For Polish officials, the Stockholm conference on disarmament may provide a valuable escape hatch from isolation and sanctions. They see the meeting, to be held in January, as possibly a last chance to slow the further plunge in East-West relations. And for the Poles themselves, it could mean escaping from two years of relative international isolation, which Western sanctions have induced.
The official view is that ever since the emergence of the cold war between East and West, Poland has been a central element in moderating tensions. And, said a Polish official, despite everything, Poland "has still a role it can play in the present dangerous situation."
For example, the Poles have tabled a series of disarmament proposals, including the first initiative for a European security conference. And in 1957, Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki proposed a plan for a nuclear-free zone in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the two Germanys.
Twenty-five years later, additional and more deadly nuclear weapons are being deployed in West Germany and four other NATO states. And both Czechoslovakia and East Germany are involved in the Soviet Union's countermeasures.
Officials imply that Poland is not yet directly involved in immediate or specific Soviet counterdeployment, but only in generally tightening up defense capability. Officials also stress Poland's complete commitment with all the pact's latest decisions on meeting the enhanced "nuclear threat."
But they leave no doubt about their deep anxiety over the latest turn of international events. And they are concerned Poland may be further drawn into the arms race.
The Polish officials still argue that the United States bears the responsibility for the buildup by placing cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe and dismissing all the Soviet warnings of countermeasures. But their worry over the likely sequel -- the possibility of new East-West strains -- almost overrides the political criticism. Deployment of new missiles on each side reinforces the other's insecurity, and "a greater threat can only mean greater distrust," officials say.
Polish misgivings are as deeply felt as any -- from experience. It is still possible to see traces of the appalling destruction this city suffered from conventionalm weapons in the last world war.
"Hitler's Luftwaffe," said Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in his latest speech, "needed several dozen minutes to reach major centers of the then-Poland. US missiles from their bases in Western Europe will reach targets in our country within only a few minutes."
The Poles are gloomy, though they are trying hard not to see things as worrisome as in the cold war of old.
But their worst fears tend to be confirmed by the suspension of the two sets of nuclear arms talks in Geneva. Another worrisome event occurred last week when the 10-year-old East-West negotiations on conventional weapons in Vienna adjourned without setting a date for resumption, as has always been done before.
"You may say the Vienna talks had accomplished nothing," a very senior official says, "but they at least kept the two sides talking."
The Poles discount Washington's view that the Russians will seek an early return to the negotiating table.
"We are convinced," the official told the Monitor in a long talk, "of Soviet sincerity in stating its readiness to negotiate and in its concern above all with peace, but not on preconditions dictated by the President [Reagan]."
Poland is being very active in helping prepare the Stockholm conference. Representatives of all 35 signatory states of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe are expected to attend.
The Poles are hoping for a possible meeting in Stockholm between US Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
"He [Gromyko] saw nothing hopeful in his last meeting with Shultz, in Madrid, " the official commented. "But he has just said he hopes all countries -- the other side -- will go to Stockholm with good intentions. That suggests his own readiness to attend, given good reason to see it as useful."
To the Poles, it seems a last opportunity for a US-Soviet contact for a long time, if the meeting falls through.