A year of sanctions
Before this month is over it will be a year since the military government in Poland imposed martial law in that country (Dec. 13) and since US President Ronald Reagan retaliated by imposing sanctions on the Soviet Union (for allegedly being responsible) and on Poland itself on Dec. 23.
The record since then makes interesting reading.
The sanctions imposed on the Soviet Union have had no appreciable effect on the policies of the Soviet Union. They have put an enormous strain on the relationship between the US and its allies in Western Europe. The sanctions themselves were dropped last month in a farcical affair in which the President announced a ''deal'' with US allies which was promptly denied the next day by the French government.
The important sanction against the Soviets was the ban on American equipment being delivered to the Soviet construction work on a natural gas pipeline running from Siberia to Western Europe. That sanction has been dropped. Nothing was gained from the exercise other than a painful lesson in the folly of trying to commit the alliance without the consent of the allies.
There was also a set of sanctions imposed on Poland itself.
The Polish airline was banned from US airports. The Polish fishing fleet was excluded from American waters. Export-Import Bank credits to Poland were stopped. Further restrictions were placed on shipment to Poland of agricultural and dairy products.
There is no evidence that these measures influenced the Polish government. They did not deter that government from banishing the Polish trade union called Solidarity. The effect of suspension of credit was offset by a subsequent decision by Washington to make the interest payments due on Poland's loans in order to avert a Polish default on its foreign debt. Default would have injured several large American banks, and some in Europe as well.
But the Polish people are worse off from the sanctions. The restraint on US grain and dairy exports to Poland put a quick freeze on a rising Polish chicken industry. Poles have less butter and cheese to eat - and the surplus of those two commodities overhanging the domestic US market has increased.
The question is how much longer will Mr. Reagan continue sanctions which failed to influence the Polish government, which failed to save Solidarity, but which have imposed privation and hardship on the Polish people?
Many, not all, of the Solidarity leaders have been released from internment. Lech Walesa, the original leader and the hero of the Solidarity movement, is at home again. Those convicted of acts of violence during rioting over the past year are in prison and more probably will continue to be in prison. But there has been a substantial release of the internees.
Martial law is about to be lifted.
In other words, the time is here when Mr. Reagan will have to decide whether he will continue policies which can delay the economic recovery of Poland and hence cause more privation for the Polish people.
If and when martial law is lifted (it probably will happen on the anniversary of its imposition on Dec. 13) the allies in Western Europe are ready to conclude that the sensible and practical thing is to resume normal relations with Poland and trade as much as possible on reasonable terms (being careful not to allow the Polish debt to rise much higher). They will do this both for their own economic well being and out of a desire to ease the lot of the Polish people.
If Mr. Reagan declines at that time to lift US sanctions against Poland he will put one more burden on the relations between Washington and the West European capitals. Those relations were strained by the sanctions against the Soviets. They are being strained by unresolved differences over export policies. How many more strains can the alliance survive?
The suppression of Solidarity involved bloodshed. At the beginning, in rioting and fighting on Dec. 16 last year, seven miners are known to have been killed. There was more shooting this year on August 31, the anniversary of the founding of Solidarity. Five more Poles apparently died from wounds received on that day.
On balance, the operations triggered by martial law in Poland have registered a net gain both for Moscow and for the Polish military government. Soviet control over Poland has been reestablished. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has emerged as the strongest leader Poland has had since the days of Marshal Pilsudski, between World Wars I and II. The price to Poland was 12 killed. The price to the West was damage to the alliance from ill-conceived and poorly executed sanctions.
The residual question is whether President Reagan will now close down the Polish operation and cut his losses or keep to sanctions on Poland and further damage the alliance.