German caution with Ukrainian weapons rooted in political culture

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BERLIN — Germany has become one of Ukraine’s main arms suppliers in the 11 months since Russia’s invasion, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also gained a reputation for being hesitant to take any new step, causing impatience among allies.

Berlin’s perceived dragging, most recently on the Leopard 2 battle tanks that Kiev has long sought, is at least partly rooted in a post-World War II political culture of military caution, along with current concerns about a possible escalation in the war.

On Friday, Germany moved closer to a decision to supply the tanks and ordered a review of its Leopard stocks in preparation for a possible green light.

However, there was no commitment yet. Defense Secretary Boris Pistorius rejected the suggestion that Germany got in the way, but said: “We have to weigh all the pros and cons before just deciding things like that.”

It’s a pattern that has repeated itself over the months as Scholz first waited to commit to new, heavier equipment and finally agreed.

Most recently, in early January, Germany said it would send 40 Marder armored personnel carriers to Ukraine – this in a joint announcement with the US, which promised 50 Bradley armored vehicles.

That decision followed months of calls for Berlin to send the Marder and fueled pressure to move one step further to the Leopard tank.

“There is a discrepancy between the true size of the deployment and arms deliveries – it is the second largest European supplier – and the hesitation with which it is being done,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a Berlin-based senior analyst at Germany’s Marshall . Fund of the American think tank.

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A staunchly confident politician with a stubborn streak and little inclination to bow to public calls to action, Scholz has resolutely stuck to his approach. He has said that Germany will not go it alone when it comes to arms decisions and pointed to the need to avoid NATO becoming a direct party to the war with Russia.

As pressure mounted last week, he stated that he would not be rushed into important safety decisions by “enthusiastic remarks”. And he insisted that a majority in Germany support his government’s “calm, deliberate and careful” decision-making.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Scholz on Wednesday listed some of the equipment Germany has sent to Ukraine, declaring it marks “a profound turning point in German foreign and security policy.”

That is true, at least to some extent. Germany refused to provide lethal weapons before the invasion began, reflecting a political culture rooted in part in the memory of Germany’s own history of aggression in the 20th century – including the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

“No German chancellor, of any party, wants to be at the forefront of pushing a military agenda — you want to try all other options before resorting to them,” Kleine-Brockhoff said. “And that is why it is seen as a positive thing for domestic consumption if a German chancellor does not take the lead, is cautious, resists and has tried all other options.”

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Scholz does face calls from Germany’s centre-right opposition and some in his tri-party government coalition to be more proactive about military aid; less so of his own center-left Social Democratic Party, which was steeped for decades in the legacy of Cold War rapprochement that predecessor Willy Brandt pursued in the early 1970s.

Scholz “decided early on that he doesn’t want to lead Ukraine’s aid militarily,” Kleine-Brockhoff said, though “he wants to be a good ally and be part of the alliance and in the middle of the pack.”

But the cautious approach “drives allies crazy” and raises questions about whether they can count on the Germans, Kleine-Brockhoff acknowledged.

Berlin remained cautious about the Leopard tank even after Britain announced last week that it would supply Ukraine with its own Challenger 2 tanks.

The hesitation isn’t just a problem between Berlin and Kiev, as other countries need Germany’s permission to send their own supplies of German-made leopards to Ukraine. On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would consider giving up its tanks even without Berlin’s consent.

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“Consent is of secondary importance here. We will either get it quickly or we will do the right thing ourselves,” Morawiecki said.

British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian and other newspapers this week that “it is to his credit that the German government’s position on military aid to Ukraine has come a very long way since the eve of the Russian invasion”.

But he argued that the tank issue has become “a litmus test of Germany’s courage to oppose (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s nuclear blackmail, overcome its own domestic cocktail of fears and doubts, and build a free and sovereign Ukraine. defend”, and that Scholz should lead a “European Leopard Plan”.

Whether that will eventually happen remains to be seen. The Scholz government has pushed for close cooperation with the United States, a possible reflection of Germany’s reliance – unlike Britain and France – on US nuclear deterrence.

On Friday, Scholz spokesman Steffen Hebestreit denied reports that Germany had insisted it would only supply Leopard tanks if the US sent its own Abrams tanks. He rejected the idea of ​​Berlin chasing others and insisted that it take the right approach.

“These are not easy decisions and they need to be weighed carefully,” he said. alliance together.”

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Follow TBEN’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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