POLISH-BORN Zbigniew Brzezinski has watched the crisis in Poland unfold since August 1980, first as President Carter's national security adviser and now as a professor at Columbia University and Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was interviewed for The Washington Post by national editor Peter Osnos, a former Moscow correspondent, national staff writer Dan Morgan, who covered the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Gdansk workers' uprising in 1970, and A.D. Horne, editor of Outook.
Q: Dr. Brzezinski, who in your opinion is most responsible for provoking the present crisis -- the Soviet Union, Solidarity or the Polish Communist Party?
A: I have little doubt that it is ultimately the Soviet Union, and, in the first instance, the discredited and increasingly isolated leadership of the Communist Party. After all, I think it's important to take a look at what Solidarity has been asking for for the last 15 months. Its demands, on the whole, have been quite limited. Just a few weeks ago, there was a restatement of these demands, and they focused essentially on legality, access to economic decision making, adjudication of grievances, more representation in the parliament and in local government bodies, and so forth. For 15 months these demands have been articulated, economic reform has not been forthcoming, it now appears that foodstuffs may have been deliberately withheld and, certainly, relatively little political change has taken place. Last but not least, and I think this is a key point, the meticulous preparations for this operation must have been going on for months, at a time when Gen. Jaruzelski was pretending to be negotiating in good faith.
Q: Isn't it conceivable that there were contingency plans developed for a point of crisis, which was reached at the time Solidarity began to call for referendums on whether to maintain a communist regime at all and keep the military relationship with the U.S.S.R.?
A: The contingency plan which was invoked clearly involved surreptitious and surprise seizure of the leadership, which therefore means it was planned to be an operation of surprise, and not of defense or self-defense. I think it's clear that this was planned as an operation for a massive nationwide crackdown on Solidarity. I am, for example, quite struck by the very careful difference of substance and tone between Jaruzelski's speech, which is relatively moderate and appeals to national sentiment, and the detailed and highly draconic character of the decree, which imposes on Poland regulations absolutely reminiscent of World War II Nazi occupation decrees. That kind of stuff indicates that the government for the last six months or so, or perhaps longer, has not been negotiating in good faith.
Q: How do you view the suggestion that this new military leadership was told by the Soviet Union, "Either you do it or we do it," and that they have taken, in a sense, the Polish course?
A: Well, I think the answer to that is that a leadership that identifies itself with its own nation and that shares some of its aspirations would then have said to the Soviets, "We'll handle it on our own, but if you come in, we and the army have no choice but to defend ourselves." That is the obligation of any leadership, and I fail to see why we should be leaning over backwards or in fact standing on our heads to think of reasons to legitimize this action.
Q: But isn't it conceivable that the military, which is a legitimate force in Polish life, was asserting, in effect, a military coup d'etat against a discredited party, but at the same time trying to reassure the Soviets that Poland will remain in the Warsaw Pact security net, and therefore was trying to bring some measure of stability and order to Poland in an effort to consolidate some of those gains?
A: Nothing was happening in Poland that was disrupting order and stability. The fact that Solidarity was making demands for economic reform and political renovation is not the same thing as instability. I think you are sliding by implication into acceptance of the thesis that some sort of a counterrevolution or anarchy was in fact in existence. In fact I really find it very difficult to understand this kind of reasoning. Why don't you substitute Chile for Poland and Gen. Pinochet for Gen. Jaruzelski and see whether you would still be inclined to engage in the same line of questioning and the same line of reasoning?
Q: Isn't it conceivable that Jaruzelski is a Polish Pinochet?
A: Or a Polish Quisling (Vidkun Quisling, who collaborated with the Nazis in the World War II occupation of Norway).
Q: But that's the question: Is he a puppet or is he not?
A: I really think this line of questioning is slightly ridiculous. You know, Quisling considered himself to be Norwegian patriot, acting in keeping with the New Order in Europe. Well, Jaruzelski may consider himself as a Polish patriot, acting in keeping with the Soviet order and imposing it on Poland. I think historically, what he's doing is trying to impose on a relatively modern, literate, Western type society a political system that's derived from entirely alien political traditions. And that can only be imposed by force of arms of the type that is now being applied, with all of the brutality and bloodshed that it entails. I think we have to recognize this and I think it's time for straight reasoning and not doublethink.
All we know right now, and I think this is the key point, is that a curtain of silence and darkness has descended upon Poland and that under this curtain the most decent people in the country -- its intellectuals, its leaders of the working class, the new intelligentsia -- are being massively suppressed. I think that is the key reality that we need to ponder. And it has, in my judgment, implications not only for human rights but also for East-West relations.
