Germany’s decision to dispatch some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine’s aid suggests that the former’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz has finally decided which side he would like to win in Kyiv’s struggle against Putin’s Kremlin. This has been accompanied by a quiet admission that, despite its prior efforts, it is not Germany’s place to dictate to other countries what they can and cannot do with German-manufactured weapons of war.
It is of course a pity that other European countries were forced to suspend their efforts to supply Ukraine’s war effort for fear of offending Berlin, but this in itself proves Germany’s unquestionable political dominance of the European continent, as well as the fact that a unified federated Europe is as unwise an idea as it is utterly impractical. A political bloc cannot enjoy any cohesion when countries such as Poland, who have warned against Russia since their accession to NATO and the EU, and the Baltic states view the world in such a different way to the profit-minded Teutons.
While Germany’s move is a welcome step, it is not enough, and must not be taken for a sudden and dramatic shift in Berlin’s foreign policy. Doubtless, the legislative deputies in the Bundestag would prefer Ukraine to accept Putin’s terms of a negotiated peace, even at the cost of the occupied territories. Indeed, it is hardly a coincidence that the decision to send Leopard 2 tanks only came after the British pledged their Challengers.
Still, if Germany is finally waking up to the fact that energy dependence on Russia and wilful ignorance of Moscow’s imperial conquests have contributed to the horrors being suffered by Ukraine and its people, then perhaps a lasting change in its approach to governance can be achieved. However, as this will necessitate ramping up arms production and, by association, coming to peace with its own past, this seems to be unlikely.
There is a tendency in Europe to put forward ‘European values’ above all considerations of realpolitik, even though these aforementioned values seem to be built on quicksand, with no foundation in the definition. One only has to think of Charles Michel, the feckless president of the European Council, who smugly posting on social media how ‘LGBT rights are European rights’ in response to demonstrators in the South Caucasus nation of Georgia who were protesting against what they erroneously refer to as ‘Gay Propaganda’ in their country.
As ludicrous as the protestors may have been, ridiculing the beliefs of a European aspirant nation that could feasibly fall into Russian influence seemed to be deeply unwise.
The Germans, too, are able to demonstrate the European capacity for being their own worst enemies and embrace displays of moral virtue – to apologize for the Holocaust, according to one British conservative commentator – while ignoring the difficulties and risks of practical policy. The decision to let over a million Muslim migrants into their country was followed by a sharp rise in public support for the far right, with the Alternative for Germany party becoming the third-most popular in the country. The European moral Left did not seem able to connect these two events as being related.
However, Germany’s open door to mass migration did prove that Berlin is able and willing to take on financially costly and logistically difficult endeavors, but it proved spineless when matters became more complicated. It denied entry to Ukrainians attempting to claim asylum in the wake of Russia’s original invasion in 2014, and has only donated weapons and equipment following examples being set by the UK, US and Poland.
Remilitarizing Germany would be a monumental task, and fraught with complications. The poor quality of its troops have become bywords internationally, with one British officer describing the Bundeswehr’s performance in Afghanistan as that of ‘an aggressive camping organization’, and an entire wing of the German KSK special forces had to be disbanded due to links to far-right groups. Chronic underfunding and a lack of training have also seen German pilots fly fewer hours than their NATO requirements, and their Eurofighter multi-role aircraft are not equipped with air-to-surface ordnance.
The idea of the German soldier being an efficient, well-trained and formidable adversary is one consigned to the history books.
By now, it should be apparent that showing weakness to Putin is fatal. Even the dispatch of German tanks has been done late and with reluctance, and is likely only a face-saving move to avoid complaints that if Britain can send its vehicles there is no reason why Berlin cannot follow suit. Any display of unwillingness or half-hearted support is further proof to the Kremlin that European unity is a myth, and that perhaps NATO would not pass a test of its Article 5 collective defense clause.
The Russian Armed Forces are rather too busy at the time of writing to consider campaigning anywhere else, but the skill with which the Kremlin has reframed the narrative of this conflict, to suggest that Russia is, in fact, now at war with the West, will give Putin more options to conscript and expand his military. Sanctions, regrettably, have seemingly not been enough to stop the Russian war machine, and despite the low quality of its troops and the shortage of equipment and ammunition, Ukrainians continue to die defending their homeland.
Germany’s quiet mastery of Europe has begun to crack under the strain of a violent crisis, and only a hard pragmatic approach – coupled with a true confrontation with Germany’s past – will see European unity emerge onto the real world stage. Whether Scholz has the political foresight and the courage to walk this path, however, is certainly open to question.