On the tank as a taboo – Markus Becker, Tobias Becker, Susanne Beyer, Matthias Gebauer, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Maxwill, Veit Medick, René Pfister, Tobias Rapp and Steffen Winter in Der Spiegel:
‘Every chancellorship has its turning point, moments when the adrenalin is high and the stakes even higher. For Helmut Kohl, it was German reunification. For Angela Merkel, the refugee crisis. For Olaf Scholz, though, it's difficult to pinpoint a single moment because there have been so many. So many that, even if he has only been in office for just over a year, it's hard to remember how things were at the beginning.’
‘For Ukraine, such risks are secondary to its ongoing existential struggle. From Kyiv's perspective, the decision to send Leopard battle tanks was long overdue, particularly given Russia's apparent preparations for a spring offensive. Ukraine has been demanding the tanks for months, and now, the first of them will soon arrive. "Cheers my dear friends in Germany," tweeted Andriy Melnyk, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, after DER SPIEGEL announced Scholz's decision on Tuesday evening. "Today I will get drunk."’
‘It's 20th century history, Germany's culpability for two world wars and the consequences of that violence, including the division of the country – it's all part of the equation. Scholz tried to address the concerns of both the skeptics and the supporters of increased arms deliveries, but that approach didn't really work. According to a recent survey by the pollster Forsa, not even half of the German population views him as trustworthy. And only a quarter believe he is a strong leader.
The conflict over the Leopards has revealed a lot. More is now known about the chancellor's leadership style, but also about the problems that exist, including cracks in Berlin's ties to Washington and within the Western alliance as a whole. Scholz must now pick up the pieces.
He has infuriated Eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, because he took so long to make his decision. The chancellor has also angered some within the U.S. government due to his insistence that U.S. President Joe Biden also send American battle tanks. Despite protestations from Washington that the M1 Abrams tanks aren't suitable, Scholz's people stood by their position that U.S. tanks were an absolute necessity if Germany was going to send Leopards. They say that without Scholz's tenacity and insistence that Berlin and Washington take the step together, the alliance may have disintegrated. "It is correct that we didn't get pushed into it on our own," Scholz says.’
‘Then, in early January, there was a sudden shift. Berlin finally indicated its willingness to send Marder infantry fighting vehicles if the U.S. and other allies were to do the same. The U.S. acquiesced, agreeing to send Bradleys to Kyiv from its stockpiles, and Paris also gave the green light for similar equipment. It was intended as a clear signal from the alliance, but then, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had to that point elegantly refrained from getting his hands dirty in the arms debate, ruined the moment. He pressed ahead with the announcement that Paris would be sending armored reconnaissance vehicles to Ukraine.’
‘It suddenly looked as though Scholz had been caught in an avalanche of criticism – to the public eye, at least. In the background, though, things were looking up. Biden was coming around.
The breakthrough was finally achieved at the beginning of this week. Jake Sullivan again called Berlin, this time with good news. He reported that the White House was planning on overriding the Pentagon's concerns and delivering enough Abrams tanks for a Ukrainian battalion. That would translate to 31 tanks, not a huge amount, and they wouldn't be sent immediately. They might not even be available until the end of the year. But for Scholz, Biden's concession was the key to greenlighting the delivery of the Leopards. The U.S. president had clearly shown that the alliance is more important to him than the interests of his own military.’
‘He desperately wanted U.S. protection, which makes it look as though he doesn't have too much faith in Europe's self-reliance. On the other hand, the public verdict regarding the chancellor's alleged indecision may have been a bit premature – because he got what he wanted from Biden. It may be that the tanks will arrive in Ukraine too late because of Scholz, it may be that this deal was ultimately more of a friendly gesture from the U.S. president than part of a well-executed plan. But the danger that Putin can now divide the West, that he might single out Germany as an adversary because of the delivery of Leopard tanks, has grown smaller. That is on the plus side of the ledger for Scholz. The flip side is that egos have been dented, with everyone fighting for him or herself. And that's not good for the evolution of the war.’
