December 8, 2023

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Berlin ‘Politically Damaged’ by Debate over Tanks for Ukraine | War in Ukraine

If the German media Handelsblatt The German government says it is preparing to approve such exportsBerlin’s official position is not to authorize the export unless the US also transports these types of weapons to Ukraine.

Liana Fix is ​​a researcher on European issues Council on Foreign RelationsFrom Washington, that explains why the whole debate around tanks is mirrored Significant political damage to Berlin.

What is to be understood from Berlin’s initial decision not to allow the export of tanks until the United States also takes this decision?

This has been the continuation of German policy since the beginning of the war. The president has always indicated that he will not supply weapons to Ukraine alone, but that this will be done in coordination with allies. That being said, coordinating with allies means working with the United States is the new thing. So it’s not just about European allies, it’s about getting protection from Washington. This contrasted with the role many wanted Germany to play in Europe.

Do the internal political dynamics in Germany make it possible to better understand these hesitations?

In fact, it makes the whole thing even more difficult to understand. For the first time in Germany, we have formed a coalition of three parties. In this alliance, two of the three partners are in favor of arms deliveries. Only one party, Chancellor Schales’s Social Democratic Party, opposed it. So the chancellor came under pressure not only from international partners but also from his allies in Germany. Indeed fear of Russian retaliation had dictated the Chancellor’s behavior from the start of the war, but this position became difficult to defend.

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Why is the president so afraid of these retaliations, including by other European partners who are geographically closer to Russia?

I think this is because, unlike other European allies like France and England, Germany does not have a long tradition of military and strategic culture. Arms supply to Ukraine is a completely new phase, at least since the end of the Cold War. This topic is the subject of more heated debates in Germany than in other European countries, where there is not much debate on the topic.

The other reason has to do with this idea that America’s nuclear umbrella is the main security guarantee for the Germans and that operating only with European allies is not secure enough. This is problematic because it comes at a time when there are discussions about Europeans taking their destiny into their own hands by developing greater autonomy. But if Germany, the continent’s most important country, continues to gravitate toward the United States and wait for the green light from Washington, all hopes for a stronger Europe will not be fulfilled.

Germany has come under a lot of criticism for sinking its tanks. What effect will this have on the country’s reputation on a continental scale?

Germany has had a reputational problem since the start of the war. Berlin announced a change in its foreign policy in response to the attack on Ukraine, but since then the country has moved only in small steps. German reliability was already in question, but in the tank file it was even worse, as Germany’s initial refusal to send these vehicles would not only influence its own decisions. Other European countries that have bought these tanks from Germany in the past cannot export them to Ukraine without Berlin’s permission.

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In addition to questions about Germany’s credibility, the document raises questions for other European countries. If Germany can prevent a decision like sending tanks to Ukraine, should they depend on Berlin for basic military needs?

However, Germany announced a strategic shift in terms of energy and defense early in the war. What happened since then?

It was in both energy and security. For example, Chancellor Germany announced that it would spend more than 2% of its GDP on defense each year. This was NATO’s goal, but Germany never respected it. According to estimates, Berlin will not reach this goal until 2025. So there have been a lot of announcements about fundamental changes, but in areas where these changes should come from Germany itself, for example in defence, it has been slower than expected.

As for energy, Berlin had no choice but to act, because at a certain point Russia decided not to supply gas to Germany.