67. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

    • Poland
    • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
    • State
      • Under Secretary John Irwin
      • Mr. Martin J. Hillenbrand
      • Mr. John A. Baker, Jr.
    • Defense
      • Mr. G. Warren Nutter
      • Mr. John Morse
    • CIA
      • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman
      • Mr. Thomas Karamessines
    • JCS
      • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
      • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
    • NSC Staff
      • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt
      • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
      • Mr. William Hyland
      • Mr. D. Keith Guthrie

[Omitted here are the Summary of Conclusions and discussion of the current situation and possible developments in Poland.]

Dr. Kissinger: What conclusions can we draw about the reaction in East Germany and the Soviet Union? Can we get an assessment? We don’t have to have it right now.

Mr. Hillenbrand: We have a tentative assessment. Even if the disturbances2 do not rise to a higher level than at present, we believe the cause of economic reform in Poland will be set back. The Polish disorders will also give the Hungarians pause in carrying out their far-reaching economic reform program, to which there is considerable domestic opposition. In the USSR the group that takes a passive attitude toward Ostpolitik may be led to reassess their position. One theory about the Polish price hikes is that they were implemented at this time because the [Page 208] Polish Government was feeling more confident as a result of having settled its border with Germany.3 If the objective of Ostpolitik was greater Soviet permissiveness toward German intercourse with Eastern Europe, then the troubles in Poland may constitute a setback for Ostpolitik.

Dr. Kissinger: If I may be the devil’s advocate, couldn’t the riots be viewed as being not the fault of Ostpolitik but of the conclusions the East Europeans drew from Ostpolitik? That is, it is all right to go full speed ahead on Ostpolitik, but it is not correct to conclude that it is possible to raise prices just because a major international settlement has been arranged.

Mr. Hillenbrand: Possibly, although my judgment is that in the short run we will find the Soviets and the Poles taking a more conservative approach.

Dr. Kissinger: Then you estimate that if the riots subside, the domestic consequence in Poland will be a more conservative economic policy and that internationally the Poles will adopt a more cautious approach toward increased dealings with the West.

Mr. Irwin: These are possibilities, not predictions.

Mr. Baker: There will probably be a greater impact on the Soviet attitude toward Ostpolitik than on the Polish. Poland will still be looking for the benefits that Ostpolitik could bring. As Marty [Hillenbrand]4 has said, if the Soviets see that the situation is volatile in Poland, they may take another look at Ostpolitik.

Dr. Kissinger: The old approach to Ostpolitik, which the Germans tried in 1965, was to deal directly with the East European countries. When that didn’t work, they decided that the way was to go through Moscow. Now the Soviets may conclude that even that route is too dangerous. The Germans represent a magnet for the East Europeans. The conclusion the Soviets might draw is that rapport with Bonn is just not the right policy. If one carried this line of speculation one step further, it might be said that the Soviets will decide that it is better to seek détente with the US.

I believe that one of the foreign policy problems the Soviets have had in recent years is choosing between geopolitical and ideological considerations. They want to be sure that they are free to meet the Chinese threat; yet, if they get too close to us, they open the way for the Chinese to contest their leadership in the communist world. Ostpolitik seemed to offer the Soviets a way out by pacifying Europe. Now [Page 209] they may draw the conclusion that these benefits from Ostpolitik are only superficial. Am I speculating too wildly?

Mr. Karamessines: The Polish disorders could be the greatest thing that ever came down the pike for Ulbricht.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Sonnenfeldt) What do you think?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The Russians may be more cautious about German access to Eastern Europe, but they will still have a major problem. They want Western economic and technical assistance, and they know they can only get what they need from Germany. It is not going to be available from us, and the French and British can’t offer enough. The only way for the Soviets to avoid economic reforms is to get the margin of support that Germany can provide.

Dr. Kissinger: When Ambassador Pauls was in yesterday crying about Acheson, he said the Germans were not going to give credits to the Soviets.5 (to Hillenbrand) Do you believe that?

