There are many news articles today about how the German government is reluctant to allow Leopard 2 tanks to be given to Ukraine. For example, the BBC reports:

Under German law, the government in Berlin would have to give its permission before countries such as Poland or Finland could commit to re-exporting them. [...] Berlin was reported this week to have made a decision on the Leopard conditional on the US agreeing to send Abrams tanks, which it is not intending to do. [...] There are fears of escalation in Berlin and of going it alone.

I've skimmed about a dozen popular news articles now but am still none the wiser as to what the German government thinks would be bad about providing / allowing other countries to provide tanks specifically, or providing tanks despite the US not doing so.

What I've found so far

Some of the attempts at explanation I've found in popular news media so far and why they are unsatisfactory:

Depletion of Germany's own arsenal

This is claimed to be one explanation offered by the German government in a Deutsche Welle article. The article quotes a defense expert who says this is nonsense, but even if it wasn't, it wouldn't explain why Germany is also blocking other NATO countries like Poland from sending its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Not wanting to anger Russia

An article in The Hill claims one motivation behind the US and Germany deadlocking each other on the tank issue is that

[...] then both countries get to avoid sending something they consider provocative to the Kremlin,”

But why would tanks be more provocative than all the other weapon systems sent so far?

Dependence on Russian energy

This is a variant of the point above in that it relies on the idea that tanks would be considered especially provocative by Russia, but it's only implied in one half-sentence of a Reuters article:

Members of the SPD have defended Scholz and warned of being drawn into what could be considered a direct confrontation with Russia. Germany is also heavily dependent on Russian energy.

So the idea is that if Germany specifically draws the ire of Russia, gas supplies could be cut off, at great damage to the German economy and popular support for the current government. As I said, it suffers from the same weakness as the explanation above.

Anything to do with World War II or pacifism

From the Reuters article I already cited above:

Unlike other Western allies, Germany did not supply weapons to Ukraine before Russia's invasion on Feb. 24 and even blocked other nations from sending German-origin military equipment, given a long-standing policy of not exporting arms to war zones. That policy had broad public support given Germany's bloody 20th-century history and resulting pacifism, and specifically guilt towards the Soviet Union over World War Two.

Again the question can be asked why sending other weapons can be considered pacifist and not exacerbating guilt over World War II, but not tanks.

So what is the actual explanation?

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    Depletions of Germany's own arsenal is only of concern with regards to releasing Bundeswehr gear. Germany is also holding up transfer of other countries' L2s. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 18:55
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    Apparently, we're not the only ones puzzled by the situation: FDP politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann has demanded that Scholz explain his reasoning here. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 20:10
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    @nothingmaster It's all just part of growing pressure by the sending arms fraction. They could have demanded to send tanks 6 months ago where the front line was not that different, but somehow now seems the right moment for it, or not? Nobody outside of governments knows exactly. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 7:37
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    German minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock clarified today that Germany would not prevent other countries from giving Leopard 2s to Ukraine after all. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 21:00

5 Answers 5


Quite a lot of people are speculating, and I doubt that the truth will be really clear even when people write their memoirs and the files are declassified. But there are three or four things to look at:

  • Coordinated with allies, or together with allies?
    I'm aware of just one example of modern western MBTs going to Ukraine. That's 14 British Challengers. Plenty of countries have delivered refurbished ex-Soviet tanks. The Americans have delivered wheeled HIMARS and promised Bradley IFVs. The Germans have delivered tracked MLRS, self-propelled howitzers, and promised Marder IFVs. The French have delivered wheeled howitzers and promised wheeled recon tanks (with a 105mm cannon, but not a MBT).
    So Germany is not exactly trailing the crowd when it comes to modern, tracked AFV. Neither is it leading, and considering the size and location of Germany one might argue that it should be leading. The German government has said publicly that it wants to coordinate, and reportedly said privately that it wants the US to promise Abrams first. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, a reasonably reputable newspaper in Germany.) Personally I don't buy some of the explanations why the Abrams is less suitable than the Leo.
    A cynical view of the Cold War could be that Europe 'got volunteered' to become the battlefield between the US and the Soviet Union if it had ever turned hot. So now Germany wants the US to make the first move in the new escalation, rather than leaving countries closer to Russia to do it.

  • German Army Leopards, German industry Leopards, or other Leopards?
    There are (presumably mostly operational) Leopard 2 in German Army use, other (second-hand, partly refurbished, presumably not quite operational) Leopard 2 and Leopard 1 in the stocks of the German defense industry, and Leopards owned by other states. Germany could decide/allow to release tanks from any or all categories. (The big plus of sending Leopards, and not Challengers or Leclerc, is that many countries could pitch in to create a battalion or two. Compare the deliveries of MLRS or PzH2000 from various nations.)
    Some observers make the very good case that the German Army has no tanks to spare. So why not release the others? Germany might think that if it allows the transfer of, say, Polish Leopards, and the German industry stocks are not yet refurbished, there would be political pressure to divert German Army stocks.

  • What then?
    Ukraine is not just asking for Leopard tanks, they would also like ATACMS or something like it, fighter jets, warships, etc. The moment Germany says 'yes' to Leopards, it will be badgered to provide something else.

