AS the human rights situation in Poland has slowly deteriorated in recent months, the United States and other Western nations have tried to decide what actions might help reverse the trend. Washington is believed to be considering the possibility of sanctions. US options are limited, however.
One step would be for the US government to consider whether to oppose the periodic rescheduling of Poland's $28 billion foreign debt owed to the West until such time as the Jaruzelski government eased up on repression.
In the short run the United States ought to try to persuade Western European nations not to give Poland the additional $1 billion in credits it is seeking.
The US might also consider reducing the size of the American embassy and decreasing the recently enlarged number of education contacts between the two nations, although both steps would have minimal effect.
In recent years Poland has depended more heavily on Eastern European countries than in the past, with a somewhat lessened dependence upon the West. As a consequence, the West has less leverage now than formerly.
In the near term, at least, getting tough on the debt question would have little effect on Poland's citizens. More important to individual Poles, their nation's economy and agriculture have been improving, and these are now able to meet more of the requirements of the citizenry.
The most recent evidence of the declining human rights situation was the trial of three Solidarity leaders in Gdansk: Over the weekend they were sentenced to prison for terms from 21/2 to 31/2 years. The three were convicted on charges of inciting civil unrest. They publicly called for a strike, which did not occur.
Behind this trial lies a broad series of measured moves by the government that have the cumulative effect of reining in human rights. In the last year the number of political prisoners has increased. The penal code has been made stricter. And the government has announced steps to diminish academic freedom.
Poles no longer are in a mood, however, for the mass protests conducted when Solidarity was at its height. The prospects of influencing the Jaruzelski regime seem negligible, and the prospect of government retaliation, such as arrest, is likely.
Despite some sniping, the government has not tightened the screws severely on the Roman Catholic Church. Given the strength of the Catholic Church in Poland, General Jaruzelski would find it far more difficult to deal with his country if he took action against it.
What may have prompted the moderate repression of the Warsaw government is the desire of Jaruzelski to show new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that he is firm enough to do the job.
In any case it is up to the West to decide how to react. It is understandable that the US would look upon modest sanctions as a possible response.