Q: You wouldn't go along with the thesis that (Lech) Walesa had lost control of Solidarity and that Solidarity itself was out of control?
A: No, and I don't think there's any evidence for it. Solidarity was a confederation of a great many attitudes, but Walesa was still able to prevail, was able to hold off demands for a general strike. But at the same time, there's no doubt the situation was becoming more acute as the country was moving toward winter, as the food shortages, which increasingly now appear to have been deliberately contrived, were becoming more painful, and as the government was not only stalling on the adoption of the reforms it promised 15 months ago, but apparently was at the same time devoting most of its energies to planning this coup d'etat and this massive suppression.
Q: Then you see no significance at all in the fact that the emergency declaration makes no mention of the Polish United Workers (Communist) Party? Or the fact that a number of former top party officials and some managers in major industries have been arrested?
A: I think that is a standard device with which we are all familiar: namely, the discredited party leaders are then thrown into a joint pot, so to speak. I think there is in fact a danger that in the future some of those old Communist leaders will be put on trial or perhaps even a summary court-martial, sentenced for their crimes, executed, and at the same time a few Solidarity leaders will be thrown into the pot, so to speak, to make that palatable. In brief, I see that essentially as a theatrical gesture designed to say to the people, "We're not restoring the old system. We're not restoring the old leadership." But read the decree that was imposed and consider what is happening to a movement that attempted to democratize a system that was inefficient and disliked. That movement is being systematically wiped out. I think we need to ponder what this tells us about the nature of the Communist system, its relevance to modern conditions, and what it tells us about East-West relations and then in turn our relations with our allies. These are the key questions in my mind.
Q: Was there any reason to believe that the Soviet Union would accept in Poland what it had refused to accept in Hungary and Czechoslovakia -- that is, a drastic fundamental change of relationship between one of its client states and itself that might affect, in the medium term or long term, its own security?
A: First of all, it doesn't affect its security: After all, the Soviet Union is not threatened by Finland either. So I don't think we should really spend too much time trying to think of rationalizations for the action that has been undertaken under Soviet sponsorship. Beyond that, we live in a world which is changing. The Soviet world has to change also. The Soviets had accommodated themselves to the reality of a party in Poland that has to share its ideological monopoly with the (Roman Catholic) church. A far more constructive approach, and more relevant to history, would have been for the Soviets to accommodate themselves also to a reality in which a gradually emerging free trade union movement plays a role in a modern and inevitably more pluralistic society. I think we have to focus on the fact that the Soviets are, in effect, reflecting through this action the antiquated and increasingly irrelevant character of their system, which they can maintain more effectively within the Soviet Union because of the specific Russian political tradition, but which in Eastern Europe, in Central Europe, can only be sustained through rather direct application of force, periodically reinforced, if necessary, by Soviet intervention.
Q: What do you make of the demand for a national referendum that Solidarity issued, which gave Jaruzelski the opening for his crackdown? Why were they driven to do that?
A: First of all, I don't really think it gave them an opening. It perhaps gave them an excuse, but he obviously made his preparations for months. The reason for the referendum was the feeling that the system itself was not going to reform itself, that all of the promises being made -- about changes in the parliament, changes in local representation, in the electoral process but, most important, changes in the wage structure, in law enforcement, in social legislation, economic planning and, last but not least, the promises to punish those guilty of police excesses in places like Bydgoszcz -- were not being kept. I think this made Solidarity leaders feel that unless the regime felt more directly the opprobrium of the public, they wouldn't move.
The key point to remember, however, is that an action of this sort, when it's prepared, has a dynamic of its own and obviously the regime was planning to launch it at some point and was waiting for the opportune moment, presumably when there was relatively little expectation. For it does appear that the vast majority of the Solidarity leaders were taken prisoner, which means that they weren't taking precautions and viewed the situation as relatively stable.
Q: Do you believe it was inevitable that there would come a confrontation between Solidarity and what you regard as a fundamentally corrupt, antiquated political system?
A: I don't think it was inevitable. I think it has happened because of a certain mental frame or attitude both within the Soviet leadership and within a segment of the Polish Communist leadership which is afraid, essentially, of a more pluralistic, open system -- still socialist, but one in which the people are given an opportunity, to a greater degree than heretofore, to share in the decisions.
Q: Could the United States have done anything in retrospect to prevent this?
A: Perhaps, but I have to really underline the word "perhaps," because I would not wish my answer to be construed as criticism of our policy. Perhaps, had we been forthcoming with more economic aid earlier this year, maybe some of the internal tensions would have been reduced. But I have to qualify that by saying that it does now appear that the regime itself apparently was unwilling to ameliorate economic conditions and therefore there is no guarantee that it would have used that aid to reduce social grievances.
