Europe hides behind Washington in spat over tanks for Ukraine: WSJ
Infuriated by Germany's reluctance to send Leopards, allies push for a more assertive approach.
The pressure on Europe to expand its own military and financial help to Kiev is growing because of fear that the United States may eventually scale back its backing for Ukraine during the war.
Officials and analysts believe that the frustration in many European capitals over Berlin's delay in agreeing to send German-made tanks hasn't been only because of their battlefield utility, but also because the Germans pushed Europe to feel dependent on the United States.
Why did Germany delay the deal?
For weeks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted that Germany would only send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US first sent Abrams tanks, a move Berlin claimed would provide greater protection against a possible angry Russian response.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the Biden administration is considering sending Abrams to Ukraine potentially breaking the impasse as far as Germany is concerned.
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The incident has sparked outrage among Western allies. Other European countries, including France, Poland, and Estonia, argue that Europe cannot afford to hide behind the United States, which is providing more military aid to Ukraine. The report further noted that the Abrams tanks are not what Kiev needs.
What is Europe afraid of?
The Deputy Director of Estonia’s International Center for Defense and Security, Kristi Raik, expressed concern at how dependent European countries are on the US, adding that some states are becoming more aware of the idea.
That said, US domestic politics are adding to European fears that time is running out when it comes to Ukraine’s ability to defeat the war in Russia.
Read next: War in Ukraine united Europe, yet made EU obedient to US orders: WSJ
Because of political differences between the Biden administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, securing additional funding for Ukraine's defense after the currently authorized funds expire on September 30 may prove difficult.
According to WSJ, Some European officials are also concerned that additional arms for Ukraine will fall further down the US political agenda as the campaign for the 2024 presidential election begins—and that the next president may take a different path.
UK takes the first step
The British government decided earlier this month to send a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery to Ukraine in order to persuade other European allies to increase their support for Kiev, according to UK officials, citing the risk of a long and bloody stalemate unless the West accelerates its military aid.
British officials are concerned that President Biden will be unable to secure enough bipartisan support to continue US military aid beyond this fall. Some Republican members of Congress have questioned the billions of dollars in aid to Kiev.
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There is also a growing push in Congress for greater scrutiny of what happens to the money and arms handed over, which could slow supplies. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said Ukraine will no longer receive a “blank check.”
Does the EU trust Germany?
Along with the United Kingdom, Germany claims that it is one of the largest suppliers of arms and ammunition to Ukraine, despite the fact that US support far outnumbers European countries'.
According to allied officials, Germany approved the dispatch of heavy weapons, such as artillery and armored vehicles, only after long delays and under intense pressure from other allies. That said, instead of earning political credit for its assistance, Berlin has increased mistrust throughout Europe about how far it truly wants to challenge Russia.
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German leaders have previously stated that Europe cannot rely on the United States' willingness to defend it indefinitely. However, German governments have for years postponed meaningful action to strengthen their own national security policy by reducing military equipment and readiness and focusing their foreign policy on trade promotion.
Scholz's refusal to give Kiev German-made Leopard 2 tanks unless the US sends Abrams irritated both pro-Atlanticist countries like the United Kingdom and those who want a more independent European security policy led by France, according to WSJ.
'Ukraine war exposes EU dependency on US'
French President Emmanuel Macron has for years championed what he calls “strategic autonomy” for Europe, where it would take a more muscular stance within alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
According to the WSJ, when former President Donald Trump criticized Europe and hinted that the US might withdraw from NATO, German officials also stated that Europe should do more for its own security. However, the conflict in Ukraine has highlighted Europe's continued reliance on Washington to defend the region.
Read next: Macron says Europe should limit security dependence on US
It has also put to rest the idea that France and Germany could lead a more autonomous Europe on the international stage. Paris and Berlin's approach to arming Kiev, as well as their diplomatic outreach to Russian President Vladimir Putin in search of a peace deal, has fueled long-standing distrust in NATO countries closer to Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states.
When Trump was president, “It was all about ‘How do we do without the US,” said Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, director of the Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Since the war began in February last year, she said, “Europe is even more reliant on the US.”
Earlier this month, this reliance was clear when top EU and NATO officials signed a declaration that said “NATO remains the foundation of collective defense” for its members and the core of trans-Atlantic security. This was understood by observers that US-led NATO is Europe's defender.
Whose war is the war in Ukraine?
After many years of talking about how Europe needs to take more responsibility, said Raik, from the Tallinn think tank, during a gathering at the Estonian Embassy to the EU in Brussels last week. The question is whether Europe will really put maximum effort into supporting Ukraine and helping Ukraine win the war; “Then suddenly Germany is making it conditional on a US decision and US policy,” she said. “So what does this say about whether Europe can be taken seriously as a security actor?”
Read next: Germans think their nation has done enough for Ukraine: WP
Raik stressed that while Germany helps Ukraine, it swings over the debate regarding the Leopards, which has been "counterproductive [and] has undermined German credibility."