The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #61 on Europe

August 3, 1984

August 3, 1984 | Executive Memorandum on Europe

A Proper U.S. Response to Poland's Amnesty


(Archived document, may contain errors)

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A PROPER U. S. RESPONSE TO. POLAND'S AMNESTY';

With extraordinary fanfare, Polish strongman Wojciech-Jaruzelski announced last month the amnesty of 652 p olitical prisoners and up to 35,000 common criminals charged with minor offenses. This was to mark the 40th anniversary of Communist rule. It was also aimed at prodding the Reagan Administration to lift the sanctions imposed by the President in 1981 to re t aliate against the imposition of martial law in Poland and the crushing of the Solidarity movement for democratic reforms. The White House and State Department have responded precisely in the appro- priate manner. They have decided to resume scientific an d cultural ex- changes with Poland and to allow the country's airline LOT to resume scheduled flights to the United States. While'the recent amnestyls to be welcomed as a positive step toward normalization of political condi- tions, it does not justify a w holesale lifting of the U.S. economic sanc- tions. -The amnesty fails to fulfill the conditions set by the U.S. government. It is premature, moreover, to judge the amnesty's actual scope. There are legitimate doubts that it is truly unconditional.

The econ omic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies included a freeze on government togovernment lending, cancellation of Ekport-Import Bank credits to curb trade, suspension of landing rights of the Polish airline LOT, suspension of Polish fishing rig h ts in U.S. waters, tighter restrictions'on high technology trade, restrictions of scientific exchanges, suspension of most-favored nation status to cur- tail Polish exports to the U.S., and U.S. opposition to-Polish member- ship in the International Monet ary Fund (IMF). Western allies also suspended negotiations onrescheduling of $15 billion government-backed .loans of Poland's almost $27 billion foreign debt.

At the time, Washington announced three specific conditions that would bring about normalization of commercial relations: the freeing of all political prisoners, an end to martial law, and the'resumption of a dialogue with the Catholic Church and the now outlawed Solidarity move- ment. Over the past two years, the Polish government'has met some of th e se demands and., each time, the U.S. responded favorably. In the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in June 1983 and the subsequent partial amnesty of political prisoners and termination of martial law in July, the U.S. reinstated some Polis h fishing rights, agreed to reopen negotiations of the country's debt together with some Western governments and opened U.S. airports 'to some 88 charter flights of Poland's airline. This step-by-step approach to lifting economic

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s anctions thus has been vindicated by the recent amnesty legislation. While the@Polish government's claimthat the sanctions cost the country some $13 billion in export revenue is clearly inflated and was meant to divert domestic attention from regime's in e pt economic policies, the sanctions had a significant impact on Poland's economy. As such, the case for further relaxing of the repressive measures became more compel- ling. Despite official denials that economic considerations figured in the recent amnes ty, the continuing costs of the economic sanctions were a powerful incentive.

The full scope of the amnesty is yet unclear because the crimes of treason, sabotage, and espionage with which numerous political prisoners are charged are explicitly excluded. F urthermore, when'martial law was rescinded, the Polish parliament passed very restrictive laws on "anti- state" activities which can be invoked to.stifle political expression and pluralism. Finally, the amnesty appears more like a release on pro- bation a s the political prisoners are being freed on the tough condition thatthey desist from future political activities. Existing charges, moreover, can be reopened for up to two years. Rather than being a genuine amnesty, the legislation can thus be used to muz zle political activists.

More importantly, the Polish government has not yet fulfilled the crucial U.S'. demand that the regime open a dialogue with Solidarity. The regime thus remains unwilling to allow political liberalization to resume. since it was the purpose of the sanctions to bring about the restoration of the status quo ante, to lift the sanctions entirely now would betantamount to countenancing continued repression in Poland.

The present situation 'called for the measured response that the White House in fact announced. But the White House prudently recognized that it is premature to lift all sanctions. By maintaining in place the most important sanctions--the denial of most-favored nation status and Ex-Im Bank credits as well as U.S. opposition to Poland's membership in -the IMF--the Administration signals continued U.S. displeasure with domestic repression and encourages lasting political change. Any future steps toward removing sanctions must await further internal reforms in Poland.

Manfred R. Hamm Senior Policy Analyst

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