Once a little brother, always a little brother

Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz

There is no moral center in Europe, the European states act only under American leadership.

(Photo: IMAGO/Sammy Minkoff)

Joe Biden talked himself into a rage. “There is no moral center in Europe,” he thundered as he paced between the rows of seats in the US Senate. Without US intervention, “genocide will spread like a cancer.”

Almost 30 years have passed since this performance. Back then, Washington was concerned with the war in the Balkans – and the inability of the Europeans to stop the bloodshed on their continent.

A lot has happened since then. Biden was Vice President under Barack Obama, then a political pensioner. Now, at the age of 80, he himself is the head of the US government. The President’s hair has grown thinner and grayer, and words don’t flow out of him like they once did.

But Biden’s assessment of December 13, 1995 still applies: There is no moral center in Europe, the European states only act under American leadership.

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The Balkan war hasn’t changed anything – and even the shock of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is apparently not enough to create a Europe that is united in terms of foreign policy and capable of acting. The turning point finds its limits where things get dicey.

German tactics met with little understanding, especially in Eastern and Northern Europe

That applies in particular to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been delaying the decision on the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to the Ukrainians for days. Only with the Americans – that’s how Scholz would like it.

The fact that it makes little military sense to ship the US Abrams main battle tank, a fuel guzzler that requires maintenance, to Ukraine plays only a minor role for the Chancellery. Scholz sees the Abrams as a kind of reinsurance. Once a little brother, always a little brother.

German tactics are met with little understanding, especially in Eastern and Northern Europe – in Russia’s immediate vicinity, where there are fears that if Ukraine is broken up, they will become the target of the next Russian attack. And the US government is also angry because it is already delivering significantly more than the Europeans and has to justify itself to Congress.

>> Also read here: “Pointless” and “disappointing” – frustration with Germany’s no to tanks

Admittedly, Scholz is faced with decisions whose scope could hardly be greater. He has repeatedly expressed concern that Russia could use nuclear weapons. The risk of escalation is real, at least not zero. Incidentally, the Americans also see it that way, and for precisely this reason they are withholding attack drones, medium-range missiles and combat aircraft from Ukraine.

Europe column

Every week, Moritz Koch, head of the Handelsblatt office in Brussels, analyzes trends and conflicts, regulatory projects and strategic concepts from the inner workings of the EU, alternating with other Brussels correspondents. Because anyone interested in business needs to know what’s going on in Brussels. You can reach him at: [email protected]

However, Germany has already promised tanks: The Gepard anti-aircraft tank, for example, is in use in the Ukraine, as is the 2000 self-propelled howitzer. The Marder armored personnel carrier will follow in March.

The Chancellor does not explain why the Leopard 2 could represent a completely new quality – and is thus fueling speculation in Brussels that he would prefer a stalemate to a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Trying to take cover behind the US is also likely to have consequences. Europe’s largest economic power is signaling that it would rather follow than lead. That’s legitimate, but it means: bye-bye, European sovereignty.

More: That’s how many Leopard 2 the European NATO countries have

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