The troubled international climate and the political unrest in Poland have suddenly given special significance to what was originally intended to be only a regular, routine meeting of the Warsaw Pact foreign ministers here in Warsaw.
The gathering, which is expected to start any day now, will almost certainly follow the Soviet Union's lead and take up hard-line positions in preparation for next month's important talks in Madrid. That conference will review European detente five years after the Helsinki human-rights accord.
At the recent preliminary talks in Madrid to draft the November agenda, the Soviet strategy was to limit the amount of time the West wanted to scrutinize human-rights observance.
In the Moscow has frequently signaled some readiness to give on one issue when stalling on another. But this time Moscow is in no mood to compromise on anything.
On the contrary, it seems already to be serving notice in several sensitive areas -- including Poland -- of a harder line if the Madrid meeting goes against it. Among the telltale signs:
* In the Vienna force reduction talks, the Soviets have stiffened criticism of NATO because it has declined a formal reply to Moscow's latest proposals until convincing information is forthcoming for negotiations on present Russian strength in the Central European theater.
* At the recent preliminary talks in Madrid, the Soviets were even more inflexible than they were in Belgrade two years ago in rejecting Western ideas for the conference proper. Instead they are making an all-out bid to push their own proposal for a conference on military detente and disarmament.
* East Germany, with obvious Soviet approval, has just initiated a series of steps damaging to relations with West the East Berlin government's lame "financial" justification for its increased levy on visitors from West-Germany.
* The nonstop attacks by East GErman and Czechoslovak leaders and news media on events in Poland, echoing Moscow's own charges that "antisocialist forces" exploited the strike movement and that the West's "show" of restraint is only a screen from behind which it aids and abets those forces.
Early on in the strikes, a similar note was heard in Poland itself, until government leaders realized for themselves the solidarity among the strikers and the deep conviction behind their demands.
Moreover, following his appointment Sept. 5, Stanislaw Kania, the new Polish Communist Party leader, declared unequivocally that the strikes represented a justified, mass workers' protest against the failure of their old unions and against "bad" and "arrogant," uncaring government.
In another speech Oct. 15, he said the new unions are in line with "basic socialism" and the workers saw them as guarantees that former mistakes would not occur again. Poland's process of change, he said, "is irreversible."
By design or not, it was a firm reply to Vasil Bilak, Czechoslovakia's ultra hard-liner who has always been a pro-Soviet contender for power in Prague. Shortly before, Mr. Bilek had sneered at "so-called independent unions," which "some people in Poland" saw as a legal base for future opposition and continued outside interference in Polish affairs.
The union movement and the strong focus on unprecedented priorities for living standards here are quite evidently having an unsettling effect among workers in both East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Each has a border with West Germany, which has a strong free trade union movement, a practice Poland is now moving some way toward emulating.
The Poles say little publicly. But acute anxiety over the gloomy outlook for Madrid and, therefore, for detente, is obvious.
There is real concern generally about peace and security, especially at a time when Poland is groping for a new order for which the bloc hard-liners have little sympathy.
Despite this, Mr. Kania said Oct. 15 the process is not yet going fast enough. In many ways, Polish reform is a race against time. A Madrid conference that takes place at all or saves even a little of what is left of detente would help it.