Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit to troops in the Lüneburger Heide: "These warmongers!"

Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit to troops in the Lüneburger Heide: "These warmongers!"


Moritz Frankenberg / picture alliance / dpa

The Last Taboo Germany's Leopard Tanks Are a Game Changer with Significant Risks

With the delivery of Leopard battle tanks from Germany, the Ukraine war is entering into a new and dangerous phase. Olaf Scholz must now clean up the political damage he has caused, hold his country together and find a path with his international partners to end the conflict.

There are two iterations of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz these days. One is calm, almost diffident, the Scholz the country knows best. This iteration is the one most often seen on television or in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. A man who seems almost impervious to the political machinations going on around him. Like on Wednesday of this week: out of the car, into the Bundestag, out of the Bundestag and back into the car. Here and there a smile.

Being the chancellor isn't so tough after all.

The other Olaf Scholz, though, isn't visible to the public eye. The second iteration, say staff members and other members of his center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), shows up behind closed doors in smaller meetings and policy debates, on telephone calls and in confidential sessions. That Scholz is prone to the occasional outburst.


The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 5/2023 (January 27th, 2023) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

On some occasions, he'll go after the media, on others he'll voice his anger with political analysts, and periodically, critics from within his own governing coalition will be the focus of his wrath. All those who, from his perspective, have abandoned discretion and have been gripped by war fever. Those who, according to Scholz, shy away from nothing when it comes to sending weapons systems to Ukraine – first demanding howitzers, then tanks, now warplanes, and at some point, no doubt, troops.

"These warmongers!" he apparently roared during an internal meeting this week. "These hawks!" The pressure that had been building during the previous weeks finally erupted. His frustration with, and indeed disdain for, all those who accuse him of not being suited for the current situation.

Not up to the task? Ridiculous. He would show them all once again. That appears to be how Scholz himself views the situation.

The Turning Point

Every chancellorship has its turning point, moments when the adrenalin is high and the stakes even higher. For Helmut Kohl, it was German reunification. For Angela Merkel, the refugee crisis. For Olaf Scholz, though, it's difficult to pinpoint a single moment because there have been so many. So many that, even if he has only been in office for just over a year, it's hard to remember how things were at the beginning.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine transformed Scholz's tenure at the top. He discarded the long-held German conviction that weapons should never be delivered to warzones. He pledged historically large sums of money to address the energy crisis. And now, after weeks of tense negotiations with the Western allies, his government is sending German battle tanks to Ukraine – among the most technologically advanced weapons that the German military possesses. Some see it as the breaching of a taboo.

"The delivery of additional tanks is irresponsible!"

German feminist intellectual Alice Schwarzer

In just a few months, 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks from Germany are to be at the front in the war against Russia. Berlin has also granted Poland permission to send its own Leopards. The United States is sending battle tanks, as is Britain. Western support for Ukraine has thus reached yet another new level, both militarily and politically. Pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin will rise, but so too, perhaps, will the chance of pushing Russia completely out of Ukraine. The move, though, also comes with a higher level of risk – that the West will become even more deeply involved in this war. That the situation could spin out of control.

For Ukraine, such risks are secondary to its ongoing existential struggle. From Kyiv's perspective, the decision to send Leopard battle tanks was long overdue, particularly given Russia's apparent preparations for a spring offensive. Ukraine has been demanding the tanks for months, and now, the first of them will soon arrive. "Cheers my dear friends in Germany," tweeted Andriy Melnyk, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, after DER SPIEGEL announced Scholz's decision on Tuesday evening. "Today I will get drunk."

A number of foreign policy experts are relieved, even within Scholz's SPD, a party which has traditionally been extremely skeptical of arms deliveries. Ultimately, though, there was no other choice, such is the view within the party. "The delivery of additional tanks is irresponsible!" complained Alice Schwarzer by contrast, the influential German feminist and a prominent member of Team Prudence.

When it comes to this question, Scholz is the chancellor of a deeply divided country. It's 20th century history, Germany's culpability for two world wars and the consequences of that violence, including the division of the country – it's all part of the equation. Scholz tried to address the concerns of both the skeptics and the supporters of increased arms deliveries, but that approach didn't really work. According to a recent survey by the pollster Forsa, not even half of the German population views him as trustworthy. And only a quarter believe he is a strong leader.

The conflict over the Leopards has revealed a lot. More is now known about the chancellor's leadership style, but also about the problems that exist, including cracks in Berlin's ties to Washington and within the Western alliance as a whole. Scholz must now pick up the pieces.

