Much more than Polish freedom hangs in the balance. If Poland's military authorities carry their crackdown to a complete suppression of the independent labor movement there, it could not only disrupt Western trade and aid relations with that country, but also derail the US-Soviet nuclear weapons talks now under way in Geneva.
According to experts on the subject here, the West could not remain indifferent to the destruction of Solidarity, the only East-bloc trade union free of communist party control.
Militarily, there is little that the West can do to influence events in Poland. American officials are being careful not to say anything about possible Western military precautions that might be seized upon by the Soviet Union as a pretext for Soviet intervention.
Privately, the United States is said to have passed messages to the Soviet Union warning it of serious consequences for East-West relations should the Soviets intervene. At least one such message was reported to have been sent through the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin.
The US is placing its hopes for accommodation in Poland between the government and labor union - and its hope for ''nonintervention'' by the Soviets - on a thin thread: the possibility that Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski and Solidarity chief Lech Walesa can still negotiate a compromise. Polish officials had reassured US officials only recently that the clock would not be turned back in Poland and that there would be no return to the situation before August 1980, when the Polish government agreed to reforms.
Richard T. Davies, a former US ambassador to Poland who closely follows events in that country, thinks that accommodation in Poland is still possible despite the arrests of union activists early Dec. 13.
In Mr. Davies's view, both Jaruzelski and Walesa are engaged in a ''gamble of desperation.''
It is a gamble for Jaruzelski because the use of force has revealed his regmine's political impotence and makes it difficult for him to retreat to a softer line. It is a gamble for Walesa, because by apparently agreeing to negotiate with the regime, he risks losing many of his most militant supporters.
''For an accommodation to work, the regime would have to make major concessions,'' says Davies. ''But Jaruzelski does not represent the ultimate hard-line position. That is represented by Stefan Olszowski, the politburo member in charge of propaganda.''
Davies thinks that the US could play an important role in the situation by leading the West to offer continued economic aid to Poland - but only on the basis of conditions that foster accommodation between the government and union. So far, he says, Western aid has merely served to help prop up the regime.
At the moment, the US is considering $100 million in new agricultural assistance to Poland, primarily in the form of feed grains.
In their public statements on the situation in Poland so far, Reagan administration officials have been exceedingly cautious and have not gone far beyond expressing their concern and the hope that the Polish people will settle the situation without outside interference. As of this writing, Reagan was returning to the White House from a weekend at Camp David and had not yet made any comment. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., currently in Brussels consulting with the NATO allies, said he saw no sign of direct Soviet intervention.
American analysts think the Soviets could not but be pleased that Prime Minister Jaruzelski decided to get tough. The Soviets would clearly like to avoid the kind of bloodshed that a Soviet invasion would entail, not to speak of the economic burden that Poland would impose on the Soviets as a result of such an invasion.
In an appearance on the ABC television program ''This Week,'' former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said that should the authorities completely suppress Solidarity, Mr. Kissinger recommends cutting Western aid to Poland. Talks with the Soviets on reducing nuclear arms should be suspended until the situation is clarified, he said.
In a separate appearance on the NBC program ''Meet the Press,'' Sen. Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also would using Western aid as leverage in the Polish situation. But he also favors channeling much of that aid through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.