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Why the West should help rescue Poland

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Last November this writer wrote on this page that ''Poland's desperate economic situation seems to call for a Western 'rescue operation' somewhat akin to the one that saved Yugoslavia from collapse in the early 1950s.''

Subsequently I wrote that the situation called even for some wider, international effort - involving West and East - based on a common understanding of Poland's geopolitical position as a key element in European security and stability. In retrospect, it is a pity - and perhaps a fatal mistake - that neither option was taken.

Poland's crisis today is into its 15th month and far worse than when those first words were written. The need for outside help, from whatever quarter, is even more imperative if Poland is to avert total breakdown and all its likely consequences. Instead, it is being subjected to punitive sanctions, including suspension of vital US government-backed supplies; and assistance from the US and the West in terms of food for the population at large is confined to privately funded shipments which, however charitable and well meaning, are but a trickle measured against the need.

More meaningful aid is coming from Poland's allies. Some have sent considerable convoys of food, medicines, and other essentials. Soviet Russia has just granted Poland a big new credit worth about $3.4 billion (making a total of some $8 billion since the summer of 1980). It is to cover the big Polish trade deficit last year and additional Soviet deliveries of oil, gas, and raw materials to help the Poles get started with the necessary reshaping of their economy. Indirectly, it can also help Warsaw with its difficulties in paying last year's interest on its massive Western debts.

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