When it comes to security policy, Germany is blank. They stayed away from the sensitive topic for too long. The top of the Defense Department is already stumbling. But even within the western defense alliance, there is disagreement about how to deal with Russia during and after the war. And what are Ukraine’s specific war goals?
The peculiar limitation of the German security discussion to the demand to deliver heavy weapons to the Ukraine was not effective from the start. It corresponded neither to a holistic view of the war in all its facets nor to the core of what Federal Chancellor Scholz calls the “turning point”. But it reflected quite honestly the helpless state of security policy discussions in Germany after sixteen years of weaning. It was due to the Chancellor’s communication deficits as well as to the nimble search for a profile by those who fueled it.
Always informed: The course of the war in Ukraine in the ticker – Russia uses 50-year-old Soviet tanks in southern Ukraine: “Shows their lack”
The delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine was finally decided in a decision by the German Bundestag. Since then, the federal government has been trying to circumvent this decision. Days before the decision, Chancellor Scholz warned that this was the way to the nuclear dispute, but since then there have been one excuse after another as to why the deliveries are pending. You can call these different arguments excuses because they are constantly changing and never concretely proven.
This discussion is now blossoming into a particularly irritating situation, with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense claiming that there are agreements within NATO not to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, of which, firstly, NATO is not aware and secondly, which the federal government has not yet disclosed. Unfortunately, there is no continuous communication from the Federal Ministry of Defense that is appropriate to the serious situation.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
Behind this whole mishap, however, lies a serious question. Which of Ukraine’s war aims does the federal government – together with its partners – want to support and where are the limits of willingness to help? Do Ukraine’s supporters agree with the Ukrainian leadership on this? Do they agree among themselves? Are the EU countries pursuing the same goals here? It is easy to understand that these questions are not asked by those responsible or even answered unequivocally. Because the various statements that have been registered so far show that interests diverge very widely.
The war aims in Ukraine are not named uniformly even by the Ukrainian leadership and understandably they change over time. Because the better the situation in Ukraine during the war, the more ambitious the goals. President Zelenskyi himself changed his positions. He currently sees Ukraine in the February 23, 2022 borders as a starting point for negotiations. Others in the Ukrainian leadership believe that all Russian soldiers must be pushed out of Ukraine, including retaking Crimea. Territorial cessions, which are being considered from various sides, are out of the question.
The country’s neutrality, which Zelenskyj also repeatedly brought into the public discussion, would be in contrast to EU accession. If these goals of militarily conquering Ukraine’s actual borders are pursued, the war can go on for a long time because Ukraine will continue it until it has achieved its war goals.
Germany, France and Italy, on the other hand, want the war to end as quickly as possible. Although Chancellor Scholz always points out that Putin must not win this war, he has understandably failed to say what that means. Rejecting a dictated peace, as he goes on to say, is such a vague specification that even Scholz can do it. However, a more rapid end to the hostilities would require a greater willingness to make concessions on the Ukrainian side.
When French President Macron explained that territorial concessions to Russia were likely to be made, this led to a question from Ukraine as to which French areas were earmarked for this. So the decision is still pending as to when the war can end for Ukraine and with what outcome. And their supporters have to wonder how far they are taking those goals by supplying arms.
This is linked to a second question, the answer to which is already revealing deep rifts between the EU states. It is about the future dealings with Russia. During the course of the war, the USA seems to have committed itself to weakening Russia through the war and sanctions, so that, as Secretary of Defense Austin put it, it will no longer be able to start such a war in the future. Other members of the administration worded this more cautiously, but in general this direction is currently being pursued. It is supported by the Eastern European EU states, and some people do not think it has gone far enough.
From the Baltic States and Poland we hear that there can be no cooperation with Russia in the future. The aim is to isolate Russia from European democracies and make it a pariah state internationally. Paradoxically, Russia’s actions support this position by obviously being directed against the interests of a globally networked Russian society. Russia is disconnecting itself.
On the other hand, in Germany, France and Italy, it is assumed that relations with Russia will have to be reestablished after the war because it is an important neighbor and cannot be isolated in the long term. But that means doing business again and working together in international bodies. According to this assessment, Russia should at some point (and not too late) be admitted to the group of multilaterally cooperating states. The course of the war in Ukraine in the ticker – Russia uses 50-year-old Soviet tanks in southern Ukraine: “Shows their lack”
Which closes the circle and raises the question of whether the different ideas about Russia policy, the different intensities of support for Ukraine during the war and the lack of deliveries of heavy weapons from Germany are related.
Chancellor Scholz is in a more than unfortunate position. Although he can describe his approach as cautious and thoughtful, he does not get through with it. The reasons given over and over again as to why deliveries have not (yet) been made only create more confusion. If there is no informal agreement between the NATO countries, as the leadership of the Defense Ministry claims, the Federal Minister has no choice but to fill the position of Parliamentary State Secretary over the weekend.
Anyone who invents international agreements and thus discredits allies is doing the opposite of what Chancellor Scholz presented in Davos as opportunities for multilateralism. Especially in this serious situation, the credibility of democratic governments must not be in doubt.