Biden saves Germany – but willingness has its limits

Joe Biden (left) and Olaf Scholz

The US President and the German Chancellor have announced tank deliveries.

(Photo: dpa)

Washington The US President is particularly emphasizing his respect for the German Chancellor these days. Shortly after Joe Biden announced American tank deliveries to Ukraine, he thanked Olaf Scholz for “his leadership and unwavering commitment.” Germany is “a close friend,” said Biden. Both partners have approved tank deliveries to the war zone for the first time – a remarkable change of course.

But the hymns of praise do not mean that the working relationship between Germany and the USA is clean. The struggle for support for Ukraine has left its mark and Germany’s hesitant attitude is putting future cooperation to the test. None of the Western partners is currently assuming that the Ukraine war will end anytime soon. In plain language, this means that new decisions about further military aid, more tanks, heavier equipment, longer-range missiles or even combat aircraft are only a matter of time.

How would Germany react if Ukraine actually launched airstrikes against major Russian cities? Or if a recapture of Crimea is up for debate? These are questions that Berlin must answer quickly when in doubt.

This time the US government saved Germany, Washington made enormous concessions to Berlin in the tank dispute. Because the federal government, indicated US government officials, only wanted to supply German tanks in close cooperation with the USA. Biden’s top war advisors advised against this until the very end.

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But to end the blockade, Biden acted against the advice of his own people – and opted for joint tank deliveries with Germany. By not wanting to take the sovereign lead on this issue, the federal government has put Biden in an uncomfortable position. Worse still, Berlin risked cracking the Western coalition and thus empowering Vladimir Putin.

Turned the corner again

The American solution is now at best face-saving. The US tanks will not be available to the Ukrainians for a few months at the earliest, and the Pentagon is sending a relatively small number. The fact that this act was needed for Germany to act speaks volumes about the independence of Germany and Europe in terms of defense policy.

Thanks to Biden, both partners have turned the corner again and the image of the strong alliance has been restored for the time being. But Germany should not feel safe, because the leading role of the USA is by no means guaranteed. Sections of the US Republicans, who have held a majority in the House of Representatives since January, are threatening to block Ukraine funds. It is also unclear who will direct the fortunes of the USA after the presidential elections in 2024.

>> Read here: Russia reacts sharply to Leopard decision

Last but not least, both partners had good reasons for and against tank deliveries. But the tedious back and forth, the chaotic communication and the abrupt U-turns fueled the impression that arguments that apply one day may no longer apply the next.

Public trust is fundamentally important, especially in times of war. So far, a majority of US citizens support the funds for Ukraine, but support is falling, according to polls. The corruption scandal in Ukraine could attract more skeptics.

The West’s strategy for dealing with Ukraine is being re-negotiated with every step, every decision. This time Germany worked out, next time it could be completely different.

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