Q: You were in office when this whole thing began to unfold. What is your impression of the possibility of U.S. intelligence agencies having given material or other aid to Solidarity?
A: I think it's totally unlikely.
Q: There have been periodic upheavals in Poland since the end of World War II: The Polish October of 1956 produced the government of Wladyslaw Gomulka and a period of liberal reform, followed in 1968 through 1970 by another period of political tension, followed by the government of Edward Gierek and another period of apparent liberalization, followed in 1980 by a period in which the Polish people once again asserted their will to influence the policy of a traditional Communist government. Now there's been a counterreaction. Do you believe this to be a devastating, crushing blow against the will and spirit of the Polish people or rather a step in what has proven to be an inexorable struggle between a series of governments and a population which will not accept Communist rule?
A: I lean to the latter. What the events in Poland bear out is the degree to which even a somewhat reformed Stalinist type system cannot effectively operate in an increasingly modern society. The dilemma that the communist system has faced in Poland is that it is simultaneously the product of an alien political culture and that it is essentially a mobilization-type system that works well only if there is either ideological fervor, which makes people motivated, or massive fear, which makes people terrorized. In recent years that system lacked either the fervor or the terror, and as a consequence it became increasingly inefficient, lax and also corrupt. There is no doubt that there was massive corruption within the party bureaucracy. It then becomes brittle, forces contrary to it become more assertive, more encouraged, and they rise. The system then reacts, as events in Poland show, quite brutally and perhaps, in the short run, effectively. But I think the process of decay and deterioration continues, and is becoming wider. What is happening in Poland, even if Solidarity is for the time being extirpated, is a symptom of things to come, not only in Poland but eventually in the Soviet Union.
Q: Talk about that a little more: maybe first about the short-term impact of these events on the Soviet regime and then the long-term impact.
A: In the short term I think there's going to be very little impact and probably even a fair amount of satisfaction in the Soviet Union that Solidarity has been crushed and the Polish experiment extinguished -- if indeed these two unfortunate conditions transpire, as seems likely. By and large, the average Soviet and particularly the average Russian has very little sympathy for what has been happening in Poland, very little understanding for it. I think there's been widespread feeling in Russia that the Poles have a good deal, that they're ungrateful, perhaps that they are being seduced by the West and that they deserve a comeuppance.
In the longer run, however, I think the problems that the Polish Communist system has run into -- inefficiency, demoralization, lack of motivation, neither fear nor terror, increasing pressures for self-expression from a more literate working class -- are going to be felt in the Soviet Union as well. There is, if you will, an historical time lag at work here and I don't know whether it's a decade or two decades, but what has happened in Poland could easily already be happening in the Baltic republics, in certain portions of the western Ukraine, maybe in those parts of the Soviet Union where the working class is now in the third generation and is somewhat politically mature. That, of itself, is not enough to make it into the kind of a crisis that Poland went through. But in a decade or two, it could become quite widespread.
Q: What about the impact, in the short term, on this particular Soviet leadership?
A: The suppression of the movement in Poland -- which in my judgment already is Soviet intervention by proxy and if it becomes, in addition, direct Soviet intervention -- would in either case have the effect of strengthening, in my judgment, the role of the secret police and the army in the Soviet Union. And we are likely.
ly to deal with a more rigid, mean-minded regime in the short run. And this leads me to the view that the East- West relationship will be affected.
Q: But is this regime in a position to be mean-minded vis-a-vis its relationship with the United States? There is the matter of $27 billion in Polish debt to the West. There is the matter of resumed Soviet grain imports from the United States: Not only the Soviet Union but East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia import large amounts of grain.
A: Certainly if the Soviet Union were to move into Poland directly, I believe the administration would in fact reimpose the grain embargo -- but with one very important difference from the time when I was involved. Namely, this time I believe that Australia, Canada and Argentina will cooperate. Argentina is a Catholic country with a lot of sympathy for Poland. And therefore the Soviets are going to find themselves over the barrel when it comes to food. I think that technology transfers will be affected. I doubt very much that the United States would continue giving licenses to American companies to transfer technology to the Soviet Union or to those companies that are involved in the East-West European (natural gas) pipeline. My guess is that on this issue there will be massive popular pressure in some Western European countries for West European governments to do the same. And I think the trade union movement would in any case impose a worldwide boycott on the movement of goods from the Soviet Union and on the servicing of Soviet ships and planes.
Q: Would you recommend extending these embargoes, particularly on grain, to Poland itself, as well as to East Germany and Czechoslovakia, which receive large amounts of grain from the United States?
