On Mobilization Waves And A Military Mindset
And what Germans want in Ukraine
Politico sought fit to bury this quote from Colin Kahl, undersecretary of Pentagon policy, at the bottom of their inverted pyramid-style story about Germany slow-walking Leopard tanks for Ukraine.
“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine, I think it’s about three gallons to the mile of jet fuel. It is not the easiest system to maintain,” therefore “it may or may not be the right system” for Ukraine.
Having worked alongside tanks, and with tankers, under a desert sun or two, I can confirm the M1 has very specific needs, like a thoroughbred horse. German Leopard tanks, on the other hand, are simpler to maintain, made with parts that can be replaced from a factory in Germany instead of the United States.
A dozen countries would send Ukraine Leopards tomorrow if Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the green light. Leaving aside the controversial question of which tank is better, it makes no sense from any practical standpoint for the German government to withhold Leopards until the US sends the Abrams.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that such weapons are the “vaccine against Russian tyranny.” With the war entering a “new phase,” Kahl says, new tanks are sorely needed in Ukraine.
Supplying the right weapons mix against an adversary is indeed crucial to their success, but oversupplying too many different types of weapon works against the ally. Ideally, Ukraine should get exactly one good modern battle tank. That is already not going to happen, for the British are sending a company of Challenger 2s. Adding more diversity to their supply chains undermines the whole entire project of helping them at all.
Sclerotic German military procurement bureaucracy is not new. Austrians, who speak German, even have a word for the culture of a weak center which produces such delays: schlamperei.
The Wehrmacht went to war in 1939 with 43 different types of motorcycle, creating a nightmare for supply sergeants. A profusion of Panzer variants belies the incompatibilities created in supply chains by all that toyetic difference.
Though popular, the conceit that German fascism made trains run on time is also a myth. Albert Scheer famously improved the centralization of German industries, but not before the “arsenal of democracy” had altered the material direction of the war.
Much maligned, and often unfairly, the M4 Sherman tank had a far more unified production run. Factories could turn out thousands of tanks that were exactly alike, ships could carry them overseas, and because every crew had been trained on a Sherman, they were ready to operate any tank that landed on shore.
Shermans were a key procurement policy victory of the George C. Marshall War Department. Famous for his ability to bring diverse views into a room and get them to agree on unified actions, Marshall was the archetypal uniformed technocrat overseeing a military revolution in progress.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly met the new German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, to discuss the impasse this week. Scholz, it seems, promised his governing coalition that German and American tanks would arrive together on the battlefield.
Form follows function. Tanks (“landships”), much like ships on the water, have distinctive aesthetics that can be sorted by nationality. Russian tanks are a fine example of this: the T-55 resembles the T-62 or T-72 or T-80 or T-90 closely enough that all five would be recognizable as the products of a single material culture by a future “tank archaeologist.”
Although similar in function, the Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams are distinctive enough in design that the same expert would understand they came from different organizing societies.
German politicians do not want distinctively-German tanks leading the assault against Russian positions in the Donbas, at least not alone. As illusory as that sense of safety in having allied tanks alongside theirs might be, it is understandable. German society has consciously, purposely demilitarized itself for generations, now. At this point, asking them to step forward and be seen in the front — especially in eastern Europe — is in fact asking a lot.
The departure of Christine Lambrecht as defense minister this week, after months of tepid leadership in what was seen until now as a low-ranking post, is one symptom of the difficult transition from pacifist nation to provider of arms.
As these high-level moves take place in the open, Russians are beginning to sound the nuclear alarm — again — while their war with Ukraine enters its ninth year.
"The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war," former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Telegram yesterday. Medvedev is deputy chairman of Putin's powerful security council, which in Kremlin terms makes him equal to the pope’s mustard-bearer. "Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”
Afghanistan? The Cold War? Never mind. What matters, from Vladimir Putin’s perspective, is first that Russians believe it is true that they are already at war with NATO, including Germany, and that their existence somehow depends on Ukraine not existing.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said in a sermon: "We pray to the Lord that he bring the madmen to reason and help them understand that any desire to destroy Russia will mean the end of the world."
"Today is an alarming time," state news agency RIA quoted him as saying. "But we believe that the Lord will not leave Russian land."
Putin's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters in Minsk that Russia would do everything to ensure NATO and European Union leaders "sobered up" as soon as possible.
"I hope that the sobering up will come," Lavrov said. "We will do everything so that our colleagues from NATO and the European Union sober up as soon as possible."
Secondarily, Putin hopes that Germans will believe nuclear Armageddon inevitably follows on the deployment of Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine and fear the slippery slope too much.
If anyone needs sobering, though, it is Putin, who has once again doubled-down on his maximalist demands.
"The sooner the Ukrainian regime shows its readiness to meet Russia's demands —which will be achieved one way or another — the sooner everything will end,” warns Kremlin spokesunit Dmitry Peskov.
The sooner Ukraine surrenders unconditionally, “the sooner Ukrainian people can begin to recover after this tragedy, which was started by the regime in Kyiv.” Abusers never recognize their own agency.
Anyway: it is all bluster. Russian propaganda about Ukraine as a NATO proxy is a prophecy that may yet fulfill itself, if the Germans will move. If they want to stop Russia in Ukraine rather than, say, Poland — and who wants a German army to have to enter Poland again, for any reason, ever? — the Scholz government will have to move, and remember how to mobilize the German nation a little bit.
The choices actually before Germany are to militarize the German mind just a little bit now, as prevention, or maybe a whole lot more later, in a state of emergency, as cure.
Polemology Positions is a reader-supported publication. Subscribe to support my work