Chancellor Scholz and his party are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the non-delivery of German tanks in view of Ukraine’s successful military counter-offensive. To this end, his defense minister has to reinterpret the NATO boss in such a way that it fits the Chancellor’s line.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) was initially against supplying arms to Ukraine at all. Then the German head of government was opposed to supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons. Now that both have happened, Olaf Scholz refuses to deliver tanks to Ukraine. His two main arguments are becoming more and more fragile.
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Because the USA has long been considering supplying the Ukrainians with battle tanks, which has not happened so far and is now getting closer under the impression of growing Ukrainian successes against the Russian invaders. At least that’s what was said on the sidelines of the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Ramstein.
And the new US ambassador to Germany is now saying bluntly that the US expects more from Germany than it has in the past. Germany is the largest and richest and strongest country in Europe. According to the “Ukraine Support Tracker” of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, it is currently in 16th place in terms of arms deliveries to Ukraine, measured by its national product.
In places one to four: the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, followed by Poland. When it comes to aid to Ukraine, Europe is clearly divided into East and West. Spain, France and Italy are still behind Germany. Another related political signal is more important:
The fear of an escalation of the Ukraine war by Russia up to a nuclear third world war grows with greater distance to the aggressor. The closer the Russian border draws, the less fear that arms shipments will provoke Russia—or the greater the determination to confront Russia.
The Western defense alliance, or rather its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, recently answered the question of whether NATO should rather meet its own armaments goals in order to ensure the defense capability of the alliance, or whether it should supply Ukraine with more weapons: Ukraine’s defeat is for more dangerous to the West than not having filled the NATO arms depots according to plan. Literally: “By making sure that Russia does not win in Ukraine, we are also increasing our own security and strengthening the alliance.” It was a warning shot for Scholz.
Which his secretary of defense tried to fend off today. She understood the NATO Secretary General that aid for Ukraine should not be at the expense of the western alliance. According to Christine Lambrecht at the German Society for Foreign Relations, Germany has a duty to be a reliable NATO partner.
Lambrecht’s and Scholz’ problem: Stoltenberg said nothing less than: the opposite. The use of weapons stocks from Western countries helps to reduce the risk of aggressive action by Russia against NATO countries. This is exactly the thinking followed by Eastern Europeans, all victims of Russia throughout their history. And that the West rejects the West, Scholz in the first place. So far anyway.
Of course, the logic of Scholz’s argument also includes only delivering if the leading power, the USA, is on board. It is about the delivery of the Marder armored personnel carriers, which Ukraine has been requesting for a long time – 100 of which are available immediately – and the Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Ukraine has been officially requesting since the weekend. This connection shows that Germany is not a leading power and does not want to be one under Scholz.
The Federal Chancellor could well assume the leadership role that Germany expects from abroad. All it took was one sentence:
“If other tanks deliver, so do we.”
This could be the long-awaited German signal to no longer be intimidated by Russian threats, which are part of Moscow’s psychological warfare against the West. At the same time, it would not be a military, but a diplomatic move, which would have two advantages: First, the leadership role of the Americans, who have supplied and continue to supply by far the most and most effective weapons, would be retained. In relation to the Russians, Germany would continue to drive “in the convoy” of the NATO countries – and yet it would be the political-diplomatic signal that Ukraine and, above all, Eastern Europe have been waiting for for a long time. And finally, the Italians, French and Spaniards could no longer hide behind Germany.
So far, a completely different wind has been blowing from the social-democratic part of the traffic light. SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert is still defending the old Scholz doctrine today. The Chancellor’s statement “that we do not want to be gradually drawn into the war, that we do not want to encourage Russia to act completely irrationally in the end and attack completely different states” still applies.
“Creepingly drawn in” – with this Kühnert adopted the analogy that Scholz had drawn between the Ukraine war and the First World War: he wasn’t Kaiser Wilhelm after all. An analogy that the Australian historian Christopher Clark, who invented the thesis that one could get involved in a world war unintentionally, considered far-fetched.
And: Neither Scholz, nor the SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil, nor Kühnert, nor the Federal Minister of Defense have been able to explain why the fear they painted on the wall is least pronounced in the countries closest to Russia.
The Greens, the FDP, the Union have now gotten used to the idea of also supplying German tanks to the Ukraine. On the other hand: the SPD as the only party in the democratic spectrum. At her side: Left Party and AfD.
To be fair, Lambrecht has meanwhile corrected – she would probably say: specified – left-wing positions on key points.
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This includes: A clear commitment to the goal proclaimed by the NATO countries to contribute two percent to the financing of the military – beyond the 100 “Zeitenwende” billion of the Chancellor. And that is so that these 100 billion are not in vain, but “sustainable”: Once purchased, the material should be able to be maintained and modernized – unlike in the Merkel years, when parts of the equipment rotted away.
Lambrecht suggested holding a “National Security Day” once a year. While this is far removed from the Union’s specific proposal to establish a National Security Council under the Chancellor’s office, it is of great symbolic value. The necessity of “national security” to have such a demonstrative effect is certainly not an originally leftist project – and of course it is not found in the coalition agreement of the traffic light alliance.
And the social-democratic defense minister is shaking up another left-wing dogma – the guidelines for arms exports. It cannot be that Germany insists on “special rules”. So prevent armaments that German companies were involved in manufacturing from being resold by countries like France. “Who should cooperate with us if we make exports more difficult?” Germany should no longer say: “Your morality is not enough for us.”
A remarkable correction for Germany as a self-proclaimed moral world champion.