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Hendrik Alexander Gnad: Germany's Weapon Deliveries - Why the Delayed Policy U-Turn?

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

While the UK and the US had already vouched to send heavy military equipment to Ukraine in January, Germany, the European Union’s strongest economy, only recently announced that it would be sending combat helmets, and merely 5,000 out of the requested 100,000 (Ellyatt 2022). The international reaction to this is best summarised by a comment of Kiev’s mayor Klitschko, who described it “as a joke” (ibid.). This sentiment is shared by many Eastern European officials who were in disbelief about Germany’s unwillingness to supply lethal weapons (Westendarp 2022). Further criticism came from Germany’s NATO allies (Schukltheis 2022).

The reasons for Germany’s reluctance to send lethal weapons are threefold. Firstly, as the nation most responsible for the horrors of World War II in Europe, the German people have since followed a strict pacifist ideology (Hill 2022). This population-wide desire for pacifism has come to show through in German policy. Even though Germany has a large military industry, its post-war governments have tried to limit the export of German arms so they would not be delivered to conflict zones (Tagesschau 2022). Secondly, the decision is motivated by domestic concerns. The current government is new in office, and its coalition treaty explicitly highlights its aim to further limit German arms exports by introducing laws to support this goal (SPD, Gruene & FDP 2022, 146). Therefore, an instant commitment to an export of arms would weaken the credibility of the coalition's promise. Lastly, Germany, with the support of France, aimed to first deescalate the conflict through diplomacy by using the Normandy Format (Hill 2022). As mediators in this process, a delivery of arms to Ukraine would have disrupted the negotiations (ibis.)

However, days after the invasion of Ukraine began, the German government made a drastic policy shift, announcing a delivery of 1,000 anti-tank missiles and 500 ground to air rockets to support Ukraine (Tagesschau 2022). Furthermore, it gave the green light for German arms based in the Netherlands and Estonia to be shipped to Ukraine (ibid.). This policy U-turn was justified by the German chancellor Olaf Scholz (2022), who claimed that the Russian invasion marked a turning point in history, and that it is now Germany’s duty to support Ukraine in its defence.

This change in policy was praised both domestically and internationally. German officials were in clear support of Scholz’s decision, seeing the delivery of lethal weapons as a necessary change in policy considering the recent, drastic developments (Schultheis 2022). The initial resentment which Germany had received from its allies in NATO and in Europe subsided after this announcement and gave way to praise (ibid). However, while lauded by the press, some see this policy turn as Germany making the decision of arms deliveries under pressure by its foreign allies (Tagesschau 2022).

In retrospect, considering Germany’s historical role in World War II, the state’s initial attempt to solve the conflict through peaceful means was a reasonable approach. This is especially true since it was impossible for the new government to reconcile the delivery of lethal weapons with its coalition’s promise to decrease such exports. The German justification of its policy U-turn is also understandable since its weapon export guidelines are only meant to prevent ‘aggressors’ from getting weapons - and now its weapon deliveries would help protect against such an aggressor. However, the government should have realised that its initial promise of 5,000 helmets would be met with mockery as it was merely 5% of what Ukraine asked of Germany and would not have even conflicted with its moral standards at all.

Written by Hendrik Alexander Gnad, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Ellyatt, Holly. 2022. "“It’s a Joke”: Germany’s Offer of 5,000 Helmets to Ukraine is Met with

Disdain amid Russia Invasion Fears." CNBC, January 27, 2022.


Hill, Jenny. 2022. "Why Germany Isn’t Sending Weapons to Ukraine." BBC News, January 28,


Schultheis, E. (2022, February 27). Germany’s Move to Help Arm Ukraine

Signals Historic Shift. Washington Post. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from hift/2022/02/27/9761768e-9803-11ec-9987-9dceee62a3f6_story.html

SPD, Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, and FDP. 2021. "Mehr Fortschritt Wagen Bündnis Für Freiheit,

Gerechtigkeit und Nachhaltigkeit." SPD, December 7, 2021.

2025.pdf Tagesschau.

Taggeschau. 2022. "Bundesregierung Hilft Ukraine: Deutschland Liefert Waffen der

Bundeswehr." 2022., February 26, 2022.

Westendarp, Louis. 2022. "Latvia Blasts Germany’s ‘Immoral and Hypocritical’ Relationship

with Russia and China." POLITICO, January 28, 2022.


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1 Comment

Ryan Dillmann
Ryan Dillmann
Sep 16, 2022

Coalition agreements ought to be honoured, but extraordinary, massive and unforeseeable (although not to me), changing circumstances such as the outbreak of the war are indeed justification for the policy U-Turn. For the sake of Europe let us hope Germany commits long-term to a more assertive, yet not agressive, defence strategy.

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