Why not a carrot, too?

Secretary of State Haig has managed to narrow the public gap between the United States and its European partners over the question of Poland. The allies have now joined the US in blaming the Soviet Union for the Polish crackdown and warn that they, too, might impose economic sanctions against Moscow unless the repression is lessened. As much as this show of unity in the Western alliance is welcome, it is not entirely satisfying. The common warning came only after considerable dither and, moreover, no concrete economic steps were decided upon. The West Europeans clearly remain hestitant to take tough action.

They may be right. Resort to the stick of economic sanctions is probably less effective than would be a judicious use of the economic carrot to nudge the government of General Jaruzelski in desirable directions. It is a matter of what policy works best. Seeking to ''punish'' the Russians with sanctions seems counterproductive for it fails to take account of the legitimate security interest which Moscow has in Poland. The West may be anguished over the suppression of a movement for greater freedom in a communist country. But it cannot ignore that, from the Kremlin's viewpoint, the Polish developments seemed to be threatening the Soviet-bloc security and political system.

Instead of just threatening sanctions, the West might better be working with the Poles to find a way out of the present grim situation. Unless it is willing to offer considerable aid, it could force Poland into total reliance on the Soviet Union, with all the consequences this would have in terms of reimposing an orthodox, heavy-handed communist regime on the Poles. The West should avoid that at all costs and try to assure Poland's dependence on the West as well.

There of course must be a quid pro quo for Western help. Step-by-step liberalization of the thoroughly bankrupt Polish economic system is the minimum which can be demanded. It would not help Poland - or the Western banks that are owed such huge sums - to grant even more aid without economic strings. Gradual lifting of martial law could also be required along with serious three-way negotiations between the Jaruzelski regime, the Solidarity union, and the Roman Catholic Church. But it would be unrealistic to go so far as to expect Western-style political pluralism, the heady drive for which brought on the crisis to begin with.

Would Moscow countenance such Western involvement? Probably. The Russians would not be happy about it. They cannot relish an even closer Polish link with the West and membership in such institutions as the International Monetary Fund. But they would be even unhappier with the alternative - having to accept full responsibility for a nation of 36 million people when their own economy is also under terrible strain. And, while they may not like an independent free union or many of the other gains won by Solidarity, they must realize that the Poles will not cooperate in an economic bootstrap operation without some degree of liberalization. As Johns Hopkins University scholar Dimitri Simes has pointed out on our pages, until late in 1981 the Soviet leaders seemed willing to accept a solution which would have allowed the union ''considerable leeway and even some discreet and indirect influence on the general affairs of the state.''

Would General Jaruzelski respond to a Western carrot? He, too, wants to stabilize the country. He has managed this in a political sense (although the communist party is torn by dissension and confusion). But he knows that he will not get the Polish people to work and participate enthusiastically in rebuilding the economy without economic and political concessions. He knows, too, that Poland desperately needs Western assistance and will not get it unless there is an accommodation with Solidarity.

Is General Jaruzelski more of a fervent Polish nationalist than a dedicated communist? We still do not know for sure. But, if so, and if he is indeed trying to get the Polish economy on its feet and salvage something of Poland's heroic reform movement, the West should not unthinkingly close the door to helping him. It can make clear it will not underwrite martial law. But an offer of substantial aid - tied to a specific Polish timetable for easing military rule and putting sensible economic reforms into effect - could provide that tempting carrot that would give Poland its best chance to avoid a closer Soviet embrace. It's worth a try.

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