He has infuriated Eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, because he took so long to make his decision. The chancellor has also angered some within the U.S. government due to his insistence that U.S. President Joe Biden also send American battle tanks. Despite protestations from Washington that the M1 Abrams tanks aren't suitable, Scholz's people stood by their position that U.S. tanks were an absolute necessity if Germany was going to send Leopards. They say that without Scholz's tenacity and insistence that Berlin and Washington take the step together, the alliance may have disintegrated. "It is correct that we didn't get pushed into it on our own," Scholz says.

In short, there are competing narratives when it comes to the role played by German Chancellor Scholz. A hero? A man who only moves when he has no other choice? Which is it? How did he finally make his decision? What does Germany think about it? And, how stable is the Western alliance?

The push for delivering German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine began in late summer 2022. It was a time when Scholz's primary focus was actually on the energy crisis, but in the background, pressure on him was growing to finally budge on the Leopards, which are widely considered to be top-of-the-line battle tanks. They could, people in several Western capitals believed, then as now, be enough to turn the tide.

In mid-September, the Americans ratcheted up the pressure on the Germans to send Leopards to Ukraine. Amy Gutmann, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin, praised Germany for all it has done for Ukraine to that point, but added: "My expectations are even higher." The message was clear: It was time to finally do something.

Scholz, though, wasn't ready. He was concerned about an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and was strictly opposed to Germany sticking its neck out further than other countries supporting Ukraine. Discussions in the Chancellery were focused at the time on how Putin might respond if Germany were to send tanks on its own. Nuclear attacks, cyber attacks that could paralyze critical infrastructure, sabotage of important pipelines through which gas flows from Norway to Germany: The scenarios presented by Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, were chilling.

And Scholz was taking them seriously. Precisely because of such threats, according to his closest advisers, he wanted to have the Americans at his side. If Germany sent tanks, it would do so only if Washington agreed to send some of its own – that was his approach, his way of spreading the risk. The Americans, though, just shook their heads. Weren't they already doing enough?

There are around 2,000 Leopard tanks in the arsenals of NATO member states in Europe, and they are far easier to maintain than the Abrams tanks from the U.S., such was the position of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Abrams run on jet fuel and turbine engines, making the logistics far too complicated, the Pentagon stressed.

But the chancellor also had other concerns at the time: public opinion. Surveys were showing that while many Germans were afraid, others wanted to see decisiveness. One group rejected the idea of heavy weapons deliveries out of hand, the other believed them to be an absolute necessity if Ukraine was going to stand up to Putin. Scholz was eager to avoid alienating anybody and his approach to the war included both toughness and precaution. From the outside, though, it looked a lot like indecision and prevarication.

Meanwhile, the Russians were busy fortifying their positions along the frontline, a development that Kyiv found alarming, leading Ukrainian leaders to intensify their calls for help. Only with battle tanks, insisted the team surrounding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as 2022 changed to 2023, would Ukraine be able to break through enemy lines.

During this period, Scholz's foreign policy advisor, Jens Plötner, was speaking by phone almost every day with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The White House, after all, has its own set of considerations when it comes to aid for Ukraine, with the Republicans looking for any possible excuse to question Biden's approach. In principle, Plötner and Sullivan agreed that Ukraine needed battle tanks to stand its ground against Russia. But the fundamental conflict remained unresolved. Scholz would only send tanks if the Americans did as well, that was Berlin's message. And it cast a sudden cloud over trans-Atlantic relations.

Then, in early January, there was a sudden shift. Berlin finally indicated its willingness to send Marder infantry fighting vehicles if the U.S. and other allies were to do the same. The U.S. acquiesced, agreeing to send Bradleys to Kyiv from its stockpiles, and Paris also gave the green light for similar equipment. It was intended as a clear signal from the alliance, but then, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had to that point elegantly refrained from getting his hands dirty in the arms debate, ruined the moment. He pressed ahead with the announcement that Paris would be sending armored reconnaissance vehicles to Ukraine.

Biden Showed Understanding, But Stressed Military's Doubts

Again, Scholz was stuck looking like a follower rather than a leader, and he rushed out his own announcement about the Marders. In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, unrest was rapidly growing, and some in Scholz's coalition were likewise confused. What about the Leopards?

The Tuesday before last, the issue was finally kicked upstairs, with Scholz and Biden discussing it over the phone. The chancellor, according to people familiar with the conversation, told the U.S. president that he could imagine sending Leopards to Ukraine, but only in concert with the U.S. He reminded Biden of the position taken by Washington on sanctions at the beginning of the war – that the countries supporting Ukraine needed to act together. And that Biden demanded at the time that Germany support a tough course.

