Why can’t the West agree on how much military aid to send to Ukraine?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been under enormous pressure to deliver Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The in Kyiv has long argued it desperately needs them to retake territory seized by Russia in its 2022 invasion, and to protect the rest of Ukraine from the ’s looming spring offensive.

So far, has refused, and in recent weeks has spent significant political capital to ban other nations such as Poland and Finland from transferring their own Leopards to Kyiv.

After serious discussions between members of NATO’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group last week, the new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, announced that instead of sending Germany’s tanks to Ukraine, he would count them instead. A proper inventory would apparently give Berlin a better idea of ​​whether it could meet Kiev’s wishes in the future.

This week, it seems Germany finally caved in, and the said so wouldn’t stand in the way of Poland sending its Leopard tanks to Ukraine after all.

Germany’s position – which many have found puzzling – has reignited debate within NATO about arming the embattled government in Kyiv.

Is it an obligation or a risky move? What types of weapons should be provided? And what might the repercussions be in terms of a potential response from Russia, the future of European security and ultimately the credibility of the West?

What explains Germany’s indecision?

There have been a number of attempts to explain why, in what is supposed to be a united alliance, there are such deep differences of opinion on these issues.

In Germany’s case, the country pacifist tradition – shaped by the experiences of – is often quoted as being behind its reluctance to supply Kyiv with “offensive” weapons.

Some German analysts legitimately believe that supplying tanks to Ukraine may lead to nuclear war with Russia. Because of its history as a divided nation during the Cold War, Germany also sees itself as having a special diplomatic role to play in bridging the gap between Russia and the West.

Read more: Ukraine’s war: delivery of advanced tanks will give Kyiv an edge over Russia and move it closer to NATO

But these arguments are not very convincing on their own. Nor are they particularly useful. First, Germany already is provide Ukraine with weapons that can be used for offensive purposes – including artillery, rocket launchers, bunker busting missiles and Marder armored fighting vehicles.

In addition, Germany is one of the world’s most enthusiastic arms dealers. It sits at number four globally for total arms sales. Germany had a good year for sales 2021, reaching €9.35 billion (A$14.6 billion). Almost half of these sales went to Egypt.

Its Leopard 2 tank is too armored stapler of NATO’s , with over 2,000 serving across Europe.

And when it comes to Russian President ’s nuclear threat, this has been a concern for over a decade, so it’s hard to see how supplying Ukraine with tanks now makes Berlin particularly vulnerable to Armageddon. In fact, Putin, for all his outrage, carefully avoided drawing NATO into the war, based on the sensible calculation that it would hasten his defeat.

Read more: Is Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threat a hoax? In a word – probably

Germany’s military woes

A more compelling explanation for Germany’s shakiness has to do with the dysfunction within its military, as well as a healthy dose of domestic politics.

Scholz’s decision came just days after the resignation of German Defense Minister . Her tenure was marked by PR disastersincluding a New Year’s video message in which she recounted the “positive encounters” she had with people during the war in Ukraine, and widespread condemnation of her failure to improve the supply of equipment to Germany’s armed forces.

The problems with Germany’s military run deeper and are much more difficult to solve. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany’s military chief, General Alfons Mais, publicly lamented what he saw as the hopeless neglect and under-resources of the armed forces he commanded.

The problem is that Germany’s decision paralysis does not help perceptions of NATO unity – and it especially does not help the Ukrainians.

Scholz’s earlier announcement that he would do so permit only other countries to send their Leopards to Ukraine if the US also supplies Kyiv with its tanks was expected to reveal the US’s own reluctance to donate high-end kit. This despite the fact that the Biden administration is undoubtedly more concerned about advanced weapons systems falling into Russian hands than provoking Putin.

Of course, there have been attempts to break the impasse. Earlier this month, Britain announced it would provide Ukraine with 14 Challenger tanks. It’s hardly a huge number, and it’s certainly not the most advanced kit in the British arsenal. But it was meant to get the ball rolling.

Clarity only comes with strategy

Above all, the back and forth on tanks is proof that NATO lacks a coherent strategy for the war.

It is true that NATO leaders often make moving statements pledging support for Kyiv in its bid to regain its territory, claiming that the West’s goal is to see Russian imperialism defeated. But they alone do not constitute strategy: they are only aspirations.

If NATO members are serious about seeing these aspirations succeed—and if getting the alliance more involved in the war itself is a clear red line—they will need a much more detailed plan to give Ukraine all the help it needs to win war on behalf of the West.

Beyond that, NATO will also need a post-war commitment to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty and develop a strategy to contain Russia in the future.

That will mean some hard compromises, the potential loss of domestic political capital, and the risk of Russian retaliation. But this is a situation NATO finds itself in because of the legacy of its own inaction: by appeasing Putin in the past, it has simply emboldened him.

It is also glaringly obvious that there will be no return to the pre-invasion era through some sort of desperately negotiated compromise. Putin has staked his personal credibility on triumph over Ukraine, and he has not deviated from a maximalist concept of victory.

If all this is too difficult for some NATO members, the ongoing nature of the Russian threat will make it necessary to come up with an alternative.

In many respects, there have been two tracks for European security for some time. The Baltic states, as well as Poland, Great Britain, the United States and even and Finland are well ahead of Germany and other Western European nations who still cling to the idea that Russia can still somehow be dealt with.

In fact, if acknowledging the lack of consensus is what it takes for the West to take a firmer stance on Russia in the future, then it is probably a price worth paying.

Read more: US military spending in Ukraine to reach nearly $50 billion by 2022 – but no amount of money alone is enough to end the war

Author: Matthew Sussex – Fellow, Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University The conversation

Source: sn.dk

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