145. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Preliminary Comments on the Events in Poland

The Facts

Gomulka and four of his close associates have become the scapegoats for the major disorders that began last Monday. The new regime has already hinted at an increase in wages and a reexamination of the economic plan—both moves designed to pacify the workers. The new leadership appears to be a balance of various factions, including some, such as Moczar,2 who stands on the extreme conservative side, but will be dominated by Edward Gierek who succeeds Gomulka.3

Gierek, 57, is a tough minded and dynamic leader of the party in the heavily industrialized areas of Silesia. He spent much of his early life abroad, in France and Belgium, and returned to Poland only in 1948. He has earned the reputation of an efficient and pragmatic administrator. Politically, he is conservative and has been influenced by the orthodoxy of the French pre-war communist leaders Duclos and Thorez. He is thought to be more nationalistic than Gomulka has been in recent years, and thus may be less inclined to depend heavily on the USSR.

Domestic Implications

The most immediate issue is whether the new regime can pacify the population, or whether the signs of weakness and instability in a crisis will embolden the population to press for more sweeping concessions. Gierek has a fairly good popular image. His initial speech suggests he will make some short-term economic concessions to restore [Page 349] order and postpone the fundamental reforms—thus aggravating the longer term problem.

The real test will come early this week as the workers return to their jobs after the weekend. Thus far there is no evidence of Soviet military movement in reaction to the disorders this week or to the change in leadership.

Relations with Moscow

To what extent Moscow was consulted on the leadership change is not clear. It appears the changes were made too rapidly for the Soviets to be directly involved. On the face of it, however, the Soviets have no particular reason to oppose the new leaders, some of whom, such as the Minister of Defense, Wojciech Jaruzelski, are quite close to Moscow. At the same time, a sudden shift to relatively unknown leaders as Gierek may cause nervousness in the USSR. In his address to the public Gierek was careful to pledge a continuation in cooperation with Moscow as a “fundamental” requirement for Polish security.5

Foreign Policy

The change of leaders may lead to a slow down in the pace [of] normalization between Poland and West Germany. Gomulka had been heavily identified with the rapprochement with Bonn and the recent treaty. If only because of the tense internal situation, the new regime is not likely to make new moves in foreign policy. Gierek in his speech mentioned normalization with Bonn but perfunctorily. Moreover, the East German leadership will probably be able to claim that Gomulkaʼs foreign policy contributed to instability in Poland. Ulbricht immediately congratulated Gierek, suggesting he is satisfied with Gomulkaʼs removal.

Soviet Policy

As for Soviet foreign policy, the Soviet leaders may also be inclined to believe that Ostpolitik has an unsettling effect on Eastern Europe. For example, they may believe that the treaty with Germany led Gomulka to conclude he could press unpopular price increases on the population. Thus, Moscow may also want a pause in its relations with Bonn. One casualty of the Polish events could be the Berlin negotiations, where the Soviets may not wish to press the East Germans for concessions—thus compounding instability in Central Europe.

At the same time, with this détente with Bonn at least temporarily slowed down, the Soviet leaders, if they choose to maintain some [Page 350] prospect of détente, may be inclined to show some improvement in their relations with us.

We have checked with CIA and State who generally concur in this evaluation.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 698, Country Files—Europe, Poland, Vol. I. 1969–1971. Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. A memorandum attached to the original text reads: “Nancy, The attached was delivered to the President on Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. Copies provided to HAKHaig–Howe–Latimer–HylandLord. The memo has not been logged. Kevin D.” Kissinger discussed this memorandum and the context in which it was drafted in White House Years, pp. 797–798.
  2. Major General Mieczyslaw Moczar, former Minister of the Interior and leader of the ultra-nationalist “Partisan” faction of Polandʼs Communist Party. He became a full member of the Polish Politburo on December 20.
  3. Gierek succeeded Gomulka as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party.
  4. For relevant portions from Gierekʼs address, see Keesingʼs Contemporary Archives, 1971–1972, p. 24391.
  5. A CIA analysis of the Polish events, “The Implications of Gomulkaʼs Ouster,” December 21, and an assessment by the Embassy contained in telegram 3540 from Warsaw, December 21, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 698, Country Files, Europe, Poland, Vol. I.