If the German narrative of the meeting between Biden and Scholz is true, then the U.S. president showed understanding for the chancellor's position, but also stressed the U.S. military's doubts about the expedience and technical feasibility of sending Abrams tanks. The two leaders adjourned and set advisers to work on the discrete search for a solution.

Scholz's team, according to Chancellery sources, then began applying pressure wherever they could in recent days. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, in Washington, in Berlin: Every contact was deployed in the effort. And Biden found himself in an awkward position: His own military leaders were advising him to refrain from sending Abrams tanks, but he had little choice if he wanted to protect the alliance.

Suddenly, though, a wrench was thrown into the works. On the day after the discussion between Scholz and Biden, German media reported that the Chancellor presented the U.S. president with an ultimatum: namely that Leopard tanks would only be sent to Ukraine if the Americans sent Abrams as well. In Washington, the leak was seen as an affront. The impression that other countries could blackmail the White House was a dangerous one. And at the Pentagon, the incident reinforced their concerns. Many at the Department of Defense had come to believe that, by attaching conditions to German tank deliveries, Scholz was primarily interested in precluding tank deliveries altogether, or at least significantly slowing things down. But the important meeting of Ukraine backers scheduled to take place at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany was quickly approaching. Many hoped that progress would be made there.

"Scholzing" means "communicating good intentions, only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to delay these and/or prevent them from happening."

Timothy Garton Ash

Again, though, Scholz's office got in the way. Shortly before the Ramstein meeting, the head of the Chancellery, Wolfgang Schmidt, told U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Berlin that only a joint tank deal was possible. Scholz, he said, would never agree to Germany going it alone. This discussion, too, was leaked to the press, this time by U.S. sources. The Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Austin had left the meeting in frustration and that voices had been raised. The German version, though, was quite a bit different. According to that account, Austin had listened calmly to the arguments from the Scholz team and had emphasized that he respected the German position. Then, he reportedly said that he had to discuss things with Biden.

In the public eye, meanwhile, Scholz had suddenly started looking like someone who wasn't just standing in the way of tank deliveries, but was also inflicting damage on the trans-Atlantic relationship. Scholz's junior government coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) criticized the chancellor's inaction as a "catastrophe." Poland announced that it was planning to officially request permission from Berlin to send 14 Leopard tanks to Ukraine and that it was considering ignoring a possible German veto. British historian Timothy Garton Ash, meanwhile, turned to Twitter to make fun of the chancellor, coining the term "scholzing" and including a definition: "communicating good intentions, only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to delay these and/or prevent them from happening."

It suddenly looked as though Scholz had been caught in an avalanche of criticism – to the public eye, at least. In the background, though, things were looking up. Biden was coming around.

The breakthrough was finally achieved at the beginning of this week. Jake Sullivan again called Berlin, this time with good news. He reported that the White House was planning on overriding the Pentagon's concerns and delivering enough Abrams tanks for a Ukrainian battalion. That would translate to 31 tanks, not a huge amount, and they wouldn't be sent immediately. They might not even be available until the end of the year. But for Scholz, Biden's concession was the key to greenlighting the delivery of the Leopards. The U.S. president had clearly shown that the alliance is more important to him than the interests of his own military.

For Scholz, the compromise was a success, but for Biden, it came at a significant political price. When the president presented his decision in the White House on Wednesday, one reporter asked: "Did Germany force you to change your mind on sending tanks?" Biden laughed and said no, he hadn't been forced.

Either way, Scholz dragged his feet, which isn't exactly a testament to his leadership qualities. He desperately wanted U.S. protection, which makes it look as though he doesn't have too much faith in Europe's self-reliance. On the other hand, the public verdict regarding the chancellor's alleged indecision may have been a bit premature – because he got what he wanted from Biden. It may be that the tanks will arrive in Ukraine too late because of Scholz, it may be that this deal was ultimately more of a friendly gesture from the U.S. president than part of a well-executed plan. But the danger that Putin can now divide the West, that he might single out Germany as an adversary because of the delivery of Leopard tanks, has grown smaller. That is on the plus side of the ledger for Scholz. The flip side is that egos have been dented, with everyone fighting for him or herself. And that's not good for the evolution of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House in December: The Washington-Berlin axis is key for the stability of the Western alliance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House in December: The Washington-Berlin axis is key for the stability of the Western alliance.

