As a long-time admirer of democratic Germany, I have been deeply depressed and dismayed this week by Chancellor Olaf Scholz's refusal to allow German Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine. [long bitty Twitter thread here but full post on timothygartonash.substack.com
Here are just a few ways in which Scholz's policy is weak, contradictory, inconsistent, historically insensitive, morally problematic, disingenuous and counter-productive... (But apart from that, absolutely fine...)
Ukraine needs modern battle tanks for the combined arms counter-offensives essential to recover more Russian-occupied territory, before Putin's 200,000+ mobilised Russian reserves get there to defend it - & attack again. Time is therefore of the essence.
German foot-dragging could mean that Russia ends up hanging onto more of that territory, and therefore being able to claim a partial victory in any resulting de facto if not de jure peace settlement.
There is good reason to believe that that some German policymakers – as always, giving strategic priority to the long-term relationship with Russia – privately reckon that this would an outcome we should settle for. That is the truth that dares not speak its name.
If so, they are profoundly mistaken. It wld reinforce Putin's power & show Xi Jinping, as he eyes Taiwan, that you can simply seize other people's territory by force. This is what Germany, as a leading advocate of rules-based international order, has spent decades opposing.
Of course one has to be mindful of the danger of escalation. But the way Scholz and some other Social Democrats talk about the danger of Russian nuclear use recalls the 1980s rhetoric of their younger years, when the threat of all-out nuclear war trumped everything else...
....In the name of Frieden – a very specific ideological version of 'peace' - East Europeans had to shut up and keep their heads down ('Frieden may not be everything, but without Frieden, everything is nothing', Egon Bahr.)
Whether or not this is a genuine fear of nuclear war on their part, it is not a realistic assessment of the risk. If Putin used a +tactical+ nuclear weapon, it would kill Ukrainians, not Germans. German Angst also contrasts painfully with Ukrainian courage.
Scholz's constantly emphasises the need for 'European sovereignty'. But when it comes to weapons support for Ukraine, his position is 'we won't do anything unless the Americans do it'. Some contradiction surely.
German government officials tell you privately 'but you see, the Americans aren't sending tanks!'. But when one talks to the Americans, they say 'we're not stopping them!'.
The argument that Germany won't send Leopards unless US sends Abrams tanks is not militarily serious. The hugely complicated, jet fuel-propelled, lumbering Abrams are ill suited to Ukraine's needs. The >2000 Leopard 2s in the armouries of 13 European armies are well suited.
The new German defence minister said after Ramstein meeting that they had to review their stocks of Leopard 2 tanks, to see how many might be potentially available for Ukraine. After 11 months of full-scale war in Ukraine, it seemed beyond careless not to have done this already…
Just two days later it turns out he was either ill-informed or disingenuous, since Der Spiegel has seen a secret Bundeswehr document prepared already in +early summer 2022+ which identified 19 Leopard 2 tanks in their armoury that would be suitable for use by Ukraine..
In practice, more suitable might be some currently held for refurbishment by Germany's formidable defence industry. There's a painful contrast between the speed & organisational skill of Germany's energy adaptation and implausible excuses & bureaucratic foot-dragging on this.
On 'historically insensitive and morally problematic', see my recent commentary:
I rest my case.
Some friends say one should not place too much emphasis on the arguments from history. I can only say that, as someone who has long admired Germany's exemplary facing up to and trying to learn lessons from its double difficult past (Nazi and Stasi), it feels important to me.
As, I can safely say, it does to quite a few other Europeans, not least in Central and Eastern Europe.
suggests Scholz is in line with German public opinion. Maybe so - but the duty of a German Chancellor in a critical moment for Europe is to lead, not to follow.....
...as did Adenauer for West Germany's integration in the West, Brandt for Ostpolitik, Schmidt for the deployment of cruise missiles, Kohl for German unification and European monetary union...
A lot of this has to do with managing a divided Social Democratic Party, with a strong anti-military and pro-Russian wing. The Greens and Free Democrats have both been much better on this issue, as have the opposition Christian Democrats.
The German government keeps pointing out that it's one of the largest military supporters of Ukraine, as well as giving a very substantial financial and humanitarian contribution. This is absolutely true.Germany has moved a huge distance from its position before 24 February 2022
So why cancel out all the international credit you should be getting for all of that, by foot-dragging on this? Especially since you're going to move in the end. The entire German record since February last year, on almost every category of weaponry has been...
... 'we're not going to send that; we're not going to send that (eg Gepards, Marders)' until finally 'oh yes we are!' & then 'Why do you criticise us? Look, we've sent that!'. I will take a bet it will be the same with the Leopards.
Come on Germany, you're better than this.