Analysis: Why Germany is struggling to stop the idea of sending tanks to Ukraine
The past 12 months have forced European leaders to seriously rethink their approach to national security.
If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven one thing, it is that peace on the continent cannot be taken for granted. The status quo – decades of low spending and protectionism being the policy priority – cannot continue.
This is especially true in Germany, which has spent far less on its military than many of its Western allies but is now rethinking its approach to defense at the home and abroad.
Days after the attack began last February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave a turnaround speech to parliament in which he pledged to spend €100 billion ($108 billion) to upgrade Germany’s military capability.
He also vowed that Germany would raise its defense spending to 2% of GDP – meeting a target set by NATO it had missed for years – and end its deep reliance on Russian energy, especially gas.
But, nearly a year later, critics say Scholz’s vision has not been realized. And Germany is accused of dragging its feet when it comes to sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine.
The criticism has grown in recent days as US and European leaders have pressured Berlin to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or at least allow other countries to do so. to do
Experts estimate that around 2,000 Leopard tanks are in use by 13 countries across Europe, and they are becoming increasingly vital to Ukraine’s war effort as the conflict rages on. ‘ increase in the second year. But Berlin must allow those countries to re-export German-made tanks to Ukraine, and so far they have resisted calls to do so.
Scholz has insisted that any such plan would have to be fully coordinated by the entire Western alliance, and German officials have indicated that they will not agree to the Leopards move unless the US agrees. to send some of their tanks to Kyiv.
On Friday, a key meeting of Western allies in Germany broke up without a wider agreement on sending tanks to Ukraine, after the country’s new defense minister Boris Pistorius said no decision had been made by the government. he still has
Pistorius has faced accusations that Germany has been “standing in the way” of a “united coalition” of countries in favor of the plan. “There are good reasons for delivery and there are good reasons against it … all the pros and cons have to be weighed carefully, and that assessment is clearly shared by many friends,” he said. .
Germany’s decision to dig in on tanks is likely to go down badly with its allies, both immediately and in the long term.
“It’s like an acid erosion through phase after phase of trust,” a senior NATO diplomat told CNN on Friday. The diplomat said that Germany’s reluctance could also have a lasting effect on the rest of Europe and could push other members of the alliance closer to the US, even if Germany were reluctant to do so.
And the alliance’s divisions have only become more public in recent days – earlier this week, Poland’s prime minister described Germany as “the most proactive country out of the group, to put it mildly,” and suggested that his country could send Leopards to Ukraine without Berlin’s permission.
For all the criticism of Germany’s reluctance on tanks, Berlin has been instrumental in supporting Ukraine over the past year. The US and the UK are the only two countries that have delivered more military aid to Kyiv than Germany since the start of the invasion, according to the Kiel Institute.
German military aid to Ukraine has evolved over time. It suspended its long-standing policy of not delivering lethal weapons to conflict zones and has recently increased deliveries of heavier equipment to Ukraine, including armored fighting vehicles and Patriot missile defense systems.
The government, however, sees the tanks as a big step up from the weapons delivered to Ukraine so far, and fears that Moscow would see allowing German tanks to be used against Russia as an escalation. big
Experts say the secrecy is partly due to Berlin’s pragmatic approach to the conflict in general, and a rather alarming military situation going back decades, informed by what Scholz himself described as “the extraordinary consequences of two world wars which began in Germany.”
“Germany has been at peace for years. We don’t have the procedural or logistical expertise to do anything remotely at the moment. The truth is that for decades, we have seen our defense budget as a gift to our friends because they thought it was important,” said Christian Mölling, deputy director at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Whatever happens in Ukraine, Germany will have to ask itself big questions about security in the coming years. The desire to improve the German armed forces has grown significantly since the start of the war.
Last week, Christine Lambrecht resigned as defense minister amid criticism of her efforts to modernize the military. Lambrecht had been struggling to do anything significant with the €100bn that Scholz gave last year. The leader of the Christian Democrats, the main opposition party in Germany, has accused the Chancellor of not taking his own speech last year seriously.
Pistorius is the recipient of that money now, which German officials see as a pair of safe hands and up to the job. The question he and Scholz must answer is how far Germany is willing to go in becoming a real military presence in Europe.
In December, Germany admitted it would not meet Scholz’s pledge to meet NATO’s defense spending requirement in 2022, and said it was likely to miss the target again in 2023.
And its military’s combat readiness is lower than some other European powers. According to the Rand collaboration, it would take Germany about a month to field a fully armored brigade, but the British army should be able to “sustain at least one armored brigade indefinitely. ”
Defense experts say it will be difficult for Germany to move very far or very quickly in its efforts to strengthen its military.
“Yes, we have promised to spend more on our security, but without a clear idea of exactly how much should be spent or how it fits into a broader security strategy,” said Mölling.
Mölling also believes that Germany’s defense ambitions could be hindered by political will: “Positions are built on the narrative that Germany is a peace-loving country. Public sentiment is changing and perhaps at a time of tension, but it would be very difficult to be the leader who tried to make Germany a major player in European security.”
European officials and diplomats are pessimistic and believe that the reality of German politics means that it will ultimately continue to resist serious defense reform.
It is often said in diplomatic circles that Germany’s model of success in the 21st century is built on three pillars: cheap Chinese labor, cheap Russian energy, and American security guarantees.
Many believe that this famous preference for diplomatic pragmatism and subsequent reluctance to pick sides will mean that any defense reform will be severely limited.
One German official told CNN that it would be difficult for mainstream politicians to break free from old habits: “They have an inherent suspicion against overtly siding with the US and a naive hope that the relationship will settle Russia.
Berlin has also supported Ukraine in other ways, taking action to cut itself off from Russian gas and setting an example for the rest of Europe, which is a total gas guzzler. seen going down since the start of the war. Europe’s relatively mild winter has certainly helped, but stopping Putin from building up arms has been an important factor in the West’s push back against Moscow.
But the European security map has been redrawn, as have the dividing lines in international diplomacy. Russia’s unprovoked attack on another country has shown more clearly than ever that moral values are not universal.
There is no doubt that Germany, the richest country in Europe, has benefited greatly from her policy of keeping her feet in two camps. It is protected by NATO membership while maintaining economic relations with undesirable partners.
That policy has been announced and Germany must now decide what kind of voice it wants to have in the current conversation about global security. The decisions he makes in the next few years could play a crucial role in defining the security of the entire European continent for decades to come.