Foto: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

In Europe, Scholz's shift appears to have triggered others to reevaluate. As recently as Monday, during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, there was no pro-tank momentum to be seen. When German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock suggested to those of her counterparts who had been vocally critical of Scholz for dragging his feet to file official requests in Berlin for allowance to export their own tanks, only Poland elected to do so. The rest? Crickets.

The chancellor's decision has changed the situation, with the political pressure now shifting to others. Norway and Spain are also now intending to send Leopard tanks. Finland was already prepared to do so, now Portugal has joined the group – and Poland was already a frontrunner. The Netherlands says it is willing to send 18 Leopards it is leasing from Germany, and Sweden is likewise no longer ruling out sending some tanks of its own. In the end, the number of Leopard battle tanks could be significant.

For the stability of the Western alliance, however, the Scholz-Biden axis is key. From the very beginning, from the perspective of the White House at least, the Americans have shown consideration for German interests. From day one, Biden has avoided the bellicose rhetoric that his predecessor Donald Trump consistently adopted when talking about Germany.

On substance, Trump and Biden weren't even that far apart: Both thought it was a huge folly for Germany to become even more dependent on Russian natural gas with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And both believe the Germans should spend more money on defense. But Biden's people also wanted to clean up the wreckage Trump had left behind in German-American relations.

As such, Biden abstained from public admonitions, instead adhering to his conviction that quiet diplomacy would a greater effect. The result: Scholz essentially forced him to become even more deeply involved in Ukraine even though that involvement has become politically risky for Biden back home. It's not just the Trump wing of the Republicans who see the war as a waste of resources.

Publicly, Biden is pretending that German-American harmony has been restored. "The United States and Europe are fully united," he said in introducing the tank deal, thanking his "close friend" Olaf Scholz for his leadership. The German government also asserts that the months of wrangling over the tanks won't leave any lasting damage. On Wednesday, Scholz and Biden joined French President Macron and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Italy for a conference call. Word is that the mood was quite cheerful.

Beneath the surface, though, things are continuing to simmer. "I am disappointed that the Germans are playing this game: We will not send our tanks until America sends their tanks, " Lindsey Graham, the Republican U.S. senator from South Carolina, told DER SPIEGEL.

"The delivery of the Leopard tanks is strategically as well as morally wrong."

Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel

Of course there's irritation, said Jeff Rathke, a longtime diplomat and president of the Institute for Modern German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Militarily, Rathke says, it would have made more sense to supply just one weapon system: the Leopard 2. "The way the German government has gone about this particular tank decision is sobering for people in Washington who have advocated a stronger and more autonomous European role," he says. "Because what we've seen is that for a crucial question of European security, the German government chose to move only in coordination with the United States."

It has been an exhausting few weeks for Scholz, but what lies ahead is unlikely to be any less draining. Because now this is also Scholz's war – with its battle tanks, Germany is now at the apex of the anti-Putin alliance. Germany's relationship with the U.S. is too important, so Scholz will also have to make concessions to the Americans in the coming months.

At home, Scholz will also need to demonstrate a different kind of leadership. One that is more open and less secretive. The fact that for several weeks, he hardly made any attempt to explain his course, for which there are certainly good reasons, made him appear weak, inscrutable. At a meeting this week with SPD lawmakers, Scholz said, according to participants, that it has to be possible for him to speak to other heads of government without half the world listening in.

Fair enough. But the war is now entering a new phase, and the chancellor must finally find a language to bring his country along with him. He should be explaining why the tanks are needed and what Germany's and the West's larger strategic goals are. How far do you go in helping Ukraine? Where should the country's future borders lie? Should Crimea be part of future Ukraine or not? And does anyone have any idea how this war will end?

"Trust me," Scholz said on Wednesday in parliament. It didn't sound as though he was trying to change his style. Once again, it sounded like: I have a master plan and you will hear about it eventually. The question is whether such an approach can ever be successful.

Many in the country are agitated and unsettled. From the very beginning, the war in Ukraine has triggered fear in many people. Still, there is majority approval in Germany for the delivery of battle tanks, with 54 percent considering it sensible, according to a poll conducted by Civey on behalf of DER SPIEGEL. But there are regional differences, with 62 percent of residents of the former East German states opposing the move. Scholz's course, it would seem, is polarizing.

Popular Russian-German writer Vladimir Kaminer, who was born in the Soviet Union, sums it up as follows: "Half of the Germans are sitting on the tank, the other half would rather jump off."