  • Dynamics in the Social-Democrat Party
    The SPD has a left wing which is critical of NATO, critical of the Bundeswehr, and rather proud of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik. It also has a right wing supportive of NATO and the Bundeswehr in general, and the Ukraine in this case. Some party members are likely to bolt whichever way Chancellor Scholz decides, so he decides as slowly as possible.
    Follow-up: This morning (22-Jan-2023) there are news about a position paper which may either clarify the strategic outlook, or produce yet another compromise.

I don't buy the energy angle any more. So far the winter was exceptionally warm, storage is rather full, and it would take much more than not delivering Leopards to make Russia reopen the pipelines.

The WWII 'guilt trip' angle seems more relevant, as part of my 4th bullet point. The public debate in Germany centers on sending 'defensive' weapons, while tanks are the stereotypical 'offensive' weapon. That has nothing to do with military realities, only with perceptions of the general population.

  • "considering the size and location of Germany one might argue that it should be leading" France is also similarly located and sized. If anything they both should lead together. And the nature of EU is basically that there is no leader and all decisions are taken together (more or less) even if that takes longer (which in a war is deadly). But traditionally in the EU there isn't really a leading nation. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 19:24
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    @Trilarion, that's why there is a very good case to build a composite battalion or two of various countries' Leos. Everybody gives a few, and the spare parts and training is compatible.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 19:30
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    @Trilarion, I'm getting old, it seems. And this war has everything to do with the last century. With the end of WWI, the dynamics after the breakup of Austria-Hungary, with the famine, with Russian paranoia and Russia's wish for buffer states, with Russia's nostalgia for Empire.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 19:32
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    @Trilarion, German soldiers murdered a lot of Ukrainians in WWII. Germany really does feel sorry about it, and I'm quite certain they would send more weapons if Ukraine wasn't fighting another victim of German aggesssion.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 19:40
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    @Trilarion & Italian Philosophers Slovakian defense minister says the news it would donate Leopards is fake news. Czech defense ministry "Nobody asked or invited us to send Leopards". Portugal only wants to send logistics. Netherlands only money. Canada and Spain said they wouldn't join. It basically leaves Poland and Finland, of which so far neither actually officially asked Germany to allow export.
    – lidar
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 7:19

One of the earlier stated reasons on Jan 6, albeit from some a somewhat lower-ranked official was that they apparently saw Leopard [2] tanks as having much more offensive potential; literally that official ("SPD defense policy spokesman Wolfgang Hellmich") said Marders were "tanks for defense" (Panzer zur Verteidigung) while Leopards were "tanks for attack" (Angriffspanzer). (One may of course dispute this dichotomy.)

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As an aside, according the same source, [Euro]Spike missiles that apparently equip some [modernized] Marders (A5) apparently cannot be given to Ukraine, due to Israeli opposition to that delivery. OTOH, the older Milan ATGMs can be given.

  • Do drive Russia out of Crimea, tanks for attack are obviously required.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 10:53
  • Problem with low-ranked officials is that they hardly have the authority to speak for the whole party or even government. This guy can rule out delivering these tanks but that doesn't mean some higher ranking official will agree to exactly this next week. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 9:04
  • @Trilarion: agreed, and in hindsight they were overriden. This answer is/was more to illustrate what o.m. wrote rather abstract.ly about the "dynamics in the Social-Democrat Party". Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 21:15

Today, Germany, the US and other European nations decided to send tanks (of type Leopard 2 or M1 Abrams) to Ukraine, so the conclusion would be that last week they simply didn't have consensus about that yet and now they have.

Based on how the decision to send tanks is phrased in Germany "This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally." my guess is that Germany was simply afraid of being pushed to act alone and being singled out by Russia and rather wanted to act within a broad but united alliance for sending tanks, which is now happening.


Might be due to public opinion. They say here that in a recent survey there were more against it among German people than for it. Support of Scholz is quite low recently so I guess he should really follow the public opinion in the important issues.

  • The question does not primarily concern giving German Leopard 2 to Ukraine but allowing other countries to give their own Leopard 2 away. On this issue the German public is more in favor than against. From your source: "Despite the reticence of the YouGov poll respondents towards having their country export the tanks, most are not opposed to other countries doing so. A total of 47% would be in favour, with 38% against and 16% undecided."
    – xyldke
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 9:54
  • Actually the biggest opposition party (CDU) would send the tanks any day if only they were in power. The support might be below the one in Poland maybe (after all one country farer away) but still at least in line with the rest of Europe I'd say. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 17:00
  • @Trilarion I have not seen data on the public support among the voters of the parties. But I can imagine that voters of SPD are more against it than those of the CDU. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:15
  • @xyldke As of today, this exactly coincides with statements of foreign minister A. Baerbock. They do not send, but they also do not block if anyone asks for it. She also added that so far no one has asked for a permission officially. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:16
  • Useful, but besides that Turkish agency, this is also the poll that TASS chose to highlight. Another poll showed a more even 46/43 split, but it might not have asked if they are undecided dw.com/en/… This one also has split by by party. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 6:32

If to assume the PR narrative that this is really the war between NATO and Russia already, not delivering tanks looks like a strange decision. Tanks are build for the war, there is nothing else they are good for. Now it is the war so it should be time to get them moving.

But ... maybe Europe still does not think it is they war?

The countries care not to weaken they own defenses too much. When (if) Russia will come to the territory of EU, it must be enough Leopards to greet them.

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