There were few political qualms about sending a squadron of British Challenger 2 tanks to the Ukraine last week because on their own, they will make little difference to the course of the war. So why are there so many problems with Germany sending Leopard 2 tanks to their near neighbours?
The reason is threefold. First, the technical side. The Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Leopard 2 is much easier to master than Challenger 2; the 120 mm smooth bore gun is quicker to fire and more simple to aim; the mobility is better because it is a lighter tank and the power to weight ratio is much higher, so it is 10 mph faster than Challenger 2. It is used in a dozen European countries and has been manufactured in a way that makes it easy for export. The only area that the Challenger 2 wins is in the protection of the tank because it carries the best armour in the world and it is 15 cms less in height.
The second reason is tactical. Tank warfare is essentially offensive war. Up to now, we have been helping the Ukrainians protect their territory with stand-off, defensive weapon systems used against a hated aggressor. The deployment of Leopard 2 from Germany (and other European countries) changes this dynamic, so that NATO will inevitably be drawn into direct combat with Russia.
And this leads to the third reason: the political-strategic unintended consequences. What does this mean for Germany’s constitution which allows for its armed forces to be used solely for defence of its own territory? What retaliation will come from Moscow if German tanks kill Russian soldiers? What will happen when Leopard 2 tanks are destroyed on the battlefield? How will the donation denude the German Army of some of its key battle-winning capability?
It is no wonder that the Berlin government is hesitant about deploying Leopard 2 against the Russian Army.
Leopard 2 Twenty-two Years Ago