The will to world war

Despite warnings from the US, Berlin presses for a Ukrainian military victory over Russia. Supplying Taurus will move Germany closer to war, but media say: don’t be scared!

BERLIN (own report) - In Germany, the second anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine has been marked by noisy sloganeering: calls to keep on fighting until Russia is defeated, and scorn for those who question the logic of ever more lethal weapons for Kiev. “They’re just scared”. From the United States come warnings that Ukraine will lose the war. Some voices within the US administration are now urging President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate with Russia. Yet Berlin is doubling down: Moscow must “lose this war”. The leader of the main opposition party in the Bundestag, Friedrich Merz (CDU), says bluntly that there should be “no negotiations” before Russia capitulates. Surveys indicate that not many agree: only 10 to 25 per cent of the German population think a Ukrainian victory is likely. Majorities expect a Russian victory and oppose further arms deliveries. Yet leading German media have joined in the ridiculing of Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his current stance against handing over Taurus cruise missiles to Kiev. He should, they say, stop being “scared”. Any fears are, of course, based on the well-founded assumption that Moscow would interpret the delivery of the Taurus as Germany going to war. Meanwhile, domestically Germany is in a downward spiral. The sharp rise in military spending is accompanied by social cuts and economic decline: “guns without butter”, as one economist quips.

Selensky’s choice

Over the weekend, politicians from both the ruling coalition in Berlin and the opposition have hardened their calls for Ukraine to win the war against Russia. Elsewhere, however, the voices counselling caution, some in the United States, are growing louder. At the end of last week, for example, Charles Kupchan, former European Director in the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, stated that there was “no foreseeable path to a Ukrainian victory on the battlefield”, even if the Ukrainian armed forces were soon able to deploy new weapons, such as the American F-16 fighter jets.[1] In Kupchan’s view, Ukrainian President Zelensky is effectively faced with the choice of trying to defend every inch of Ukrainian territory or finding a way to preserve Ukraine as an economically viable country with a democratic future. The latter scenario refers not least to the fact that the country will be drained of even more people, especially from the younger generation, if the war continues. Demographers estimate that its economic existence is already barely certain due to the high number of soldiers killed on the front and the numerous refugees ( reported [2]).

“Russia must lose”

While, according to a recent report in the New York Times, US government officials have tried to nudge the Ukrainian president into negotiations with Russia, albeit without success,[3] Berlin is still cheering on the fighting and raising the stakes. On Saturday, the foreign policy spokesperson for the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Nils Schmid, said that “military support for Ukraine from the EU states [is] more important than ever,” because ultimately “President Putin and his regime ... must lose this war.” Whatever the cost, “Russia must fail.”[4] Meanwhile, CDU leader Friedrich Merz said he was confident Moscow would eventually capitulate: “When Russia lays down its arms, the war will be over.” This would require “bringing the Russian army and the Russian leadership to heel”.[5] Merz continued, “Ukraine must win the war, and win it in such a way that Russia no longer sees any point in continuing militarily.” Merz has not explained just how this is to be achieved. Numerous military experts, even including the former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valery Salushnyi,[6] regard this goal as impossible. Yet the leader of the opposition in the Bundestag bluntly insists on a Russian surrender: “There’ll be no negotiations before that.”

Against public opinion

Berlin’s hardline demand that Russia must lose the war runs counter not only to a sober assessment of the situation by experienced military experts, but also to the wishes of a clear majority of the population. In a survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in twelve European countries in the first half of January, just ten per cent of all German respondents stated that they believed Ukraine could still win the war.[7] 19 per cent saw Russia as the winner, while 31 per cent expected a compromise between Moscow and Kiev. Although 32 per cent still thought the EU should support Ukraine militarily, 41 per cent said they would prefer Brussels to urge Kiev to settle with Moscow. An Ipsos survey conducted at the beginning of February revealed that around 25 per cent of the German population believed that Ukraine could still win the war, while 40 per cent thought this was no longer possible. As for arms supplies to Ukraine, 39 per cent said they were in favour, while 43 per cent were against it.[8] According to the survey, by far the largest proportion of those in favour of supplying weapons (72 per cent) are supporters of Germany’s Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen). This cohort also has the highest proportion of those who believe a Ukrainian victory is still possible (47 per cent).