A: I would at this stage differentiate between providing economic aid to the Polish government for its distribution, because I think its demonstration of bad faith, both politically and economically, disqualifies it as a recipient of such aid and there's no need why we should make it appear as the source of improved internal economic conditions. But I would be inclined to let aid continue if it's from private donors to private recipients or if it is distributed by private means such as the church.
Q: The Soviets have recently waged a major campaign to appeal to European sentiment on the nuclear issue. As recently as a week ago,they made a small but important symbolic gesture in releasing the stepdaughter-in-law of Andrei Sakharov to prevent him from starving himself to death. Is that consistent with what seems to have happened in Poland?
A: I suppose on the surface it's not consistent, but they are things of a different order of magnitude. Nonetheless, I think you raise a very important point. The Soviets do have an interest in deepening the gulf between the United States and Western Europe, and the events in Poland will make that more difficult, at least for awhile. On the other hand, in the longer run, it's conceivable that we could be faced with a rather paradoxical development whereby West European public opinion, initially outraged, then readjusts and concludes that this simply proves the paramountcy of Soviet influence and that some accommodation with "reality" is necessary. This is why it's so important that we now consult very closely with our European allies on a firm and joint response. And I'm very much encouraged by what President Mitterrand had to say, and I'm very discouraged by the contrast between Chancellor Schmidt and (Italian Communist leader) Enrico Berlinguer, with the latter being more tough.
Q: Give us your estimate of how this is likely to play out.
A: I don't think I should be engaging in predictions. I still think it is possible, in response to large-scale passive resistance and the outrage of the world community and in recognition of the dangers that are being let loose, for the Polish government to talk to the (Catholic) primate of Poland and to Lech Walesa and his associateikely.
s -- and I emphasize and his associates -- about some accommodation in which the process of reform will continue, even if in the context of enhanced governmental authority. It is still conceivable, though the time for it is fast running out and emotions are going to be running high, and with people being killed, an abyss may be created which is irreconcilable. If that abyss indeed becomes irreconcilable, then I think the government is going to find it very difficult to get hold of the situation, especially if it persists in its attempt to occupy its own country with its army, against the will of the people. And in that case, the probability of Soviet intervention rises, and that in turn then poses a very serious problem in East- West relations in the heart of Europe.
Q: What are your thoughts as to what American policy and strategy should be in what you say is potentially the most serious problem we've had in the center of Europe?
A: Well, I've already talked about the combination of political condemnation, moral outrage and economic sanctions. All of these steps ought to be done, but the more they're prepared now, in concert with other countries, the better. I would hope that the administration is already now engaged in talking not only to our NATO allies but also to Japan, to Australia, to Argentina, to Brazil about a general response in which the costs of such an action -- even if the action as such is not deterred -- are reasonably high and enduring.
Q: What do you see as the role of the Roman Catholic church in influencing events from this point on?
A: I would say still as a conciliator, as perhaps even an intermediary between the generals (or the top party officials behind them) and Solidarity and the nation, which clearly identifies itself with Solidarity. Here, however, the question I cannot answer is the degree to which the Soviets themselves are determined to prevent such an accord and are determined to push the issue to its logical but abysmal conclusion. That I do not know.
Q: Do Poland's debts give the West leverage, or is it vice-versa?
A: I have always felt that once you begin to give credits over a certain level, political leverage slides over from the creditor to the debtor. Moreover, purely from an internal banking point of view, if I were a stockholder in any of the major banks in America or Western Europe -- in particular, Germany, which participated in the granting of some of the $85 to $90 billion credits in recent years -- I would want to bring to account the directors of these banks. Because these credits were given on a helter-skelter basis without sufficient information, without a data base, which even a small personal loan is subject to in the Western societies. These chickens are coming home to roost and I suppose the banks are now concerned about nothing else but their funds and are in risk of major defaults, largely because they hadn't studied carefully the situation and conditions under which they were engaging in lending.
Q: Are we getting into an Iranian type situation, where to some degree the U.S. government's hand is tied?
A: I wouldn't say the U.S. government's hand is tied, because American credits, while of course potentially painful to some individual banks, are really not that large. But your point is well taken when it comes to Germany particularly.
Q: For 16 months, people have worried about Poland turning into a conflagration in the very heart of Europe. Do you believe that we are now potentially nearing the point in which the two great powers could face the kind of confrontation that has been the source of so much worry?
A: No, I don't think it's that. I think that the restraints on that collision between the two great powers are very strong and operative. However, what is happening in Poland does seem to me to pose a very direct threat to the kind of stable and gradual improvement in East-West relations for which a number of people were sincerely working, and which would have been goodly for world stability, for peace and for the human condition as such. So I would view it as a historical tragedy, but not as the catalyst for a nuclear apocalypse.