The German debate about deliveries of main battle tanks to Ukraine is being conducted with many emotions. But there is a lack of strategic vision.
The German debate about the Delivery of battle tanks is riddled with errors. Of the mirror claims that "German arms supplies may be central to a Kiev victory over mighty Russia." That's not true: In the first half of the year, the US delivered arms and assistance worth 24 billion euros to Kyiv - three times as much as all European countries combined. Only the US can mobilize so many weapons and money so quickly. How long Ukraine can continue this defensive war will be decided in Washington, not in Berlin, Warsaw or London. But if you listen to the Union, some Greens and FDP members, Ukraine's military success seems to depend on German battle tanks. This is either dramatization rhetoric, overconfidence or ignorance.
The second misconception is that Germany does not support Kyiv enough. An FDP politician called the German aid ridiculous. The government is throwing "floating sleeves to shipwrecked people". Many leading media have been writing the same thing for months. Berlin has supplied weapons for 730 million euros: 24 anti-aircraft Gepard tanks, 54 armored troop transporters, 14,900 anti-tank mines, 100,000 hand grenades, anti-drone cannons, multiple rocket launchers and much more. If you think that's swimming arms, you have to dream of a lot of very heavy weapons.
Scholz has decisively shifted the political coordinates in Germany towards the military
Another misconception is that the chancellor is always on the brakes. On Thursday in the Bundestag, the Union demands approval for the "export of battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and transport tanks" and wants to convict Scholz once again of being a procrastinator. In doing so, the chancellor shifted the political coordinates towards the military as decisively as only Schröder and Fischer had previously done with the deployment of the German armed forces in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The traffic light upgrades the Bundeswehr with 100 billion. Germany is supplying massive amounts of weapons to a war zone in a way that was previously unthinkable. In two years, 15,000 Bundeswehr soldiers are to be on site in the Baltic States as part of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. Including 65 fighter jets, warships and KSK to fight Russian military in case of need. In effect, Germany will thus become the military protecting power for the Baltic countries, which Putin counts within the Russian sphere of influence. All of this has not yet reached the German public.
Tank debate as a cipher
Scholz often explains what he is doing too late – but follows more strategic considerations than moral impulses. Germany supplies effective weapons, but these are more likely to be used behind the front lines. Captured German battle tanks would be fodder for Russian propaganda, which perfidiously re-staged the invasion of Ukraine as World War II. So is it "shameful", according to the tenor of the German media, not to be the first to shout hurray and supply battle tanks? By the way, the British, French and the US government are also hesitant.
The tank debate can only be understood as a cipher. It's about something that Germans are much better at than military tactics or geopolitics - morally excessive self-understanding. The robust yes to tank deliveries is considered ethically noble, a no as suspicious misgivings. In the 1980s and 1990s, the peace movement claimed morality for itself. Now the feeling of being on the side of good has switched sides: from swords to ploughshares to arms exports immediately. According to a survey, most Germans are against tanks for Kyiv. Only supporters of the Greens are for that.
It is also surprising that in this country even faint references to nuclear weapon threats from Moscow are considered silly. Don't worry, they just bark. And if not? In addition to partial mobilization and the annexation of occupied territories, Putin has again threatened nuclear strikes. A sign of weakness, yes, but disturbing for that very reason. US President Biden, who appealed to Putin "Don't do it!", takes a possible nuclear escalation more seriously than the leading German media. Instead of German Angst, now German Ignoranz – a strange reversal of the 1980s, when the USA stationed Pershings and many Germans feared the “nuclear holocaust”.
The discursive arrangement "Almost everyone against the brakeman Scholz" leads to a distorted perception. Secretary of Defense Lambrecht wants them Arms Export Policies loosen. SPD leader Klingbeil raves about Germany's leading role in Europe. Criticism? Hardly. There are no serious critics of the new German role in Parliament; the Left Party is a total failure. So the debate always only goes in one direction – but it would need two. It would be necessary to break away from the fixation on weapons.
The traffic light tried early on to make offers of support to countries like India and Indonesia in order to shore up Western sanctions. This is part of the classic role of a civil power. Has Scholz done enough for this beyond symbolic politics at the G7? Is there anything else? Buried under Leopard tanks, these questions never come up.
The fundamental question is: Will Germany remain a civilian power that relies on soft power if it becomes the "leading military power" (Lambrecht) in Europe? With a military that is as naturally part of the mental national emotional balance as in France or Great Britain. Does Berlin really want to offensively assume the difficult role of a European semi-hegemon – stronger than all its neighbors, but never strong enough to be dominant?
The war in Ukraine brings with it geopolitical shifts. In Germany, people prefer to discuss a few tanks in a highly emotional manner. And confuses a piece of the puzzle with the big picture.