Germany’s reluctance to supply Leopard tanks is a proxy for its geopolitical tussles with the US.
By Hari Kumar, Red Phoenix international correspondent.
Ukraine, in the midst of desperately battling the Russian invasion, increasingly and fervently demands more weapons. Zelensky calls for 300 tanks urgently. But a seasoned US war-lord – ex-Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges – the previous commander of European based NATO forces Ben Hodges to caution: “There is no silver bullet out there. There is no one thing that’s just going to completely change the whole conflict.”
Meanwhile intense political pressure focuses on Germany. Why? This observer believes two facts explain this. First the invasion of Ukraine has unmasked inter-imperialist tensions within NATO; and secondly the particular history of Germany following the Second World War. We can address these after comparing the real capability of the tanks in question, and the differing views within the US establishment.
What is in contention?
Of three suppliers of modern heavy tanks: British Challengers, US Abrams, or German Leopards; the two leading contenders are the US and Germany. Britain has committed after long delays 12 Challenger tanks, but these are not the most sought after tanks: “The German-made Leopard 2 is one of the most well-reputed battle tanks in the world, perhaps second only to the U.S.-made M1 Abrams tank, military arms experts said.”
The potential of the tanks lies in breaking Russia’s hold on the Crimea: “With tanks from the West, Ukraine could create an armored brigade that could serve as “the spearhead of a force that could break through those Russian defenses down towards Mariupol,” Hodges said. “The purpose is to continue the isolation of Crimea from everything else.”
Much to the fury of the US Pentagon, the German leadership has explicitly linked sending of German tanks to sending of US tanks. A last minute surprise replacement of the German Defense Minister, the gaffe-prone Christine Lambrecht, installed an evidently tougher Boris Pistorius. After the NATO-US led Ramstein conference of 20 January, 2023, Pistorius simply said: “officials were still evaluating the pros and cons of sending the tanks… I am very sure there will be a decision in the short term.”
Why the US Pentagon is refusing to send Abrams
The argument against ceding Abrams was given by Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh:
“The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams — it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment.”
“Scholz wants to be in lockstep with the US Rep. Seth Moulton told CNN after discussing the matter with Scholz this week in Davos. “I think the US should give a few tanks if that is what is required for Germany. That is called leadership.”
How do the two tanks compare?
I compiled the following table to make clear that the only difference is in the fuel used; and the cost of each tank.
|M1 Abrams||Leopard 2|
|Production started:||1980 Chrysler||1979 Krauss-Maffei; MTU Friederichshafen|
|Number built since:||3,600||10,700|
|Deployed:||Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq War, Yemeni Civil War||Afghanistan, Syrian Civil War|
|Fuel type:||Jet fuel||Diesel|
|Used by:||9 nations||21 nations|
|Top speed:||42 mph forward;|
25 mph reverse
|42.4 mph forward;|
19.2 mph reverse
|Range before re-fueling:||264 miles||173 miles|
|Direct losses in battle:||None||“Several” in Turkey|
|Range and number of 120mm shells:||> 2.5 miles; 40||~3 miles; 42|
|Unit cost:||$8.58 million||$5.74 million|
However, new German tanks are backlogged:
“German weapons manufacturer Rheinmetall, which supplies the Leopard 2’s cannon and electronics and has dozens of older models, has warned it would not
able to deliver its tanks to Ukraine until 2024 due to the need to refurbish and repair them.” It is impossible to provide new Leopards quickly for historical reasons: “it is all but impossible to buy a large amount of Leopard 2 tanks quickly. Germany’s defense industry is banned by law from producing them for stock-keeping. Countries ordering new tanks need to be prepared to wait two to three years for delivery. Even if production were ramped up, experts say it could take at least two years for the first new tanks to leave the factory.”
Hence those countries who have previously purchased them are urging Germany to release their contract, enabling them to send their own purchases to Ukraine. Germany has not been forthcoming – why not?
Two potential reasons for German insistence on combined aid
The first reason is quite simple – Germany was itself devastated by the Second World War it’s fascist leaders had led. The anti-war feeling in a large part of the population that remained is not to be scoffed at. It is quite true that after the last year, the majority resisting tank aid to Ukraine has decreased to just under a half of the surveyed population. Yet the anti-war sentiment in Germany is still strong, and fears of a new European war are high. Kiev is not far from Berlin. And assurances by the US of defense against a further provoked Russia, might seem the tissue of lies it is. Currently after all, the US ‘fights to the last Ukrainian’ – and Germans see this visibly. The largest refugee population from Ukraine is in Russia, then Poland and then Germany.
But a second explanation lies in inter-imperialist tensions. These have several facets. Previously I discussed the principal one which invoked the war in the first place – between the US and Russia. I also pointed previously out a division within the German ruling class to either becoming more pro-US or more pro-China (and thereby also Russia). To add to these are continuing rifts within the EU itself.
France under Macron had escalated tensions over the tanks, even after an agreement between Biden and Scholz had resulted in new units. That supposedly represented a “turning point in the West’s positioning towards increased arms deliveries to Ukraine.” Finally the attempt to ‘de-industrialize’ Germany and Europe by the American wooing of German and European firms, is a major spur to France and Germany settling any disputes between themselves. A secondary matter is still potentially of importance: which European country will be the lead within EU, serving as the primary ‘facade’ for the US. Since Brexit, that ‘prestigious seat’ remains unfilled.
How will this play out?
As pragmatists argue, it is likely that both the US and Germany will send tanks. This is predicted by Ukraine:
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is quite certain that this is imminent: “Even if Germany should have certain rational arguments for not doing it, Germany will do it anyway at a later date. We have already seen this with the self-propelled howitzers, with the IRIS-T anti-aircraft system and most recently with the Marder and Patriot systems. It’s always a similar pattern: first they say no, then they vigorously defend their decision, only to finally say yes.”
The shrewdest American politicians urge the Pentagon to bend the knee – even if only for a few token tanks.
“Representative Michael McCaul the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that the U.S. should send at least one of its M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to push Germany to allow for its own tanks…” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Coons echoed McCaul’s view “I think it’s urgent … If it requires our sending some Abrams tanks in order to unlock getting the Leopard tanks from Germany, from Poland, from other allies, I would support that,” Coons said. “I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards, but we need to continue to work with our close allies and to move forward in lockstep.”  “Pressure is mounting in some corners for the US to go ahead and send Abrams tanks simply as a way to get the Germans on board.
Ben Hodges, that retired Lieutenant General says the maintenance and logistics concerns are BS. “The U.S. should stop being so condescending when talking about how difficult this would be for the Ukrainians, to meet the fuel requirements,” he says. “The Ukrainians will sort that out. They’ll MacGyver a solution as they’ve been doing for months—just give them the capability they need.”
It seems every 6 hours something breaks out. As the New York Times reported on 24th January 2023: “Defense officials have repeatedly used the fuel issue to explain in part why the administration was not rushing to send the Abrams tanks to Kyiv. But while it is true the tanks have gas turbine engines that burn jet fuel, it is not the whole story, tank experts say. Abrams tanks, they say, can run on any type of fuel, including ordinary gasoline and diesel. The Pentagon press secretary, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, would not confirm on Tuesday news reports that the administration is on the verge of providing Ukraine with the M1 Abrams tanks…. “He did not refer to the jet fuel issue.”
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