SHOULD THE WEST give Poland credit for trying to ease martial law? Literally, that is the question posed by Gen. Jaruzelski's latest moves. He has freed another batch of political prisoners, eased certain curbs on travel and communications, held out the possibility of receiving Pope John Paul II next year, and vaguely offered to suspend martial law altogether if tensions subside. In return, he asks the West to lift the sanctions, on credits, debt rescheduling and so forth, that it imposed when he declared martial law last December.
Serious people, and not only Europeans itching to break NATO's December ranks and go back to business as usual, think that President Reagan should respond. Their theory is that Gen. Jaruzelski's policy of gradual relaxation and reform is the only feasible one available to him and that Mr. Reagan could encourage the process by matching strides. True, NATO had asked in December, and it asked again in May, for the release of all detainees, for the end of martial law and for the resumption of a state dialogue with Solidarity and the Catholic Church. However, to stick with these ambitious goals (it is argued) hobbles efforts for a more realistic pace of change, allows Warsaw to shift the onus for the country's economic duress to the United States, and forces it to rely more heavily on Moscow.
We do not dismiss every aspect of this theory of the case. We note, however, that so far the Reagan- inspired theory on which NATO is operating is showing results. The evidence is not simply that the Soviet Union is being forced to divert resources to keep the Polish economy from going belly up. The evidence is that the Jaruzelski regime has been moving by stages toward the NATO goals. It is always possible, of course, to overplay a good hand. But just when the regime has eased up a bit is no time for a premature payoff that might remove its incentive to keep moving.
Lech Walesa and some 600 others remain incarcerated. It is only some of the rigors of martial law, not the structure, that have been eased. The responsible popular forces of Solidarity and the church are far from receiving the roles that they deserve and that Poland desperately needs.