At the special NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Jan. 11 the allies forged a common approach to Poland.
A consensus emerged that if there is no lessening of repression in Poland, coordinated sanctions would be needed against the Soviet Union and Poland.
US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. said he got more at the meeting than he expected. This was true, he said, even though the consensus doesn't yet include public agreement on carrying out specific sanctions.
A major reason for European willingness to move closer to the American position is the conspicuous failure of the Polish military government to begin to restore civil liberties even four weeks after martial law was declared.
The key nation in this evaluation is West Germany, which has placed hope longer than other major NATO nations in Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's assurances that martial law was only a temporary emergency measure.
Now West Germany is said by informed non-German sources to be disappointed by the lack of progress in Poland.
In the Jan. 11 communique - on which Greece reserved its position in a number of paragraphs - the NATO ministers condemned ''the imposition of martial law in Poland and (denounced) the massive violation of human rights . . . in contravention of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Final Act of Helskini.''
The NATO governments also stated that they ''deplore the sustained campaign mounted by the Soviet Union against efforts by the Polish people for national renewal and reform, and its active support for the subsequent systematic suppression of those efforts in Poland.'' These acts, the communique continued, violate ''the principles of the final act of Helsinki, especially those dealing with sovereignty, nonintervention, threat of force, and self-determination.''
Surprisingly Greece did not demur on this statement although the Greek deputy foreign minister had been fired for signing a similar statement by the European Community Jan. 4.
The NATO ministers further called on the Polish military government ''to live up to its declared intention to reestablish civil liberties and the process of reform, . . . to end the state of martial law, to release those arrested, and to restore immediately a dialogue with the (Roman Catholic) Church and Solidarity.'' If it did so, the communique stated, ''Poland could then expect to enjoy fully the benefits of stability in Europe and of constructive political and economic relations with the West.''
This latter promise appeared to refer to recent suggestions by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that significant Western aid for Poland might be resumed once Poland returned to its reform course. Genscher's brave words to this effect are regarded by some diplomats as whistling in the dark, since the West German budget is already so strained that Bonn could find no more money for Poland even before the declaration of martial law.
The predominant tone of the NATO communique was encouragement of - but deep skepticism about - any Polish return to its reform course. Skepticism was fed by one West German press report that Moscow has made dissolution of Solidarity the condition of its recent loan of 8.7 billion marks ($3.85 billion) in credits to the Poles. This report appeared in the Bonn General-Anzeiger Jan. 11.
On those ''parallel'' and ''tangible'' sanctions that Washington has been seeking from its allies, the NATO ministers agreed that comparable but not necessarily identical steps should be made by each nation, in accord with its own conditions. An equation of American grain exports and Western European technological exports to the Soviet Union was implied here but not specified.
The communique gave a shopping list of possible sanctions but did not bind countries to any of them. They include ''further restriction on the movements of Soviet and Polish diplomats, and other restrictions on Soviet and Polish diplomatic missions and organizations''; ''reduction of scientific and technical activities or nonrenewal of exchange agreements''; measures limiting ''imports from the Soviet Union, maritime agreements, air services agreements, the size of Soviet commercial representation and the conditions surrounding export credits.''
The communique said that in future consultations ''the allies will also reflect on longer-term East-West economic relations, particularly energy, agricultural commodities and other goods, and the export of technology.''
The clear reference, again without being explicit, was to the multibillion-dollar Western European-Soviet gas pipeline deal signed just two months ago. When asked to elaborate on this and to say if American licenses would be withheld for Western European gas turbines going to the pipeline, Haig replied that it was ''too early to say.''
Haig said that token measures taken by Polish authorities in the previous 48 hours to suggest moderation had not seemed more convincing to Europeans than they had to Americans.