The Leopard decision could deepen that rift, even among the country's university-educated elite. As early as the end of April, in an open letter published in the influential feminist magazine Emma, intellectuals called on the chancellor to exercise restraint in the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine. Meanwhile, others demanded the opposite in an open letter published by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

The Effect of German History

In reporting this article, DER SPIEGEL once again asked both sides what they think about the planned delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and again the picture is mixed.

German feminist intellectual Alice Schwarzer, 80, publisher of Emma and the initiator of the open letter printed in that publication, is horrified and already sees a great global conflagration coming. "The delivery of more tanks is irresponsible!" she says. "Over 200,000 dead soldiers already and 1,000 more every day on both sides, dead civilians, raped women and the devastation in Ukraine. And now also the danger of a world war that is getting ever closer. Germany would likely be one of the hardest-hit countries. At some point, negotiations have to take place. So, why not now? Immediately!"

Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel, 71, was one of the first signatories of Schwarzer's letter. He now expresses himself more cautiously than Schwarzer, but he still considers the delivery of the Leopard tanks to be "strategically as well as morally wrong." But he says it was largely unavoidable politically. The proponents were simply too loud. Nonetheless, Merkel - who is not related to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel - believes that the "aggressor Putin" will "not be deprived of any of his escalation capabilities" by the tank delivery. Philosopher Svenja Flasspöhler, 47, who also, signed the Emma letter, says she would do it again today. While she does understand the reasoning that led to the tank decision, "my doubts and questions prevail," she says.

Gerd Koenen an intellectual and public figure who signed the counter letter, says he is disappointed in Scholz – not because the chancellor is now sending tanks, but because he is doing so too late. "Too little too late! Just as he has been acting from the beginning," Koenen, 78, says critically. "If, after the invasion, the NATO member states had immediately and unequivocally committed themselves to halfway redressing the massive arms imbalance between the aggressor and the victim of aggression, we would have a very different situation."

"Anyone who is attacked has the right to defend themselves."

Thuringia state governor Bodo Ramelow

The international community sometimes overlooks how strongly German history affects present-day sensitivities. One factor is the 40-year division of Germany. It is certainly no coincidence that skepticism about tank deliveries is more pronounced in eastern Germany than in the western part of the country. There are closer ties to Russia in the east. Eastern German public broadcaster MDR recently surveyed 28,000 people on their opinions about the tank deliveries, and a full 74 percent said they believed the delivery to be the wrong decision.

Saxony Governor Michael Kretschmer also regularly reinforces those sentiments. Early on, he expressed "great reservations" about sending tanks, even if his party, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), officially backs the move. When Biden and Scholz announced the tank deal, Kretschmer was in Berlin for campaign appearances and he expressed his disappointment in front of the cameras. "We are on a slippery slope," he said. This, he said, "makes people afraid and worried."

But there are other voices, as well, also in the east. Bodo Ramelow, the governor of the state of Thuringia who originally hails from West Germany and used to be a strict opponent of arms deliveries, says today: "Anyone who is attacked has the right to defend themselves." Even with tanks. "My position remains. The Russian army must leave Ukraine, and only a sovereign Ukraine can negotiate peace." Like Kretschmer, Ramelow's position runs counter to that of his own party. He is a representative of the far-left Left Party, which is currently seeking to do all it can to resist the tank deliveries.

Positions in Germany are crisscrossing, along and against party lines. Scholz also has to keep multiple generations in mind – and fear prevails in almost all of them. Among the most elderly in Germany, current developments awaken memories of World War II and German guilt.

Meanwhile, the postwar generation has a special relationship with Russia; the Cold War is their old trauma. Germany's forty-somethings and younger grew up in a stable European order after the fall of the Wall – from today's perspective a comfort zone in which freedom and democracy were taken so much for granted that the shock at the loss of old certainties is now all the greater.

With that shock, the tanks are also now returning, these behemoths that seemed to have vanished with time and are now getting a second life. They are now being used for the first time for what they were developed for during the Cold War: as the central weapons system of an army that needs to repel an attack from Russia. In a land war with tank battles – a form of war that many believed we had overcome.

No wonder, then, that the tanks are divisive, bringing with them questions and worries. Will they give Putin cause to direct his wrath at Germany and even consider a direct confrontation with NATO? Angela Stent, an American security expert and government adviser under President George W. Bush, believes Putin is quite capable of deploying nuclear bombs. "Putin is always about intimidation," she told DER SPIEGEL in an interview.

For his part, Scholz often invokes those fears and the polls. But it's possible that the results are also divided because the chancellor himself doesn't present a clear line and instead hesitates for a long time and presents counterarguments before ultimately delivering the most modern weapons after all.

