German Tanks Against Russia? A Historic Mistake
The debate about supplying Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine is gaining a dangerous amount of traction in Germany. Those advocating such deliveries are hoping in all seriousness for a Ukrainian victory in the war against Russia. They give little thought to the effect that sending German tanks would have in Russia.
Hardly any time in this debate is spent considering German history. And yet you do not have to be a prophet to foresee what reactions the deployment of German tanks against Russia would elicit from the public there. Even though Ukraine will paint over the iron crosses on the German battle tanks, many Russians, especially those who lost loved ones in the war of extermination and colonisation waged by the Wehrmacht, will see in these weapons a renewed German military campaign against their country.
In short, those pushing for German tanks to be supplied will reap a massive mobilisation of Russian public opinion in favour of the war against Ukraine.
Berlin is to be sent into the line of fire
Irrespective of such considerations, there is now a whole phalanx, ranging from the FDP to the Greens to the CDU/CSU, who are pushing unconditionally for Leopard tanks to be supplied quickly. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock even went so far as to visit the front line in Kharkiv to lend emphasis to the demand.
Only the Chancellor himself and the SPD still seem to be hesitating. That said, Rolf Muetzenich, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, has already underlined that the decision on deliveries is still open and declared on January 12 that “there are no red lines”. FDP frontwoman Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann has even proposed starting the training for Ukrainian soldiers even before the Leopards are supplied, despite knowing full well that the Research Services of the German Bundestag saw a possibly entry into the war for Germany in the combination of weapons deliveries and training.
Other Nato countries are putting pressure on the German federal government. Britain has announced it will supply heavy tanks; Poland intends to give some Leopards of its own. This is intended to force Germany into also supplying Leopards.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has even declared that “a decision has already been made in Poland”. It goes without saying that he knows Berlin alone can decide on re-export. This is obviously about passing Germany the poisoned chalice. Berlin is to be sent into the line of fire, to conclusively destroy German-Russian relations and turn them into open war for others’ benefit.
The dangerous limits on German sovereignty
Olaf Scholz, however, wants to prevent Germany even coming into Russia’s crosshairs and is hiding behind “our transatlantic partner”, the United States. Only in tandem with the United States, as the US newspaper Politico reports, would he be prepared to act. The precondition would thus seem to be that the United States also supply heavy tanks to Ukraine. Another card on the table is the possibility of not supplying our own battle tanks but issuing re-export licences for other Nato countries.
But that trick would not be enough to get Berlin out of the line of fire. Even before the next weapons-suppliers conference, to be held on German soil, in Ramstein today, January 20 2023, at the invitation of the US, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is already certain that Berlin will deliver. “Even if Germany has certain rational arguments for not doing it, Germany will do it at a later point,” was how he described the expected dynamic.
The US is making no move to supply its own Abrams tanks, under the pretext that it would be too difficult to keep them maintained in Europe. Politico reports that Ukrainian officials have suggested to the US administration that it “send just a handful of Abrams tanks”. These symbolic deliveries would serve as icebreakers and make the Germans believe they no longer bore the monopoly in sending Leopards.
And so this debate reveals the dangerous limits on German sovereignty. Ultimately, the German government cannot decide independently on delivering German tanks.
Bear in mind that this would entail the greatest security threat to face the German population since the second world war. The United States, however, has sufficient influence in the governments of its fellow Nato countries to achieve the outcome it desires. This applies with respect to Germany too.
Germany, it appears, is supposed to draw Russia’s counterfire
But why is it in Washington’s interest to send the Germans, of all people, into Russia’s line of fire? Why is there such a great preference in Washington DC for a “European solution” with Berlin as the hub of decision-making?
The argument that its own military capacities are needed against China is, like the maintenance problem, not very credible. No — Germany, it appears, is supposed to draw Russia’s counterfire. One cannot escape the impression that it is hoped a possible counterstrike would hit Berlin first and foremost.
The United States would thus have achieved one of its long-term strategic objectives, namely to prevent co-operation between Germany and Russia for ever.
The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once wrote: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.” The tank deliveries are today what war loans were in 1914. They lead directly to participation in the war.
They cannot be considered in isolation from their purpose — that is, victory in Nato’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. But consideration must also be given to the Russian response.
