How much power does Boris Pistorius actually have? This question is answered by the Leopard deliveries, about which the Federal Chancellor was initially silent at the World Economic Summit in Davos. But not only.
The next two days will decide whether Boris Pistorius will become a “strong defense minister”, as traffic light coalition partners believe they now know. If the Federal Chancellor does not give the go-ahead for battle tanks to Ukraine, Pistorius does not even need to come from Hanover to Berlin.
Which makes it clear what Pistorius’ chances of success depend above all on – from Olaf Scholz, who justifies his decision for Lower Saxony’s interior minister as the new defense minister in a non-specialist and non-feminist way. Pistorius be a friend.
You will quickly see whether there is more than one party friend. Because although the Greens and FDP are pushing massively for “free the leopards”, Scholz alone decides – a classic case of directive competence.
First: Ukraine’s desire, which is underpinned by military strategy. Without battle tanks, the country that has been invaded and robbed of its land can’t win back anything in the long run. But that’s not all: Whether battle tanks are enough is more than doubtful. This will not work without fighter jets and combat helicopters. This means that the next front of the debate is already emerging.
Second: the pressure from Allies such as Poland and Finland for the Leo delivery. You have made the Chancellor’s refusal to supply tanks flimsy. It would not be a German solo effort, on the contrary. The Germans would—once again—follow others. The British, for example, who have already announced the delivery of battle tanks.
Third: Scholz can hardly push the Americans forward as the most important western allies. For weeks, the US has been making it clear that each country decides independently what it wants to deliver. More than that. Washington has made it clear that the US is in favor of supplying main battle tanks to Ukraine. So far, however, they have not wanted to do it themselves, which Ukraine does not accept.
Kyiv recorded a video that psychologically cleverly praised the American Abrams main battle tank as a US export item. In internal talks, Washington claims logistical problems for its previous refusal to deliver Abrams tanks.
Fourth: Pistorius has already made it clear what his goal in this war is. Ukraine must “win”. Scholz does not go that far. The Chancellor still wants Russia not to win and Ukraine not to lose.
If Pistorius sticks to his choice of language, he would be the first SPD minister to adopt the slogan of the coalition partners of the Greens and the FDP. Against Scholz – will that be the first showdown? In any case: If Ukraine is not only not to lose, but to win, battle tanks are the minimum, see above.
Fifth: A Leopard delivery is in threefold German interest. In order not to become an outsider in Europe, to have a clear edge against Russia and to remain credible in relation to Ukraine. The threat of a nuclear war, which the bully Ramzan Kadyrov is now making again, was recently taken off the table by Vladimir Putin himself at the most recent G-20 summit.
Pistorius’ scope does not only depend on how much “legroom” his chancellor allows him. But also whether he can get the military leadership on his side. Pistorius knows that too, one of his first sentences was the promise to stand in front of the soldiers whenever possible. The pitch is new, Pistorius’ predecessor Ursula von der Leyen had attested the troupe a “posture problem”.
Although Pistorius is a member of the Lower Saxony state parliament, he is not a member of the Bundestag. For the Berlin parliamentarians, he is not one of their own. The MPs can still starve every minister in Parliament by the hand of a long arm. Pistorius needs the backing of Parliament.
First and foremost, the newcomer needs the backing of the eleven Social Democratic members of the Defense Committee. Then he must also win over the six Greens in the committee, including Agnieszka Brugger, who is vehemently in favor of offensive arms deliveries to Ukraine.
The Defense Committee is chaired by Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann – and without the support of this influential and communicatively fearless FDP politician, it would be difficult for Pistorius. What should make this task easier for him is the largely identical communication style of the two traffic light politicians – they like it blunt.
However, Pistorius will be able to rely, at least initially, on the support of a network he is familiar with – the Lower Saxony in Parliament. And they are influential. SPD leader Lars Klingbeil, the powerful Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, possibly the next group leader Matthias Miersch and DGB leader Jasmin Fahimi come from Lower Saxony.
The disadvantage remains that Pistorius is not a woman. Green women in particular are particularly upset about this. The women’s policy spokeswoman Ulle Schauws from Krefeld, for example. She calls for biological gender parity of 50:50, although Greens do not consider gender to be biologically given, but to be socially selectable.
Schauws criticizes the Federal Chancellor for violating the principle of parity. So far, no one has asked Pistorius which gender he is committed to.