I don't allow myself to be pushed, but when I do move, I deliver the best stuff: That would be a pretty apt description of Scholz's approach so far. Sometimes Scholz himself resembles a split poll. And not like a chancellor who wants to control the public mood through political clarity.

The Western alliance now finds itself facing new conflicts and questions about what steps can be taken down the road to ramp up aid to Ukraine. With the delivery of battle tanks, though, it appears that the last taboo has fallen. The delivery of spectacular new weapons systems, such as fighter aircraft, warships or even submarines, no longer seems unrealistic. Or does it?

Andriy Melnyk, who was recently promoted from his former role as the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany to deputy foreign minister in Kyiv, has already suggested that Berlin should move to deliver fighter jets, like the air force's outdated Tornados, to Ukraine. But the jets are so ramshackle that the Bundeswehr has trouble enough keeping them in the air on its own, and it has done so at immense cost. A plan to equip Ukraine with U.S.-made F-16 fighters seems more realistic, but no decision has been made on that yet either.

Helicopters, but above all warships and submarines, are expensive and in short supply in the Bundeswehr. They are out of the question for aid to Ukraine. In the future, Berlin is likely to be less concerned with new weapons systems than with supplementing, maintaining and replacing those already delivered, while at the same time plugging the gaps that their delivery has torn in the Bundeswehr. As some in Berlin are saying these days, this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to the coffins of bodies of fallen comrades in January in Lviv.

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to the coffins of bodies of fallen comrades in January in Lviv.

Foto: Pavlo Palamarchuk / REUTERS

And that won't be possible without an efficient defense industry that rapidly expands its capacities.Complaining is part of the industry's DNA. But this time, the defense managers might be right to complain. Why should they expand their production capacities when the Bundeswehr hasn't managed to order any significant new materiel even after almost a year of war?

In France, the defense minister invited the industry to an arms summit as early as the beginning of September to prepare them for a war economy and increased output. Manufacturers in Germany are still waiting for that kind of signal today.

Scholz has allowed Germany's security policy to slide – that, at least, is the impression many allies have. The announcement that 100 billion euros would be invested in the Bundeswehr was greeted with relief by Germany's partners, but since then, they have been wondering what happened to this "watershed."

In any case, Germany will again fall short of the NATO target of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense this year. And the pressure is mounting. At the next NATO summit in Vilnius in July, member state leaders are likely to declare the 2-percent mark as the minimum rather than the target, and presumably with immediate effect. If that happens, it will spell trouble for Germany. The 2 percent is "just the base," from which to think higher, Boris Pistorius, Germany's new defense minister, said internally this week. In contrast to his predecessor, the new minister appears to really want to fight for the federal defense budget. He just completed his first visit to the troops since taking office, calling on the armored infantry in Altengrabow, Saxony-Anhalt. "It's nice to be with the troops again," said Pistorius, who previously visited many barracks as interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony. You can tell he's serious about ramping up military spending.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visiting troops in Altengrabow: "It's nice to be with the troops again."

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visiting troops in Altengrabow: "It's nice to be with the troops again."

Foto: Hans-Christian Plambeck

NATO has so far stayed out of the war, but it wants to be prepared. Over the last several months, the high command has had three regional operational plans drawn up for the entire alliance area. The phone book-thick plans, with numerous appendices, are to be ready by the Vilnius summit and to put the alliance in a position to counter possible Russian aggression. It describes in detail which capabilities could be deployed in which military dimensions, form cyber and space to naval, air force or land forces.

Preparation is imperative. No one knows how or when the Russian war will end. And currently, there don't seem to be any plans for peace in Washington, Berlin or the other alliance capitals. Why? Because so far Putin hasn't shown any indication that he is ready for talks without any preconditions. The Leopard tanks are meant to force the Kremlin ruler to talk.

It is also clear that, once the war is eventually over, Kyiv will be permanently dependent on the military and economic support of its allies to deter Russia from attacking again. Unless, that is, a democratic government were to come to power in Moscow at some point.

But that's not something that Berlin, Washington, Paris and Warsaw are even dreaming of at the moment.

"This war," one member of the chancellor's team said, "is going to go on for a long time."

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.
Speichern Sie Ihre Lieblingsartikel in der persönlichen Merkliste, um sie später zu lesen und einfach wiederzufinden.
Jetzt anmelden
Sie haben noch kein SPIEGEL-Konto? Jetzt registrieren