On 20 January 2023 the Ramstein meeting of representatives from more than 50 countries willing to support Ukraine had ended without any agreement on the question of sending heavy tanks to Ukraine to support its battle for survival against Russia’s aggression. Polish politicians and many observers pointed to Germany as the culprit. The renowned historian from Oxford University, Timothy Garton-Ash, published a post on ‘Twitter’ with the above picture of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Tim’s creation of the new verb “scholzing” – meaning: “communicating good intentions only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to delay these and/or prevent them from happening.” My recent article in West England Bylines on 21 January argued along similar lines: that the German Social Democrats were blocking an absolutely necessary decision of NATO.
Chancellor Scholz needed only four more days to seemingly contradict those accusations: On 25 January he promised that Germany would send Leopard 2 tanks (14 of the modern version Leo2 A6) to Ukraine and would also allow its NATO partners Poland and others to do the same. Poland, FinIand, the Netherlands and Norway also declared their readiness to send Leopard tanks. In addition, U.S. President Biden offered the delivery of 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks. This commitment consisted of more than 100 modern Western tanks for Ukraine. Obviously Chancellor Scholz’ hesitation very much had to do with his waiting for a U.S. reaction. Without the Abrams tanks, Scholz would not have dared to declare his willingness to send Leopards!
The reason is obvious: On the one hand Germany is arguably the most important NATO member on the European continent (a statement which the British government might not accept!), on the other hand Germany is a non-nuclear country and not able to withstand a Russian attack on its own. This means that, because of Putin’s aggressiveness, we are back again to the ‘good old times’ of the Cold War years, when the Bonn government primarily relied on the United States’ ‘nuclear umbrella’ for an effective deterrent.
The days are gone when in spring 2003 Chancellor Schröder together with the French President Chirac met the Russian President Putin in St. Petersburg to declare their joint opposition to the US-British war against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. This is not to argue that they were not right, since it later turned out that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but was a sign of rapprochement between Europe and Russia . Faced with Russia’s threat 20 years later, Germany’s Chancellor decided he had no choice but to go back to ‘good old Uncle Sam’. The idea of a joint French-German military leadership in the framework of the EU turned out (again) to be a non-starter.
In addition, what else does Chancellor Scholz’ Leopard statement mean? Is this proof of Germany’s declared ambition to show ’leadership’ among Europe’s NATO members?
A strong caveat seems necessary: The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces), after 30 years of Germany’s enjoying the ‘peace dividend’, suffers from political neglect, lack of ammunition and malfunction of a lot of its equipment. It will take many years to modernize it and to produce the necessary new weapons systems. As one member of the Bundeswehr recently declared, to modernize its army effectively, Germany will have to switch to a ‘war procurement’ economy! This opinion was echoed by Wolfgang Ischinger, former chairman of the Munich Security Conference. Whatever members of the Berlin government are declaring now about ‘leadership’, this will depend on Germany’s ability to transfer words into deeds. As I argued in a previous article, for the time being the idea of Germany being a ‘civilian power’ is over.
Secondly, Chancellor Scholz’s and his NATO allies’ decision seems to indicate a significant change of strategy towards Putin’s Russia. After the attack on 24 February 2022 few experts in Western Europe, including those in Berlin, expected that Ukraine would be able to withstand the Russian onslaught. It was the bravery and persistence of the Ukrainian fighters as well as the incredible atrocities and numerous heinous war crimes of Putin’s armed forces which slowly but steadily changed Western attitudes. The delivery of heavy tanks now seems to indicate that the U.S. and its European NATO allies are willing to bring about Russia’s military defeat in Ukraine – meaning the complete retreat from all the Ukrainian territories occupied since 2022 or even 2014 (the Crimea!). There also seems to be a tacit understanding that this would mean the end of Putin’s rule – which indeed is necessary to bring peace back to Europe.
If Chancellor Scholz, together with the U.S. and European leaders of NATO, stick to that goal, then nobody should again talk about “scholzing”!