NATO members right to send tanks to Ukraine The

NATO members right to send tanks to Ukraine

Read more about our recent coverage of the Ukraine crisis.

EVERYBODY KNOWS that the second round of the war in Ukraine is coming. Everyone knows that the Ukrainians need tanks and long-range missiles to withstand the next Russian offensive and retake their territory. And everyone knows that sooner or later the West usually gives Ukraine what it needs.

That’s why the latest round of “After you! No, after you!” was so somber and self-destructive. The fact that Ukraine is to receive battle tanks is to be welcomed. But the way the decision came about prolonged Ukraine’s agony, damaged Western unity and benefited no one but the man in the Kremlin. None of the NATO actors are coming off the latest drama well, but Germany is coming off the worst.

Germany should be commended: including aid channeled through the European Union, it has provided more military and financial aid to Ukraine than any other country except America. Under her chancellor, Olaf Scholz, she still managed to come across as reserved and hesitant. With Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine approaching, his first instinct was to limit military aid to helmets. Mr. Scholz’s caution has made it appear as if he has been pushed into promising anti-missile systems by America. He pledged infantry fighting vehicles in January, shortly after France set a precedent. Most recently he trembled over tanks.

Ukraine has been requesting German-made Leopards since the seventh day of the invasion, but Germany has been unwilling to send its own, nor to allow other countries to re-export theirs. When the Western Allies gathered at Ramstein, an American base in Germany, on January 20, hopes had been reached for a long-overdue agreement on sending tanks. But Mr. Scholz failed, only to back down on January 25 after scathing criticism from his allies, from Germany and even from his own coalition. His government is now promising to send 14 Leopards to Ukraine and allow other countries to follow suit, a welcome gift on the 45th birthday of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “It’s true that we didn’t let ourselves be pushed, but decided to work closely with our allies,” said an unrepentant Scholz in the Bundestag.

Other countries are not blameless. Until recently, America was reluctant to send Abrams tanks, and France’s Emmanuel Macron has said only that he is “considering” sending Leclercs after many months of turning them down. The UK, keen to set a precedent, stepped up a few weeks ago but they can only spare 12 or 14 Challengers and they will be of limited use as they lack a good parts and ammo supply chain in Europe . Poland, which has been the most vocal insults to Germany, only got around to officially asking for a re-export permit this week.

In Germany, there is a feeling that Mr. Scholz has won a diplomatic victory. By digging into his heels, he forced the Americans to offer 31 of his Abrams tanks. Neutral Switzerland will now, under German pressure, allow Swiss ammunition to be used. Some argue it is another success for Germany’s gradualist strategy of increasing the caliber of arms supplies to Ukraine without provoking an escalation from Russia.

For Germany’s allies, however, Mr Scholz doesn’t look so smart. The Leopards are better suited to Ukraine than the Abrams, which are fuel hungry and difficult to maintain. German-made tanks are fast and powerful; Most importantly, more than 2,000 of them are already in the arsenals of 13 European armies. They could play a crucial role in stopping a new Russian push and punching a hole through the land bridge linking Russia to occupied Crimea.

Mr. Scholz’s diplomatic victory is therefore Pyrrhic. This happened at the expense of the first major public dispute between Ukraine’s allies. And the chancellor blocked the best possible outcome, which is that Ukraine would have gotten more leopards much sooner.

Even if Mr. Scholz’s reluctance was a fear of escalation, his demarche makes no sense: his argument in recent days has been that he wanted America to deliver tanks at the same time as Germany. A more obscure calculation is that the Chancellor knows that Russia will remain a large and powerful presence in Europe after the war is over. Maybe he wants to stay on reasonable terms. But that line of thinking should have been completely discredited by Russia’s repeated invasions of its neighbors in 2008, 2014 and 2022.

Many will say that this explanation for Mr. Scholz’s hesitation is too cynical. More charitable would be a deep aversion to the spectacle of German tanks heading east again toward Kharkiv and Kursk. This is understandable, but wrong thinking. In 1941, German invaders invaded Russia. This time the invaders are Russians. There is no equivalence between assisting a victim in self-defense and committing an aggressive act. Anyone who confuses the two has learned the wrong lesson from their country’s terrible history.

Mr. Scholz’s claim to European leadership was reinforced immediately after the invasion when he proclaimed a turning point in Germany’s strategic perspective. Yet it is Mr. Biden who sees the statesman for backing down to preserve transatlantic unity when so much was at stake. Herr Scholz, on the other hand, endangered them and squandered Germany’s diplomatic gain by so reluctantly endorsing Leopards. ■