The Polish Desk: Radio Free Europe, Zbigniew Brzezinksi, and Jimmy Carter’s Polish Policy 1976-1977

Trenor, Brian. “The Polish Desk: Radio Free Europe, Zbigniew Brzezinksi, and Jimmy Carter’s Polish Policy 1976-1977.” (Under the direction of Dr. Nancy Mitchell.)

This thesis focuses on Jimmy Carter’s US-Polish policy as developed in the 1976 presidential campaign and employed in 1977. The policy was two-pronged: it sought to encourage both the Polish dissidents and the technocratic government of Edward Gierek through a blend of soft power tools, including human rights, Radio Free Europe, cultural exchanges, and economic incentives. Dealing with Warsaw on its own terms rather than through Moscow and extending economic aid to the Gierek regime was one side of the Carter administration’s Polish policy. The other side was expressing cautious support for the rising dissident movement (which would soon become Solidarity) and expanding the services of Radio Free Europe. Together these two prongs cautiously encouraged Poland’s autonomy from the Soviet Union. Carter was a cold warrior, and his nuanced, aggressive Polish policy is a window into how he fought the cold war.

Using newly declassified documents from the Jimmy Carter Library and the Declassified Documents Reference System, Radio Free Europe Research, as well as the press and interviews, I leverage original research to analyze US-Polish policy in a new light. Carter’s Polish policy is a case study in the possibility of marrying idealism to national interest. Using my formulation of a two-pronged policy, I propose it is a lesson that these worlds do not have to be mutually exclusive. A subtle balance between US ideals and national interest must be sought. The Carter administration’s policy toward Poland in 1977 provides a model.

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