In the end, after all, Western tanks would practically invoke the use of nuclear weapons — against Germany first. This appears to be the deeper reason why voices in Washington are so reticent on the subject of tank deliveries but are forcing their ally, like a vassal, to sacrifice itself.
We should put a spanner in the works for the warmongers
This imposition on the part of the US demonstrates a new strategic momentum in its behaviour towards Russia and China. In the context of a new policy of confrontation with the Eurasian bloc, Germany and Japan are to become front-line states with limited sovereignty for the US. And in this situation, the Hofreiters, Baerbocks and Strack-Zimmermanns are acting as if they want primarily to serve the interests of US corporations and the United States as a whole.
If it is true what Marx wrote — that true human nature is “the ensemble of social relations” — then those now promoting the path to war with ever more, ever heavier weapons, sparing no thought for the costs, are the expression of a veritably apocalyptic mood in our society which no longer believes in real social progress and is being swept along by a destructive oligarchisation in the economic and political spheres while masses of people slip into poverty.
But anyone who is really interested in defending democracy in Germany cannot leave the stage to the mouthpieces of a bored bourgeoisie just because they are afraid to be derided as stooges of the enemy. That is what happened in the first world war, and it must not happen again. We must do all we can to put a spanner in the works for Germany’s warmongers.
A fresh start is needed in Germany’s foreign policy
But if the German tanks are delivered, the door will be open for more weapons. Calls for combat aircraft have already been voiced by Bundeswehr Professor Carlo Masala and Nato’s former supreme allied commander Europe, James Stavridis.
The next thing will be missiles, followed, when that does not work either, by our own soldiers.
But a gambler’s mentality, which responds to losses by raising the stakes and eventually plays vabanque, betting everything on one play, is a bad guide for any society. A fresh start is needed in Germany’s foreign policy.
In pole position, we need a refusal to escalate further; second, we need a self-confident democratic sovereignty with which Germany ceases to be a US stooge; and third, we finally need a diplomatic initiative of our own seeking an immediate ceasefire and an immediate end to the senseless killing in Ukraine.
Anyone still refusing to freeze the conflict with the argument that the full territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be re-established first cannot really be interested in a ceasefire.
On the contrary, this reveals the unscrupulous attitude of someone betting on conducting a Nato proxy war against Russia with the lives of Ukrainians. Just as it was part of an upside-down world to claim that war loans would lead to peace in the first world war, so it is today with regard to supplying German battle tanks.
This is chiefly about unscrupulous power politics
Listening to the arguments for supplying tanks, the sad fact is revealed that there are world-class double standards at play within the German government. First off, Ukraine’s right to defend itself is extended, in an argument untenable under international law, to infer an international legal obligation to supply weapons.
Counterfactually, Ukraine is being treated as though it were already a Nato member — as if we had an obligation to stand in mutual military defence, which manifests itself only in massive arms exports.
At the same time, weapons deliveries to illegally assaulted countries are measured by two different yardsticks: the German government sidesteps judging the wars of aggression waged by the United States in Iraq or by Turkey in terms of international law. It thereby dodges the question as to why German weapons are not supplied to all states that are attacked, such as Iraq or Syria. But that fact robs it of any credibility under international law in supplying weapons in the Ukraine war.
To a large majority of the states on this planet, which are neither supplying weapons nor taking part in the economic war against Russia, this demonstrates that, over and above all the moral considerations cited to legitimise foreign policy action, what really matters is clearly unscrupulous power politics alone.
Deliveries of tanks and Germany’s looming entry into the war will thus ultimately erode the credibility of Germany’s foreign policy, particularly in the global South.
Yet another reason for a change of course.
This article is a translation of one which appeared this week in Berliner Zeitung.
Sevim Dagdelen has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005. She is the spokeswoman for the Left Party parliamentary group on the Bundestag’s committee on foreign affairs, a deputy member of the defence committee and spokeswoman for international policy and disarmament. From 2017 to 2020, she served on the executive committee of the Left Party parliamentary group as vice-chair. Dagdelen is a member of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly and a deputy member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. She has also been campaigning for years for the release of journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is being held in Belmarsh high security prison in the UK and is to be extradited to the United States, where he faces 175 years in jail for publicising US war crimes.