The Reagan administration's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, said yesterday that "problems like Poland poses are not the kind" that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization "was conceived to address and therefore its response to those problems should not be conceived of as raising fundamental questions about the alliance."
She said of the Polish crisis: "I think it is precisely on the order of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 ", two previous instances of Soviet repression in the Communist East where NATO did not act and where there was no sense of betrayal of the alliance's charter by its members.
The ambassador's remarks come at a time of sharp differences in view between Washington and some NATO allies about whether the Europeans should join the United States in imposing economic sanctions against the Polish authorities and the Soviet Union.
Kirkpatrick's comments, although intended to defuse criticism of NATO, could become controversial should they be seized upon by West European governments to justify their resistance to Reagan administration pressures to join in sanctions.
Kirkpatrick's specific remarks about Poland were made to reporters who asked her to clarify views she expressed in a speech here yesterday before a gathering of American and European conservative intellectuals sponsored by The Committee for the Free World, a private study group.
In her speech, the ambassador warned against "crisis-mongering" by critics here and in Western Europe that could unnecessarily weaken the alliance. She stressed what she said was a much-needed reminder that NATO was formed in 1949 solely as a defensive alliance to protect the Western democracies against a Soviet invasion and not as an instrument "to roll back communism" in Eastern Europe or to "encourage the independence of Eastern Europe."
Kirkpatrick said later that her speech was meant to be "historical and analytical" and that she was "not inferring anything about Poland," which she scarcely mentioned in her speech.
Throughout her speech, Kirkpatrick repeatedly sought to ease the strain on NATO, which has been aggravated by differences over Poland, by pointing out that throughout NATO's 33-year history, member nations have reacted on their own to events that take place outside of Western Europe.
She reminded her audience that France's wars in Indochina and Algeria did not trigger alliance support nor did American efforts in Korea, the Cuban missile crisis or Vietnam. Even at the U.N., where she serves, she said, the United States is not backed up on all issues by its NATO allies.
"In no way does this demean the importance to the United States of NATO," she said, "but what it does do, I hope, is to demystify that relationship which from time to time becomes overloaded with rhetoric and grandiose expectations."
"NATO," she said, "has been a colossal success" in doing what it was meant to do, protecting Western Europe. "No additional ideological content can be imputed to it, I believe, without either distortion, exaggeration or both."
Kirkpatrick's address appeared to be an effort to make a point that might tone down critics within the alliance while avoiding the question of why, if her theme is correct, the Reagan administration has been putting such pressure on the allies to risk their economic and political relations with the Soviet Union over Poland.
Kirkpatrick's remarks, which were handwritten and, she said, not cleared in advance by the White House, are known to be consistent with her privately held views on Poland. The ambassador is understood to have been more upset over what she viewed as a relatively mild initial U.S. rebuke to the Polish and Soviet authorities--compared to the swift and sharp White House reaction to Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights--rather than concern over the reaction of NATO as an alliance.
Kirkpatrick warned her audience, however, that there was reason for concern over the future of the alliance in part because, fairly or not, people on both sides were now questioning its value. Trends toward isolation or unilateral foreign policy actions in the United States and neutralism and pacificism in Europe similarly are a source of unease.
Although the bulk of her speech was directed at isolating NATO as an alliance from the touchy subject of Poland, Kirkpatrick said the alliance must also defend ideals rather than just military budgets.
In a rebuke to allies who have opposed U.S. interests in other parts of the world, the ambassador said that "obviously the alliance cannot insist on U.S. protection against the Soviet Union while at the same time indulge in meddling with pro-Soviet forces outside the alliance that threaten American security."
She gave no examples.