Leopard 2 Tank Debate: Genius or Driven

Olaf Scholz did not make a good public impression in the debate about the delivery of main battle tanks. Whether he is ultimately a winner remains in the dark.

Scholz and Bundeswehr soldiers in front of a Leopard battle tank

Olaf Scholz speaks to soldiers in front of a Leopard 2 battle tank after an exercise (October 2022) Photo: Moritz Frankenberg/dpa

Olaf Scholz did not look confident on the way to the Leopard delivery. He was never able to rigorously explain why the Ukraine war should escalate with Western battle tanks of all things. He allowed time to pass, which is now probably missing, to send the vehicles to the front before a possible Russian spring offensive. And as the most exposed brakeman within the western alliance, he pulled the Resentment, especially from Central and Eastern European countries on himself and the Federal Republic.

And yet did he win in the end? That is one interpretation of Tuesday’s media reports, according to which Germany, after a long struggle, will deliver Leopard 2 tanks after all, in lockstep with the USA, which in turn is providing Ukraine with Abrams main battle tanks.

The Chancellor is said to have made the latter a condition of the former, leading Benevolent to conclude: Through his steadfastness he got the maximum out of it for Ukraine. He used a handful of his own vehicles as leverage to get the US on board and put together a really big tank package. A coherent interpretation – but no more or less conclusive than the competing version.

According to her, Scholz did not want to deliver any battle tanks until the end. For months he went from one excuse to the next. That he didn’t want to act without the US was his last resort – which in the end, because Washington was changing course, was no longer tenable. The pressure has simply become too great. In this variant, the chancellor is not a genius, but simply driven.

Is version A or version B correct, or maybe a mixture of both versions? Hard to say. The debate about the arms deliveries has a special character that makes it difficult to interpret. It’s about war and peace, so naturally those involved don’t fully disclose what their trade-offs are. Instead, they throw all sorts of argumentative smokescreens, partly due to irrelevant interests.

Final act of the gun debate

In the Polish government for example, which has been putting the most visible pressure on in recent days, the upcoming election campaign probably plays a role. In the case of the chancellor, it may be his own stubbornness in connection with the dynamics within the traffic light: just don’t give the impression that Strack-Zimmermann has prevailed.

As a result, it will probably only be clear how the Panzer decision came about in decades: when the relevant files are no longer secret and the historians are allowed into the archives. For the time being, however, in the absence of clear facts that are recognized across camps, it remains primarily a question of faith as to whether Scholz is the hero or the loser.

The good news: The weapons debate will not continue in this form for much longer. After the tanks are through, the fighter jets could continue. But Germany will not be the focus here. Flying is more complicated than driving. The Tornados and Eurofighters are therefore less attractive than Eastern European aircraft, with which Ukrainian pilots have long been familiar, and US ones, on which training is said to be ongoing.

When jets are also delivered at some point, the debate will no longer revolve around the symbolically charged question of which new types of weapons Ukraine could still get. Then it will be more a question of finding supplies and replacements for the systems that have already been delivered. These questions will be less sharpened, less acrimonious, and less relentlessly debated. After the repeated and tedious debates of the past few months, that’s something.

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