Poles expect to be next in line for new Soviet missiles
Without a break in the freeze between the superpowers, Poland may be next in line for Warsaw Pact countermeasures against NATO's Euromissile deployment. So far, of the Soviet Union's East European allies, only Czechoslovakia and East Germany are involved in Moscow's response to the placement of American intermediate-range missiles in West Germany, Britain, and Italy.
But a series of off-the-record conversations in key foreign policy and arms reduction circles here left the impression that the Poles are reconciled to being next to host missiles if there is further deployment in West Europe.
The counterdeployment of Soviet nuclear weapons in Czechoslovakia and East Germany began earlier this year, after the Warsaw Pact endorsed the Soviet warning to the West that action would be taken to restore nuclear balance in Europe each time that balance was disturbed by new NATO deployment.
Four Warsaw Pact nations have so far remained unaffected: Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Of these, it seems clear that Poland will be the first selected for new Soviet missile sitings.
Bulgaria recently dismissed reports that plans for installations on its territory were at hand. But it also declared its readiness to have them if the interests of the alliance required it.
If and when the time comes, Romania might prove ambivalent about this, as it has about many other major Communist-bloc foreign policy attitudes, especially recently between the superpowers.
Both Hungary and Poland are, of course, committed to the Warsaw Pact countermeasures, but neither regards actual involvement with any relish.
Each, like Czechoslovakia and East Germany, has Soviet conventional forces on its territory. The Hungarian and Polish peoples have learned to live with that military presence.
But raising it to the nuclear threshold could offend domestic political sensitivity and have a negative impact on public opinion.
Thus while Budapest and Warsaw are as unequivocal as anyone else about accepting all the obligations implicit within the Soviet alliance and as members of the Warsaw Pact, neither indulges in public discussion of an ultimate possible direct involvement in East-West missile deployment and counterdeployment.
The Hungarians seem to draw comfort from military estimates that their turn is still some way off and to be hoping that some easing of superpower tensions - however unlikely that may seem, given the current tension - may occur before that time comes along.
The Poles, however, appear to have no doubts that the next stage of Soviet counterdeployment will occur here if and when yet another NATO country makes room for new US missiles.
That could come about, for example, if the Dutch government - which still has to win parliamentary approval - finally falls into line with NATO's deployment program.
What the future may hold in terms of superpower rivalry in this domain has been the subject of increasingly concerned comment here since the start of the year.
Its main thrust is the supposed ''responsibility'' of the United States for the dangerous trend in East-West relations and the need for a return to peaceful coexistence and resumption of dialogue - on Moscow's frequently repeated terms - between the superpowers.
President Reagan's ''star wars'' program for outer-space arms development is a particular target.
To the Poles, it is a matter of a general European view that the ''more defenseless'' the superpowers are against each other's potential nuclear strike, the less probable it is that either will take a chance with one.
This, it is said here, was the foundation of Soviet-American agreement on curbing defensive antimissile systems.
But the ''star wars'' project is seen as a departure from this kind of former agreement and as posing a situation in which the US might be induced to believe it had a superiority in which thermonuclear attack against the Soviets and their allies could go ''unpunished.''
Last weekend's statements by three Soviet leaders were played up by the Polish news media as timely warnings of the ''utmost gravity'' of the present deadlock and the hazards of its further aggravation.
So was Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's further warning to West Germany's Hans-Dietrich Genscher in Moscow this week that the Soviets' return to the negotiating table is strictly contingent on removal from Western Europe of new missiles already stationed there.