Discover more from eugyppius: a plague chronicle
Is the demand that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz green-light the export of Leopard 2 tanks more about hurting Germany than helping Ukraine?
While tanks will make little practical difference for the war, Germany lacks the manufacturing capacity to make good the losses, so European countries will be forced to buy American tanks instead.
In 1952, Hastings Ismay famously remarked that the purpose of NATO is “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down,” and the war in Ukraine has made it very hard to doubt that he was right.
The Ukraine needs battle tanks to defend itself against the Russian onslaught. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz has hesitated to provide them. For this reason, he’s come under massive pressure from many allies. [German Defence Minister Boris] Pistorius explained why Germany is still hesitating with two sentences: There are good reasons for delivering the tanks, and good reasons against doing so. All arguments have to be weighed carefully …
When American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared before the press in Ramstein shortly after Pistorius, he was asked whether Germany was doing its part as a leading European power. Austin couldn’t help smiling, but then he replied that Germany was doing enough and that it was a “reliable ally”. He ought to know exactly what Pistorius meant, in speaking of good reasons for and good reasons against providing tanks to Ukraine. The reasons in favour are military in nature: Without tanks, the Ukraine cannot defend itself.
The German government has been rather more evasive about the reasons against. The German defence industry is concerned that the Americans will replace the [German-manufactured European] Leopards with their own tanks. The war in Ukraine offers the United States the opportunity to displace German competition and secure a foothold in the European defence market by supplying its own armoured vehicles, as it has already done with helicopters, fighter jets and missiles.
eugyppius: a plague chronicle is a reader-supported publication. maybe you subscribe?
Years of peace in Europe, an ageing population and a corresponding focus on expensive social programmes have caused Germany to put its defence industry into near-hibernation. Only a little over 2,000 Leopard 2s have ever seen the light of day. Each one is a hand-built machine that takes two years to make. If Germany permits the export of the European supply of Leopard 2s to Ukraine, the Russians will grind them to nothing within months, and then Europe will have no tanks except the tanks that the Americans sell them:
Defence industry representatives, who wish to remain anonymous, report that the Americans are offering their own used tanks as replacements to [European] countries able to supply Leopard 2s to Ukraine, together with a long-term industrial partnership. Any country that accepts the American offer would be hard to win back for the German tank industry. Berlin’s influence in armament policy would decrease correspondingly.
Tanks are driven by men, who have to be trained in the operation of specific models. Their use moreover requires a whole supply chain of munitions and especially spare parts, which the Americans are eager to offer. The upshot is that, once Europe opts into American armour, it will never switch back, and Germany will be out of the game for good. Nor should we lend much credence to the idea that our very few tanks will make any difference either way for Ukraine’s prospects. The insistence that Scholz release the Leopard 2s is simply an attempt to edge Germany further out of the European arms industry and into a position of lesser political and economic influence in Europe, so that the United States can fill the gap.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Zbigniew Brzezinski called Eurasia the new “great chessboard” of world politics … The Russian nationalists and ideologues like Alexander Dugin indeed dream of Eurasia. It is on this “chessboard” that America must defend its supremacy – this is Brzezinski's doctrine. In other words, it must prevent the rapprochement of Russia and China. The financial crisis of 2008 made it clear that with reunification Germany had become the leading power in Europe and thus also a rival of the United States. Until 1989, it had been a political dwarf. Now Berlin let it be known that it was willing to engage with the Russians. The fight against this rapprochement became a priority of American strategy. The United States had always made it clear that they wanted to torpedo [Nord Stream 2]. The expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe was not primarily directed against Russia, but against Germany. Germany, which had entrusted its security to America, became the Americans’ target [in the destruction of the pipeline]. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Germany. It suffers from this trauma of betrayal by its protective friend - who was also a liberator in 1945.
After the anti-Russian sanctions regime and its clear deindustrialising effects on the German economy, followed by the attack on the Baltic Nord Stream pipelines, and even smaller things, such as the high-profile anti-industry protests by the American-funded activist group Letzte Generation, I am willing to believe many conspiratorial things about the Ukraine war.
Still, I think Todd’s thesis is overdrawn. This war is about Russia primarily, and about Germany only secondarily. It’s an attempt of the Global American Empire to hem in Russia via an extended proxy campaign. In the longer term, this effort will require that Europe remain an American outpost, as it was during the Cold War, and this means the economic and political influence of Germany must be sharply curtailed. America – and not Germany – must dominate the Continent. The Scholz government have gone very far in making concessions to the Americans, but they appear to have finally drawn a line of sorts, at giving the Americans a pretence to sell their tanks in Europe. It will be important to see whether they can hold out.