . The President said he questioned whether there was any benefit to the United States in our bailing out the Government of Poland–a government which may be as hostile to us as the Soviets. He said he often had wondered what would have been the outcome if we had not bailed out the Soviets. . . .

Mr. Allen: said the immediate problem was to work out arrangements for Catholic Relief Service and other distribution channels so as to assure that the credit for our food aid would rebound to the United States. . . . We would check with [U.S.] Cardinal Krol and our Embassy in Warsaw on the best means of proceeding.7

[Book pg. 464]