Leopard tanks for Ukraine: Will Germany now become a party to the war?

Berlin Concern that the Ukraine war could turn into a confrontation between NATO and Russia has guided Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) policy since the outbreak of the war.

Is this the “game changer” that is making Germany a war party? These are the most important questions and answers:

In political Berlin, it is primarily representatives of the AfD and the left who fear that Germany could become a war party as a result of further arms deliveries. For Dietmar Bartsch, leader of the left-wing faction, another taboo falls with the delivery of Leopard battle tanks. “This potentially brings us closer to World War III than towards peace in Europe,” he told dpa.

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Union faction leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) left it at the statement that there was complete agreement that Germany, the EU and NATO should not become a war party.

For Chancellor Scholz, however, the matter is clear. “No, absolutely not,” Scholz replied on ZDF when asked whether Germany would become a war party with the Leopard delivery to Ukraine.

Why doesn’t the federal government see Germany as a war party?

The Federal Ministry of Justice explains: “It is clear under international law: anyone who supports a country in defending itself does not become a party to the war.” Ukraine has the right to self-defense. Even with the delivery of heavy weapons, Germany will not become a party to the war.

The Bonn international law expert Stefan Talmon sees it the same way. Neither the delivery of arms nor the training of Ukrainian soldiers made Germany a party to the war, Talmon writes in an article for the “Constitution Blog”. This is also shown by state practice.

It is clear under international law that anyone who supports a country in defending itself does not become a party to the war. Statement of the Federal Ministry of Justice

For example, the US has been supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia for many years and has been training Saudi soldiers in both America and Saudi Arabia on those weapons, without thereby making the US a party to the war Saudi Arabia has been waging since 2015 would have been in Yemen,” explained the lawyer.

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Belarus, which supports the Russian aggression against Ukraine in many ways, has not become a war party as a result. The UN General Assembly merely disapproved of his “participation in Russia’s unlawful use of force” against Ukraine, Talmon said.

Does international law still play a role for Russia in the Ukraine war?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s previous statements suggest that he is not concerned with international law. The military expert Carlo Masala from the Bundeswehr University in Munich points out, for example, that Putin has long since declared all NATO countries, not just Germany, to be a war party. The delivery of the Leopard tanks does not change that.

Anything the Alliance and the capitals I’ve mentioned (Europe and the US) do is seen in Moscow as direct involvement in the conflict. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov

The Kremlin reacted accordingly. “Everything that the Alliance and the capitals I mentioned (Europe and the US) do is seen in Moscow as direct involvement in the conflict,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Moscow has repeatedly accused the US and EU of waging a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Russia will not declare war, said Peskov.

Under what circumstances could Germany become a military target of Russia?

According to the international law expert Talmon, the offense of the use of armed force would be fulfilled if Ukrainian soldiers were instructed in the weapons supplied in the context of active combat operations with the participation of German soldiers.

“If trained in Ukraine behind the front lines or in the rear, German soldiers or employees of the German defense industry would become legitimate military targets and could be attacked by Russia,” he says.

What about weapon shipments?

Russia has already stated that it considers the heavy weapons supplied to Ukraine to be “legitimate military targets”. A transport convoy that is supposed to bring the delivered tanks on articulated lorries or by train from the western Ukrainian border to Kyiv or the Donbass could already be affected.

In fact, military equipment brought into a conflict zone and made available to a party to the conflict can be a “legitimate military target”. This is indicated by a report by the scientific service of the Bundestag with reference to the Geneva Convention.

On the other hand, from the point of view of the parliamentary lawyers, it is important to note that Russian attacks on military targets in Ukraine also constitute a violation of the prohibition on the use of force in the United Nations Charter and are therefore contrary to international law.

Could NATO become a war party in the Ukraine war?

NATO sees itself as a purely defensive alliance that does not want to become a party to the war under any circumstances – also out of concern for a third world war. The current Strategic Concept states very clearly: “NATO does not seek confrontation and does not pose a threat to the Russian Federation.”

The so-called alliance case, which obliges the contracting parties of the western defense alliance to provide mutual assistance in the event of an attack, does not apply in view of the war in Ukraine. The country is not a member of NATO – unlike, for example, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

How realistic does NATO consider a Russian use of nuclear weapons in the war to be?

In NATO, the view is held that the use of nuclear weapons would not make any military sense for Russia – above all because of the incalculable consequences. It is also pointed out that in the event of an offensive use of nuclear weapons, the Russians would have to fear that countries such as China and India would also clearly oppose them.

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