In spite of considerable attention granted to sovereign debt failures, we still have limited knowledge of the incentives which induced creditors to lend at unsustainable levels. This article looks at the French government’s policy towards Poland from 1958, when economic cooperation between the two countries started, until Poland's announcement in 1981 that it could not service its debt. Export credit guarantees supported France's financial involvement, and this implied the government's strong influence on the decision to lend. This article brings out the tension between economic and political priorities in French policymaking during the cold war. Archival evidence reveals that as early as 1975 the French finance ministry warned that French risks were excessive; that Poland’s growing economic difficulties would render the country unable to repay its debts; and recommended limiting France's financial commitments. The French government, however, decided not only to carry on but also to increase lending, in order to support its political objective of using economic and financial means to relax East–West tensions. This article illustrates how creditors play a part in sovereign debt crises by voluntarily turning a blind eye to a country’s growing inability to repay its debts, and thus reinforce a vicious circle of indebtedness.