Mr. Hillenbrand: On the basis of recent talks I have had with various German bankers and industrialists, I would say that the Russians have illusions about the quantity of money that might be available from either private or governmental sources in Germany. Pauls’ statement is probably correct. People like Egon Bahr are economic illiterates. The money won’t be produced by the Chancellor’s office but by the industrialists and bankers, who are much more bearish about the possibilities.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: They also belong to a different party.

Dr. Kissinger: If neither the government nor the private bankers give the money, then the last incentive for Ostpolitik is removed.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The Soviets may well draw the conclusion that they cannot derive the dividends from Ostpolitik that they had expected. The Soviets face the problem of deciding what to do to promote economic growth. If credits are unavailable, the pressures for economic reform will possibly be increased. There are three ways they can make the economy move. They can squeeze the people; that constitutes a return to Stalinism. They can try to get subsidies from the West. Or they can make reforms, but this is repugnant to the present leadership.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Irwin) What are your views?

Mr. Irwin: I tend to think that anything like what is happening in Poland tends to make the Soviets more cautious. However, if they recognize that the recent events are not the result of Ostpolitik but are due [Page 210] to the internal situation in Poland, they might conclude that Ostpolitik is still helpful to them.

Dr. Kissinger: Let’s look at the next contingency. What if the riots spread and are bloodily suppressed by the Polish forces? Would we expect the consequences to be merely a magnification of what we have already discussed, or would there be additional elements that might come into play?

Mr. Hillenbrand: The quantitative difference would be such as to constitute almost a qualitative difference. The Ulbricht line will carry the day—that is, that it is dangerous to expose yourself to Western contamination.

Dr. Kissinger: I tend to agree with what John [Irwin]6 said, but if the Soviets did connect the troubles in Poland with German policy, what would happen?

Mr. Hillenbrand: I think the linkage is more complex. The Soviets might conclude that if the political systems in the Eastern European countries are so volatile that a price rise threatens their stability, how much more dangerous might it be if these countries are exposed to German influence.

Mr. Irwin: That makes considerable sense.

Dr. Kissinger: That is a good thesis. Then we can say that if there is a bloody revolt, the Soviets will clamp down. Will it be a general clampdown, or will they try to achieve friendlier relations with us, since we are not a threat in this situation?

Mr. Hillenbrand: SALT would probably be the least affected. There might be more fallout with regard to Berlin and Germany.7

[Omitted here is the remainder of the minutes, including discussion of such contingencies as a military crackdown in Poland, political instability in Eastern Europe, and Soviet intervention.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1969 and 1970 [1 of 6]. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. Jeanne Davis forwarded the minutes to Kissinger for information on December 22. The full text of the minutes is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIX, Eastern Europe; Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, Document 144.
  2. The immediate crisis in Poland began on December 13, when the government announced price increases for food, fuel, and clothing in an effort to curb demand. The next day, fighting broke out in Gdanśk as shipyard workers demanded that the government rescind the increases; rioting soon spread to several other Polish cities, confronting the regime with serious internal unrest.
  3. Polish Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz and West German Chancellor Brandt signed a renunciation of force agreement in Warsaw on December 7. For the text of the treaty, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 1125–1127.
  4. Brackets are in the original.
  5. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Pauls on December 17 from 5:14 to 5:45 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 146.
  6. Brackets are in the original.
  7. After the meeting, Kissinger went to the Oval Office to discuss matters with Nixon and Haldeman. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule; and National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although no record of the conversation has been found, Haldeman described the meeting in his diary as follows: “In the afternoon he had Henry in and just sort of sat and chatted, using up the idle time. He got into a discussion of the Poland uprising and the possibility that this could cause a major problem for the Soviets, especially if it keeps on going. If it stops at the point it’s already reached, it won’t make very much difference.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries, p. 222)