A meeting in Germany allows more weapons for Ukraine, but no Leopard tanks
FTHE SONG OF THE MONTH Pressure is building on Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, to approve the transfer of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. Made by a German company, the tanks could significantly increase their protection. More than 2,000 of them are sitting in the arsenals of 13 European armies. The German Bundeswehr operates around 350. Due to export controls from the end user, none can be sent to Ukraine without a nod from Berlin.
Such a nod was widely expected on January 20, when about 50 senior Western officials, including Lloyd Austin, the American defense secretary, arrived in person or online at Ramstein, an American base in Germany. . Their directive was to coordinate and expand military aid to Ukraine, where the fighting has reached a critical level ahead of possible spring offensives. But the vision never came. Instead Boris Pistorius, the German defense minister who was appointed just three days earlier (pictured, with General Mark Milley, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff), came out to explain that there was no joint There has been an agreement about the Leopards, which has not been decided. .
If we didn’t give up the German tanks at this point it might be only a small thing in the war which is almost a year old. Mr Pistorius suggested that a decision could be made soon, in days or perhaps weeks, and that other countries could already start training Ukrainian soldiers on Leopards. And Ukraine’s friends generously responded to their requests for all kinds of other military equipment, from anti-aircraft systems to American Bradley and Stryker armored fighting vehicles. Germany itself pledged €1bn ($1.1bn) worth of additional weapons, bringing its military aid so far to €3.3bn.
But even if the tank doesn’t hurt much in Ukraine, such foot dragging will hurt friendly Germany badly diplomatically. Despite being Ukraine’s second largest supporter after America, both financially and militarily, Germany has paid a heavy reputational price for being showing once again that they are willing to engage in a war that is ravaging just one country away. Time and again Mr. Scholz’s government has complained that it cannot send some sort of weapon, only to finally cave in.
It seems that even other allies cannot be stopped from sending Leopards to many of the Ukrainian champions. Mick Ryan, a retired Australian officer, asked on his blog whether “any nation that is serious about security in the 21st century would want to be in a partnership by the Germans”. Poland has already said that it could dispose of Leopards from its own stocks, without Germany’s permission. The influence of social media has created a new verb, “scholzing”, meaning showing good intentions but failing to do anything about them. Mr Austin was involved in describing Germany as a “good friend”. When asked if he was doing enough to show leadership, he replied: “Yes, but we can all do more.”
Mr. Scholz has drawn not only from abroad. German policy experts have become more serious. Recent opinion polls show that not only about half of Germans, but a majority of 51% of voters for Mr. Scholz’s own Social Democratic Party (and even more followers of the Greens and the Liberals in his coalition) to send Leopards to Ukraine.
So what’s the problem? Over time Mr. Scholz’s government has offered various excuses. Early on he said that Germany could not save tanks because its own force has declined so much since the cold war. He has also said that training for, deploying and maintaining a modern Western tank force would be a logistical challenge for the Ukrainians, who are used to Soviet-era gear. Quieter and more consistent, German officials have argued that they don’t want to add too much fuel to the fire: emboldening Ukraine could embolden Russia, which could make that happen. NATO to enter the conflict directly. The latest excuse is that Germany will only be involved with its friends. In this case that means sending main battle tanks once America promises to do the same.
The arguments don’t quite add up. The Ukrainian army has been very capable of adopting and adapting new weapon systems. It is clear that much of the European Leopard fleet is in addition to needs in countries far from the hostile front. Russia has escalated the war anyway. As for tanks, Britain has already promised to send its comparable Challenger to Ukraine. And the Americans have a better technical argument that their Abrams tanks, which are very heavy, costly and difficult to maintain, are not a suitable platform for Ukraine.
There is basic logic in Mr. Scholz’s position. His detractors say the German chancellor, like much of his party’s old guard (and indeed much of the German establishment), finds it difficult to let go of intellectual caution and confidence. towards Russia. Others say that this is not fair; Mr. Scholz’s inner circle is determined to fight back against the attacker. It’s just that they are committed to a “boil the frog” strategy where a slow, calibrated escalation of Ukraine’s combat capability draws Russia deeper into a losing war. provoking a wider (or even nuclear) conflict.
That approach has been very successful so far. But as Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations said, “Boiling the frog is a brilliant strategy, as long as you remember that not only Russia is in the pot, but also Ukraine. ” ■