There is no right or wrong for the West in Russia’s war against Ukraine. And Vladimir Putin decides what a mistake is. The stranger and more unrealistic is a sentence that the Chancellor said at a meeting with ordinary citizens.
If you can’t figure your opponent out, if you can’t “read” him, there’s only one way to find out how he’s thinking: you have to test it. Again and again. To find out where its red line is.
The British epistemological philosopher Karl Popper, to whom most of the German Chancellors referred, most clearly Helmut Schmidt, perfected this method scientifically. It’s called trial and error, trial and error.
Trial and error is the way democratic societies deal with the future. It differs from the method used in totalitarian or authoritarian societies – their ideology tells them what is right and wrong.
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Ideologists do not act based on evidence, based on experience, but they follow what their ideology tells them. That was the lesson that Popper drew from both fascism and communism in works like The Open Society and Its Enemies.
Olaf Scholz also refers to Karl Popper – to reject his method. That’s more than strange: Because the West and Germany do nothing else when dealing with Vladimir Putin than: trial and error.
So here’s what the chancellor said at one of his summer meetings with citizens: Trial and error, that would be the wrong way to go. “An error, a mistake, in this situation would be terrible.”
The sentence is meaningful – and more evidence of the hesitant attitude of the chancellor, his fear of making the wrong decision that could provoke Putin to escalate his war to the west. But the experience of the Western Allies so far shows the opposite. Because Putin has always given in, which only shows that the West should not have hesitated out of fear of Putin. He should have delivered arms more courageously.
The western stages of escalation: Before the beginning of the Ukraine war on February 24, the line of the later traffic light parties was that Ukraine should not be supplied with any weapons at all. When Robert Habeck was the first Green to consider this under the impression of a visit to Ukraine, his then co-chair Annalena Baerbock publicly brought him back to the officially green line: no arms deliveries to crisis and war zones.
After the start of the war and the delivery of the first light weapons and equipment, those notorious 5000 helmets from the Bundeswehr stocks, the West drew the next red line: no heavy weapons. The question of what heavy weapons actually are was then discussed for weeks, and in the end the Allies did deliver heavy equipment to the Ukraine – initially from old Soviet stocks.
The next fire wall was set up at the same time: no heavy weapons from Western production. This too has now been breached: the West is supplying the most modern anti-aircraft and anti-ship guns. Ukraine is now shelling Russian ammunition depots with these 155mm guns – with great success, as numerous videos and front-line reports show.
At the same time, the West drew a new red line: No West-made tanks. A corresponding delivery would be, as the Chancellor was quoted as saying from the Defense Committee, a “terrible escalation”. Olaf Scholz failed to provide a justification for this harsh assessment. And the sentence that Ukraine will get from the West what it needs in the fight against the Russians is also hanging in the air. Kindly said.
Ukraine has just announced a counteroffensive. President Selenskyj announced that 100,000 men would be mobilized for this purpose. But in military tactics, reconquest is the opposite of defense. And other weapons: tanks above all. But they are not delivered.
The traffic light parties in the Bundestag refused to supply Ukraine with 200 Fuchs armored personnel carriers. And Scholz does not want to release the 100 Leopard and 100 Marder tanks, which according to the armaments industry could be delivered immediately to Ukraine, for export.
Scholz does not want to deliver because he fears that Putin will use this as an opportunity to escalate militarily to the point of a Third World War with nuclear weapons. However, Scholz feared this at every escalation step.
There is nothing to suggest that the Russians will escalate militarily, and above all, none of the experiences made with Putin speak for it. The West has escalated three times in the meantime, from no delivery of weapons to the delivery of high-tech precision missiles it was a long way, but in the end it was a quick way. The West went through it – and nothing happened.
Germany, too, has done nothing but follow the trial and error method. In other words: Scholz’ word that he would avoid “mistakes” at all costs, he himself denied by supplying arms. Delivering at all, then heavy equipment, then heavy Western equipment – it was nothing more than constant trial and error.
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And one can say: it worked. Karl Popper was right – once again. Why should it be any different the next time, the next step, supplying tanks? And: Scholz can’t even know if that would be a “mistake”.
Nor could he have known about any of his past decisions. The Allies discussed every single escalation step and finally decided together, Scholz always put the brakes on what he called a “national solo effort”. In truth, he did not want to “lead”.
That had consequences. Because each time, the West’s decisions cost a lot of time. Ukraine always had to run after the guns. Without the demanding rhetoric bordering on moral blackmail, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would have achieved far less in the West, especially in Germany.