The tragedy of military rule in Poland lies not only in human suffering but also in economic ineptitude. Military rule may crush or pacify Solidarity and other independent groups but it can hardly solve the problems of a ruined economy. Tanks and armored personnel carriers may be useful to disperse crowds but they cannot plow fields or excavate coal.
Poland's economy does not function because its basic structures are distorted and paralyzed by its dependence on imports. Military leadership has not found any remedies for this. On the international level, martial law cuts Poland off from Western resources and risks various sanctions.
Even the simple lack of a cooperative will on behalf of the Western financial community can result in default with dire results for whatever foreign trade still exists. And, it might be remembered that the possibility of direct Soviet intervention, so endlessly discussed in the United States, constitutes an option for the ancient regime in Poland only in terms of the struggle for political power.
The Soviet Union, even if it really wanted to do so, cannot carry Poland's economic burden singlehandedly for a long period of time. It is not only a matter of Poland's size but also of structural compatibility, since extensive borrowing from the West in the last decade made Poland heavily dependent on Western economic partners.
On the domestic level no economic recovery plan can succeed without popular support. Holding Solidarity hostage negates such chances. Drastic price increases and stress on work discipline are not enough. Coercion to long hours of intensive labor will not ensure effectiveness and initiative on the part of workers and peasants.
What Poland's economy really needs is dramatic food assistance and at least $ 10 billion of additional credits from abroad, orchestrated with radical economic reform and critical reallocation of investments by its own government.
Are there any chances for such a course? Almost everything depends on whether the Poles themselves can find a compromise acceptable to all. Conceptually sophisticated but poorly substantiated assessments of the Soviet involvement in General Jaruzelski's decisions obscure the picture rather than clarify it. Suffice it to say that many US specialists on Poland still fail to notice that Poland's homegrown army of hardliners and bureaucratic apparatchiks were confident and numerous enough to declare war on Solidarity without outside prodding.
What we see in Poland is a classic struggle for political power with little attention being paid to domestic economic repercussions, nor to the possibility of sophisticated foreign sanctions. Hence, right or wrong, and whatever the price to be paid by the Polish people, the solution will be decided on political grounds.
The question of price highlights the point that in all the grand scenarios involving Poland, the bottom line is that the heaviest price is paid by Poles themselves, whether measured in units of human lives, hunger, or cold. This should be the litmus test for current US and Western policies toward Poland. As I see it, one should first apply the old Hippocratic rule: Prima non nocere. However slim the chances for internal accommodation, they should not be weakened by any external reactions.
Second, continue humanitarian and food assistance through all possible channels. This would serve the Polish people while leaving room for maneuver to avoid the worst-case scenario. And if anyone, especially Poles stranded in the West, still advocates closing down all food channels to Poland in order to corner the Jaruzelski regime, I offer this advice: remember the ordeal of women waiting for hours in food lines in frigid temperatures, of old people who lack stamina to do the same, or of children exposed to health problems caused by malnutrition. Effective systems can be organized to assure that food reaches the intended recipients. As experiences of such agencies as CARE and Catholic Relief Services show, that is not an insurmountable problem.
Finally, supplement governmental punitive actions with positive elements. The suggestions of President Reagan and West Germany's leaders regarding the creation of something like the Marshall Plan are a good start because Poland's future depends above all on the health of its own economy. One should, however, go one step further and translate these general ideas into more precise contingency plans. Planning would allow identification of the most effective ways of such assistance; it would explore the reactions of all the participating parties (including Eastern Europe) both as to substance and to attached conditions; and it would shorten the time needed to implement the program when circumstances allow.
Such planning could be undertaken by universities, private research centers, and other nongovernmental institutions which have highly sophisticated analytic capabilities. It would neither commit nor compromise any interested government. This glimmer of hope could, however, spur the contending parties in Poland toward a more constructive dialogue.