German caution over Ukrainian weapons rooted in political culture

BERLIN (AP) — Germany has become one of Ukraine’s main arms suppliers in the 11 months since the Russian invasion, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also earned a reputation for being reluctant to take each new step, generating impatience among the allies.

Berlin’s perceived slowness, most recently on the Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Kyiv has long sought, is rooted at least in part in a post-WWII political culture of military caution, as well as current concerns about possible escalation. of the war.

On Friday, Germany moved closer to a decision to deliver the tanks, ordering a review of its Leopard stockpiles ahead of a possible green light.

However, there was still no engagement. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius dismissed the suggestion that Germany was standing in the way, but said: “We have to balance all the pros and cons before we decide things like this, just like this.”

It’s a pattern that has repeated itself over the months as Scholz first held back from promising new, heavier equipment and then finally agreed to do so.

More recently, Germany announced in early January that it would send 40 Marder armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, as part of a joint announcement with the United States.who promised 50 Bradley armored vehicles.

The move followed months of calls for Berlin to send the Marder and fueled pressure for it to take another step towards the Leopard tank.

“There is a gap between the actual size of the arms commitment and deliveries – it is Europe’s second largest supplier – and the reluctance with which this is done,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a senior analyst based in Berlin for the German Marshal. American Think Tank Fund.

Scholz, a staunch politician with a self-confident, stubborn side and unwilling to bow to public calls to action, remained staunchly loyal to his approach. He said Germany would not go it alone on arms decisions and stressed the need to avoid NATO becoming a direct party to war with Russia.

As the pressure mounted last week, he said he would not be rushed into major security decisions by “enthusiastic comments”. And he insisted that a majority in Germany backs his government’s “calm, thoughtful and careful” decision-making.

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

This is, at least to some extent, true. Germany refused to supply lethal weapons before the invasion began, reflecting a political culture rooted in part in 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 seen forward pushing a military agenda — you want to try every other option before resorting to that,” Kleine-Brockhoff said. “And so for domestic consumption, it’s seen as a positive thing for a German chancellor to not lead on that, to be cautious, to be resilient, to have tried all the other options.”

Scholz is facing calls from Germany’s center-right opposition and some members of his three-party government coalition to be more proactive on military aid; least of his own centre-left Social Democratic Party, which for decades was steeped in the legacy of the Cold War rapprochement pursued by his predecessor Willy Brandt in the early 1970s.

Scholz “decided early on that he didn’t want to militarily direct aid to Ukraine,” Kleine-Brockhoff said, although “he wants to be a good ally and be part of the alliance and in the middle of the platoon”.

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

Berlin has maintained its caution on the Leopard tank even after Britain announced last week that it would supply Ukraine with its own Challenger 2 tanks.

Hesitation is not just a problem between Berlin and Kyiv, as other countries would need Germany’s permission to send their own stocks of German-made leopards to Ukraine. On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would consider donating its tanks even without permission from Berlin.

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

British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote this week in The Guardian and other newspapers that “to his credit, the German government’s stance on military support for Ukraine has come a long way since the day before the Russian invasion” .

But he argued that the tank issue has become “a litmus test of Germany’s courage to resist the nuclear blackmail of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, to overcome its own national cocktail of fears and doubts and to defend a Free and Sovereign Ukraine,” and that Scholz should lead a “European leopard plan.”

Whether that will eventually happen remains to be seen. Scholz’s government has insisted on close coordination with the United States, a possible reflection in part of the fact that Germany – unlike Britain and France – relies on the US nuclear deterrent.

On Friday, Scholz spokesman Steffen Hebestreit denied reports that Germany had insisted it would only deliver Leopard tanks if the United States sent its own Abrams tanks. He rejected the idea of ​​Berlin dragging others down and insisted he was taking the right approach.

“These are not easy decisions, and they have to be weighed carefully,” he said. “And it’s about being enduring, that all can go with them and support them – and part of a leadership performance is holding an alliance together.”


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