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Why Olaf Scholz is not a "peace Chancellor," why Ukraine still stands a good chance of getting their cruise missiles, and why the entire debate surrounding Taurus is such a riddle

Why Olaf Scholz is not a "peace Chancellor," why Ukraine still stands a good chance of getting their cruise missiles, and why the entire debate surrounding Taurus is such a riddle

The Taurus leak continues to dominate German headlines. It is an incredible embarrassment for the Luftwaffe, and for the Scholz government it is yet another in a long line of unwelcome crises.

Some have ventured to characterise Olaf Scholz as the “peace Chancellor,” opposed to war-hawks like Emmanuel Macron, who has left open the possibility of sending NATO troops to Ukraine. This is altogether too facile. With a few exceptions, almost everybody from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the United States and the United Kingdom has distanced himself from Macron’s “strategic ambiguity.” Nor is Scholz a particular force for peace beyond the limited matter of Taurus; his government continues to provide a wide range of military aid to the Ukrainians. Scholz undeniably is, however, widely disliked; in January, his approval rating was just 18%, and his party (the SPD) is struggling to do much better than 15% in polls. He is desperate to find some way of turning this around, and opposing more weapons for Ukraine has popular appeal. Fully 65% of Germans believe current weapons shipments are excessive, and 75% oppose giving Taurus to Ukraine.

Others believe that the scandal has forestalled any possibility that Germany will provide the cruise missiles. I think this too is wrong. The leak shows that there is substantial institutional opposition to Scholz’s policy, and it undermines the arguments Scholz himself has made for withholding the missiles. The weaker and the more isolated the Chancellor becomes, the greater the chances that he relents.1 We should also remember that governments have come apart over less; should this coalition dissolve over this or any other issue, political opposition to Taurus stands every chance of dissolving along with it. New elections would probably yield a government dominated by the Greens and the CDU/CSU, who would be far readier to give Ukraine what they want in this area.

The leak has also increased international pressure on the Chancellor. The British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has scheduled a meeting with Scholz on Thursday, after the leak confirmed the open secret that British soldiers are actively providing targeting and other assistance in Ukrainian territory, and the not-so-open secret that Ukrainian supplies of Storm Shadow and SCALP cruise missiles are running low. A “Downing Street spokesmen” yesterday called on Scholz to give in: “The UK was the first country to provide long-range precision strike missiles to Ukraine, and we would encourage our allies to do the same.”

All this was foreseeable. It follows that if the Russians were really worried about Taurus, they would’ve kept the Webex audio under wraps. They released the recording not to subvert pie-in-the-sky German plots to blow up the Kerch Bridge, but to give NATO a black eye.

The truth is that Taurus missiles are massively over-hyped. Nobody believes they will save Ukraine, and personally I have doubts that they’re likely to cause World War 3. I know, I know – we read constantly that they can reach Moscow, but we must also remember that these are merely the latest in a long line of wonder weapons from the West, none of which have turned things around for the defenders of democracy. In yesterday’s post, we saw that Luftwaffe chief Ingo Gerhartz spoke of a journalist who said “she had heard ... that Taurus just doesn’t work.” Gerhartz found this rumour to be ridiculous, but in light of everything he and his fellow Luftwaffe officers said on the call, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched: 1) Gerhartz himself admits bluntly that “Taurus won’t change the course of the war.” 2) The missiles have to be mounted on Su-24 strategic bombers, and this is a “limiting factor,” because Ukraine has less than ten of them. 3) Using the missiles is apparently very technically difficult and can require up to a year of training, or four months in an expedited scenario. 4) Germany doesn’t have very many Taurus missiles to spare; in the near term, we can offer only 50 of them, and a lot of these will be lost in “trial-and-error” efforts to sound out Russian air defences. 5) Using Taurus to take out a sensational target like the Kerch Bridge is an uncertain exercise, which the Ukrainians won’t be able to manage on their own any time soon.

It’s easy to understand why the Russians might look at this whole mess and shrug, but rather harder to know why Taurus has become such a big deal in the first place. Scholz alluded to this in his comments yesterday, when he complained about the “strange debate” we’re having “over individual weapons systems.” Part of it is surely pressure from the defence industry, eager to sell more one-million-Euro cruise missiles, but I suspect there’s more going on here. It’s a riddle.

This morning, we learned more about the nature of the leak. Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced that an “officer” who “was in Asia to attend the Singapore Airshow” signed onto the call via a “non-secure data line” from a hotel targeted by Russian intelligence services. This officer is almost certainly Brigadier General Frank Gräfe, one of the four participants on the call. As I said yesterday, the audio seemed to have been taken from his device.

As the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports, holding the conversation on Webex was a serious violation of security procedures. The content of the call warranted a “Geheim” or “Streng geheim” (“Secret” or “Top Secret”) classification, and Bundeswehr regulations authorise Webex only for material with the lowest secrecy classification, “official use only.” Hans-Georg Maaßen, the former head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, our domestic intelligence service, claims that in normal circumstances Brigadier General Gräfe and Inspekteur Gerhartz would be expected to resign; criminal charges and even prison time are also possible. Gerhartz is well connected with German journalists, and Die Zeit is already running interference for him with a long and faintly ridiculous piece on why he should stay in office despite everything.

Politically, not much has happened yet. Johann Wadephul, vice-chairman of the CDU Bundestag faction, has called Scholz a “security risk,” and CDU Bundestag first secretary Thomas Frei has demanded that the Chancellor “put an end to the chaotic security policy of the Federal Government.” Wadephul also wants to know whether Scholz’s claim in late February that Taurus required the assistance of German soldiers in Ukraine was“made out of ignorance” or whether it was “deliberately false.” These are relatively measured statements from the opposition. Tino Chrupalla, co-head of Alternative für Deutschland, says the leak has revealed that NATO is “more involved in the Ukraine war” than previously known, and that Germany must “consider whether an alliance that draws us into foreign wars serves our national defence.” 1

It is also worth noting that Scholz’s opposition to Taurus has not yielded any measurable political dividends – that is, the polls aren’t swinging back in his favour; and, conversely, that the Greens have maintained steady support despite their unpopular openness to Taurus. The focus of German voters is on the terrible economy, and an attempt to replay the success of Gerhard Schröder (who saw electoral success in his refusal to involve Germany in the Iraq war) is unlikely to work this time around.

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