‘For the stability of the Western alliance, however, the Scholz-Biden axis is key. From the very beginning, from the perspective of the White House at least, the Americans have shown consideration for German interests. From day one, Biden has avoided the bellicose rhetoric that his predecessor Donald Trump consistently adopted when talking about Germany.
On substance, Trump and Biden weren't even that far apart: Both thought it was a huge folly for Germany to become even more dependent on Russian natural gas with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And both believe the Germans should spend more money on defense. But Biden's people also wanted to clean up the wreckage Trump had left behind in German-American relations.’
‘Many in the country are agitated and unsettled. From the very beginning, the war in Ukraine has triggered fear in many people. Still, there is majority approval in Germany for the delivery of battle tanks, with 54 percent considering it sensible, according to a poll conducted by Civey on behalf of DER SPIEGEL. But there are regional differences, with 62 percent of residents of the former East German states opposing the move. Scholz's course, it would seem, is polarizing.
Popular Russian-German writer Vladimir Kaminer, who was born in the Soviet Union, sums it up as follows: "Half of the Germans are sitting on the tank, the other half would rather jump off."
The Leopard decision could deepen that rift, even among the country's university-educated elite. As early as the end of April, in an open letter published in the influential feminist magazine Emma, intellectuals called on the chancellor to exercise restraint in the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine. Meanwhile, others demanded the opposite in an open letter published by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.’ (…)
‘But there are other voices, as well, also in the east. Bodo Ramelow, the governor of the state of Thuringia who originally hails from West Germany and used to be a strict opponent of arms deliveries, says today: "Anyone who is attacked has the right to defend themselves." Even with tanks. "My position remains. The Russian army must leave Ukraine, and only a sovereign Ukraine can negotiate peace." Like Kretschmer, Ramelow's position runs counter to that of his own party. He is a representative of the far-left Left Party, which is currently seeking to do all it can to resist the tank deliveries.
Positions in Germany are crisscrossing, along and against party lines. Scholz also has to keep multiple generations in mind – and fear prevails in almost all of them. Among the most elderly in Germany, current developments awaken memories of World War II and German guilt.
Meanwhile, the postwar generation has a special relationship with Russia; the Cold War is their old trauma. Germany's forty-somethings and younger grew up in a stable European order after the fall of the Wall – from today's perspective a comfort zone in which freedom and democracy were taken so much for granted that the shock at the loss of old certainties is now all the greater.’
‘The Western alliance now finds itself facing new conflicts and questions about what steps can be taken down the road to ramp up aid to Ukraine. With the delivery of battle tanks, though, it appears that the last taboo has fallen. The delivery of spectacular new weapons systems, such as fighter aircraft, warships or even submarines, no longer seems unrealistic. Or does it? Andriy Melnyk, who was recently promoted from his former role as the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany to deputy foreign minister in Kyiv, has already suggested that Berlin should move to deliver fighter jets, like the air force's outdated Tornados, to Ukraine. But the jets are so ramshackle that the Bundeswehr has trouble enough keeping them in the air on its own, and it has done so at immense cost. A plan to equip Ukraine with U.S.-made F-16 fighters seems more realistic, but no decision has been made on that yet either.’
‘Preparation is imperative. No one knows how or when the Russian war will end. And currently, there don't seem to be any plans for peace in Washington, Berlin or the other alliance capitals. Why? Because so far Putin hasn't shown any indication that he is ready for talks without any preconditions. The Leopard tanks are meant to force the Kremlin ruler to talk.
It is also clear that, once the war is eventually over, Kyiv will be permanently dependent on the military and economic support of its allies to deter Russia from attacking again. Unless, that is, a democratic government were to come to power in Moscow at some point.
But that's not something that Berlin, Washington, Paris and Warsaw are even dreaming of at the moment.
"This war," one member of the chancellor's team said, "is going to go on for a long time."’
Read the article here.
Conclusions: escalate to de-escalate can take a long time.
The 20th century is still holding Germany in its arms. More so than any other country, with the exception of Russia.
The division between west and east in Germany is still real. My prediction: these divisions will live longer than the DDR.
Scholz is doing what Merkel did. Moving slowly, only when necessary, always looking at the polls and mindful that morality is part of the equation. Part.
Also, whether the tanks will make a huge difference remains unclear.