Guns without butter

The billions in arms supplies to Ukraine and the massive programme of Bundeswehr rearmament will swallow up immense sums of money. This is currently stoking a debate on where the money should come from. Internal plans by Germany’s Defence Ministry set the minimum volume of German military expenditure, i.e. two per cent of GDP, at 97 billion euros for the year 2028.[9] An additional sum of 10.8 billion euros would be earmarked for other army requirements. Compared to the current defence spending of just under 52 billion euros, this calculation leaves a gap of some 56 billion euros in the national budget. Welfare cuts are already leading to the first social protests. The business community, too, has been voicing its dismay at government policy, such as the decision to axe battery research funding by three quarters. Battery production is, after all, considered a key sector for the energy transition.[10] Speaking in a television talk show on Thursday evening, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) presented the spectacle of a “multi-year moratorium on social spending and subsidies” in order to boost defence spending going forward.[11] The head of a leading German economic think-tank, the Ifo Institute, Clemens Fuest, sums up the situation: “Guns and butter – that would be nice if it were possible. But it’s cloud-cuckoo land. It can’t be done.” What lies ahead is “guns without butter”.[12]

“Don’t waver, get tough”

Objections to unlimited arms supplies to Ukraine are now being simply brushed aside. The arguments against caution reveal a growing willingness to actively lead Germany into war with Russia. This is particularly apparent in the calls for Germany to give Kiev its Taurus cruise missiles. If the Ukrainian military used them to attack targets in Russian territory there is every chance that Moscow would conclude that Germany had entered the war. On Friday, an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stated that Chancellor Scholz, who has so far refused to deliver the Taurus, must now give way and stop being “scared”.[13] CDU chairman Merz took up the theme at the weekend, positioning himself as a Taurus hawk. Merz seeks to defame war avoidance as cowardice. Challenging Scholz, he asks, “Is he afraid?”[14] An opinion piece in the Green-affiliated taz newspaper tells us that we are already in a “world war” for which Putin “gave the starting signal” in 2022: “Many powers, near and far, are watching to see who will gain the upper hand here.”[15] So, the argument runs, the West must emerge victorious from the war: “The order of the day is: don’t waver, get tough.” This apparently is the slogan for the world war in which the author sees the West already participating.


[1] Steven Erlanger, David E. Sanger: Hard Lessons Make for Hard Choices 2 Years Into the War in Ukraine. 24.02.2024.

[2] See also: "An Irreversible Demographic Shock".

[3] Steven Erlanger, David E. Sanger: Hard Lessons Make for Hard Choices 2 Years Into the War in Ukraine. 24.02.2024. See also: The Strategy of Containment.

[4] Nils Schmid: Zwei Jahre Angriff auf die Ukraine: Putin muss diesen Krieg verlieren. 24.02.2024. See also: „Russland muss verlieren“.

[5] Hannes Niemeyer: „Hat Scholz Angst?“ – Merz zieht vernichtende Bilanz nach zwei Jahren Ukraine-Krieg. 25.02.2024.

[6] See also: Heikle Gespräche.

[7] Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard: Wars and elections: How European leaders can maintain public support for Ukraine. 21.02.2024.

[8] Nur jede:r Vierte hält Sieg der Ukraine noch für realistisch, Waffenlieferungen bei Deutschen umstritten. 22.02.2024.

[9] Matthias Gebauer, Marina Kormbaki: Bundeswehr steuert auf 56-Milliarden-Euro-Loch zu. 31.01.2024.

[10] Oliver Scheel: Batterieforschung in Deutschland droht das Aus. 08.02.2024.

[11], [12] Raphaël Schmeller: Ampel zerlegt Sozialstaat. junge Welt 24.02.2024.

[13] Reinhard Müller: Wo bleibt der Booster für die Ukraine? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 23.02.2024.

[14] Hannes Niemeyer: „Hat Scholz Angst?“ – Merz zieht vernichtende Bilanz nach zwei Jahren Ukraine-Krieg. 25.02.2024.

[15] Jan Claas Behrends: Startschuss zum Weltkrieg. 25.02.2024.