At the time of writing this column Soviet troops have not yet moved against the workers of Poland. They might be ordered to do so at any moment. Moscow did not hesitate to use its troops against the workers of East Berlin in 1953, against the workers of Hungary in 1956, and against the workers of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The "Brezhnev doctrine" holds that Moscow should and will take whatever steps it deems appropriate to defend "socialism" wherever it is established. All Europe understands this to mean that Moscow will not hesitate to use force to retain its control over the fringe of states in Eastern Europe which Soviet armies overran during the final phase of World War II and which have been incorporated into the Soviet system by the Warsaw Pact.
Poland is the centerpiece in the Warsaw Pact. Moscow's lines of supply to its front-line troops in East Germany and Czechoslovakia run through Poland. The Soviet system of both political and military defenses in Eastern Europe would crumble and become worthless to Moscow without Poland.
Can anything be done to reduce the chances that Moscow will use its troops against the workers of Poland?
Not much. Mostly, the conclusion to the story will be written by the Polish workers themselves. Will they so carefully and wisely calculate the limits of Soviet tolerance that they will refrain from the final action which would certainly trigger Soviet intervention? They have already taken what for them is the essential safeguarding step of agreeing to an annex to their charter which says that the workers of Poland will support the communist party of Poland.
But outsiders can help or harm by what they do and don't do. Mostly, it is what they don't do that is important. Any action by any Western country, particularly the United States, that seemed to imply military help for the Polish workers, or even words which seemed designed to urge them to strike for full Polish independence from Moscow would almost certainly mean a repetition of what happened in East Berlin, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
Moscow is not going to hesitate to shed Polish blood if the alternative would be loss of Soviet military control of the supply lines through Poland. And that is true and will continue to be true entirely regardless of the military strength or weakness of the United States. Even if Washington disposed of double the military power it possesses today it still could not influence the decision in the Kremlin in favor of the Poles. In fact, the more military power the US could move into Europe the more inclined Moscow would be to take whatever steps it deemed necessary, no matter how brutal, to strengthen its military forefield in Eastern Europe.
But there are two people who could be helpful to the Poles. President Giscard d'Estaing of France and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany have leverage in Moscow. They have at their disposal the credits, the modern machinery, and the modern technology which Moscow needs to keep its creaking economic system functioning and more or less up with the times.
France and West Germany did not withhold these things from Moscow over the invasion of Afghanistan as did the US. The French and the West Germans joined in token sanctions over Afghanistan, not in real sanctions. Thus they can still influence Moscow by letting Moscow know, privately and delicately of course, that any brutalization of Poles could deprive Moscow of things it wants and needs and can get from no other source.
Add to the above that President Giscard is a disciple of his illustrious predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, in favoring an independent foreign policy for Western Europe. Here is a case where Washington is powerless to help, but Western Europeans can help because they have things which Moscow wants and can only get from them.
Last February, when Giscard and Schmidt met to concert their policies over the Afghan affair, they warned Moscow that "detente could not withstand another blow." The use of Soviet troops against the workers of Poland would be that other "blow" which would force both Paris and Bonn to use their power to penalize the Soviet Union. To any European, Poland is more important than Afghanistan -- by far. Poland is part of Europe.
It is merely a feature of the new and different world around us all that West Germany and France when working together can actually dispose of more effective influence than does Washington in such cases as this. It will be fascinating to watch Mr. Reagan learn about such things and adjust to them.