121. Editorial Note

From December 21 to 23, 1981, President Ronald Reagan held daily meetings of the National Security Council (NSC) on the subject of martial law in Poland. These meetings featured a vigorous debate between Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who advocated restraint and limited economic sanctions, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, who advocated that the President embark upon a sustained rhetorical campaign against the Soviet Union and cripple the construction of the Siberian pipeline. On December 21, the NSC met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House from 10:30 to 11:48 a.m. to discuss what message to send Moscow. “I cannot make a ‛Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ speech in this environment,” Reagan stated at the end of the meeting. “The letter to Brezhnev could contain carrots. It could address the fact that they haven’t been able to provide their people the living standard they would like and that they would be in an even worse plight without trade (with the West). We could say that we cannot continue trade (if events in Poland continue) and that we will press our Allies to follow us unless the Polish situation is alleviated. But again holding out our hand. Can he envision what it would be like if trade with the West were open? It would be a different, much better, world. He can have that one, giving up nothing, or the one that will result if we are forced to take trade-cutting actions.” (Minutes of a National Security Council meeting, December 21; Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: NSC Meeting File: Records, 1981–88, NSC 00033)

On December 22, the NSC met in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 2:30 to 4 p.m. to discuss sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union, as well as the President’s letters to Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party Wojciech Jaruzelski and his speech to the nation scheduled for [Page 392] the following evening. Counselor to the President Edwin Meese summarized the meeting’s conclusion: “The speech tomorrow night will indicate that letters have been sent to Brezhnev and Jaruzelski; It will list specific steps to be taken against the Polish government; If there is no Soviet response, we will select actions from a list without deciding which actions now.” (Minutes of a National Security Council meeting, December 22; Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: NSC Meeting File: Records, 1981–88, NSC 00034 Dec 81 (1/2)) Reagan summoned the NSC again the following morning, from 11 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. After a discussion of the draft Presidential address on the situation in Poland, Reagan remarked: “Not enough in this is directed against the Soviet Union. We must say that they are responsible.” Reagan continued: “We can say that martial law was being printed in October in Moscow and imposed in Poland in December.” After further discussion of the speech and a broader public diplomacy campaign, as well as the possibility of appealing to the United Nations, Meese urged members of the administration to keep the White House signal board apprised of their whereabouts over the Christmas break, in case the situation in Poland deteriorated further. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: NSC Meeting File: Records, 1981–88, NSC 00035) Reagan wrote in his diary on December 23: “In N.S.C. worked out final touches for speech tonite on all networks. OK’d letters to Brezhnev & Jaruzelski. Said more in the letters than I will in the speech.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, Volume I, page 96) Reagan’s letter to Jaruzelski as well as the minutes of the December 21, 22, and 23 NSC meetings are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VII, Poland, 1977–1981. The December 23 speech is in Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pages 1185–1188. The letter to Brezhnev is printed as Document 122.