Germany’s “Ukraine Dilemma” and Strained Relations with the US

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Germany has only one condition for sending its “Leopard 2” tanks to Ukraine: The United States (US) must also agree to send its tanks. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argues that the decision to provide more arms to Ukraine should be taken in cooperation between the allied states. The German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht shared this view and was forced to resign under pressure. Her replacement, Boris Pistorius, is expected to stick to Scholz’s line.

The Scholz government states that it will support Ukraine “as long as it is deemed necessary.” Since the beginning of the war, Berlin has been reluctant to provide Ukraine with military equipment. Scholz’s coalition partners, on the other hand, demanded that German tanks of the ‘Leopard 2’ type be sent to Ukraine immediately and pressured Pistorius and Scholz to do so. Scholz and like-minded members of the Social Democratic Party argue that Germany does not have enough ‘Leopard 2’ tanks and would not risk its national security by spending its stocks on this war.

The US, especially under Donald Trump, has demanded that European members bring their defence spending to at least 2% of their budgets in exchange for greater support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In other words, the US said that it could not bear the cost of protecting Europe alone and that Europe had to strengthen its defences. In the process, Washington even began to reduce the number of its troops in Germany. In February 2022, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the number of American troops in Germany increased again.

The war in Ukraine increased Germany’s military dependence on the US. At some point, however, Berlin realized it was in a stalemate in Ukraine and began reducing its already reluctant arms support to Kyiv. In this respect, Germany began to diverge from this Western coalition of war against Russia. Recall that in December 2022, Scholz wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that the world should avoid dividing into Cold War-style “blocs.”[1]

The US pressure on Germany in the Russian-Ukrainian War is similar to the US pressure on Germany in its Pacific and China policies. Indeed, Scholz’s government is as concerned about the outbreak of a new crisis in Taiwan as it is about the end of the war in Ukraine. For example, during his visit to Beijing in November 2022, Scholz spoke about the danger of blocization and reiterated his support for multipolarity. Thus, Berlin sent a clear message that it would not follow Washington’s “polarizing” policies in the Pacific.

Seeing that the US is engaged in a showdown with Russia and China through NATO and that this has turned into an escalation race with the Russian-Ukrainian War, Germany is trying to get out of the maelstrom into which it has been dragged. Due to issues such as Ukraine and China, Germany-US relations are characterized by a cold atmosphere.

Negotiations between German and US officials to discuss the future of military assistance to Ukraine have gained momentum. In this context, Chancellor Scholz held a telephone conversation with US President Joe Biden and the two sides agreed to closely coordinate support for Ukraine. The fact that Germany has imposed certain conditions on the US in return for providing tanks to Ukraine can be considered an important exit and challenge. Berlin is declaring that it no longer has to do everything Washington wants, that it will not fight if it is asked to do so, and that such a demand would polarize the world. Berlin’s main concern is that the arms supplied to Ukraine could lead its NATO allies into a direct conflict with Russia and drag the whole of Europe into the war. Because if NATO is dragged into a war with Russia, it is not the US that will suffer the most, but continental Europe and especially Germany. That is why Germany and the US are in a bargaining position over European security. But Washington has many issues to use against Berlin.

The US is making this advantage strongly felt in Pacific politics. For example, Germany’s growing interest in the Asia-Pacific is a significant advantage for Washington. Without US support, Germany would find it difficult to establish its influence in the region. More importantly, Washington could use this advantage to Berlin’s detriment and deal another blow to the German economy with a crisis in Taiwan.

Scholz’s visit to Beijing drew a great reaction from the US. After this development, it was claimed that Germany betrayed the US and harmed American interests. For example, American Journalist and Foreign Policy Expert Tom Rogan wrote an analysis titled “Waltzing in Beijing, Germany’s Olaf Scholz plays the US for a fool.”[2] In this analysis, Rogan argued that Germany cannot act freely under American (NATO) protection and that Washington should not turn a blind eye to Berlin’s “betrayal.” Rogan even suggested moving American troops from Germany to Poland or the Baltic states to teach Berlin a lesson.

Indeed, the instruments at the disposal of the United States are not limited to the Pacific. Washington uses this support for European security as a pawn in its hands. More precisely, the US is threatening to withdraw its support for European security if Germany does not do what it wants in Ukraine. The bigger threat is the outbreak of the Taiwan Crisis in the Pacific. This is because Germany is deeply integrated with the Chinese economy. Taiwan is also the world’s leading producer of critical chips that major German technology companies need. At the same time, these dependencies constitute Berlin’s vulnerability vis-à-vis Washington. This is why the Scholz administration has to do what it is asked to do in the war in Ukraine.

As a result, the US is trying to keep the world crises under its control and use them as a means of pressure on allied states. Ukraine and Taiwan are the most prominent of these issues. Both problems constitute Germany’s “weak spot.” For many years, Berlin has developed serious partnerships with Moscow and Beijing in areas such as the economy and energy and has entered a relationship of interdependence with these countries. It does not seem possible for Germany to break free from these chains in the short term. Therefore, it can be argued that Germany will have to follow the US for a while longer.

[1] “Germany’s Scholz Says World Must Avoid Dividing into Cold War-Style ‘Blocs’”, Arabiya,, (Date of Accession: 19.01.2023).

[2] “Waltzing in Beijing, Germany’s Olaf Scholz Plays US For a Fool”, MSN,, (Date of Accession: 19.01.2023).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.