Actually, this security conference should take place at a different time, in a different country. Actually. Because almost a year ago, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared in the German Bundestag: "The world afterward is no longer the same as the world before." Russia's attack marked a "turning point".
And Germany, too, must therefore change: “In essence, it is about the question of whether power can break the law. Or whether we can muster the strength to set limits on warmongers like Putin. That requires your own strength.” In the months since then, Germany has done a lot to empower itself for the new challenge and to strengthen its Ukrainian ally.
But the Germans did too little, and they did it too slowly. Often more hesitant than other Western allies. Meanwhile, time has passed and the Federal Republic has suddenly arrived where the military and experts have seen it for years - at the forefront of European security policy. Currently specifically: in the middle of the hottest conflict with Russia in decades. But Germany is still not really prepared. A year after Scholz recognized the "turn of the era".
In his speech at the Munich Security Conference, Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed the accusation that Western arms deliveries were prolonging the war in Ukraine. The opposite is true, he says.
Shortly before the opening, Joachim Gauck is sitting on a podium in the “Bayerischer Hof” hotel, the magnificent residence of the Security Conference, where Empress Sisi and Sigmund Freud have stayed. The former Federal President has his place in the annals of the conference because it was he who, back in 2014, called for Germany to get involved in security policy “earlier, more decisively and more substantially” in order to secure peace in the world.
Does he have the impression that the current federal government has understood that, for example when it comes to Ukraine? Gauck seems to be expecting more. German politicians, he says, must help so substantially that the danger of a “peace dictated by Putin, a kind of new Versailles Treaty” is averted. To do this, it is important to first listen to those who want to fight: "No German is driving Ukraine into war, but the Ukrainians are strangely of the opinion that peace alone is not the highest value, but that peace in freedom is what they do wish.” To ignore this, according to Gauck, would be dangerous arrogance on the part of the West.
But does Chancellor Scholz live up to these standards? "Even a guy like our head of government," said Gauck, "is visibly learning." This year's Munich conference is also something like the federal government's learning status survey. It doesn't look so good there. Because Berlin has not yet submitted the most important essay of the past year - the "national security strategy", which should actually be ready by the conference.
Ironically, the Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who is one of the most vehement advocates for arms deliveries to Ukraine and is also taking on the chancellor, does not even want to include NATO's two-percent spending target, which has been in force for a decade, in the new national security strategy that is currently being implemented created under their leadership. And Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) let Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) know this week that he refuses “preliminary decisions that unilaterally prioritize further spending” – for example for the Bundeswehr.
But the rearmament of the Bundeswehr, which Scholz wants to make Europe's most powerful conventional armed force, has not progressed since the turn of the century - on the contrary. One year after the start of the war, the German army is materially worse off than ever after the arms were handed over to Ukraine.
Scholz and his Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, who has since resigned, failed to take the key step in view of their own and Ukrainian armaments needs: boosting the armaments industry, which would have to mass-produce tanks, howitzers and ammunition, but which still operates in manufacturing mode due to a lack of public contracts.
Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) answers questions from TV editor-in-chief Jan Philipp Burgard in "WELT TALK Spezial". The discussion focused on the Ukraine war, current developments in NATO, general compulsory military service in Germany and the state of the Bundeswehr.
So far, German arms deliveries have only been made ad hoc, from the small Bundeswehr inventory and without strategic planning. Only the new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) seems willing to change that. He is trying to expand the European tank alliance, has issued a first large-scale ammunition order with a time frame of several years for the Gepard anti-aircraft gun tank delivered to Ukraine and is fighting for more money from the federal budget. The investment needs of the Bundeswehr is 300 billion euros in this decade, in addition to the 100 billion euro debt fund, a significant increase in the defense budget is necessary.
Finally, when it came to military support for Ukraine, Scholz relied solely on the United States. No matter what his coalition partners or European allies demanded in terms of weapon systems, the Chancellor never went beyond what US President Joe Biden had specified. In any case, the social democrat is not counting on the “strategic autonomy” of Europe proclaimed by French President Emmanuel Macron, but solely on Washington’s protective shield.
As a result, decisions such as the delivery of the Leopard 2 main battle tanks drag on for months - and the material is only promised when it is almost too late and the next Russian offensive has long since begun. Nevertheless, Scholz should feel confirmed, especially when it comes to battle tanks.
Ukraine's military requirement is 300 Western-style main battle tanks. A European "tank alliance" that Scholz forged was supposed to raise 100 Leopards of various series. Currently, however, there are only binding commitments from Germany and Portugal for 17 Leopard 2 A6 and 26 of the older A4 model from Poland, Norway and Canada. The military clout of Europe is that of a dwarf.
This is the background against which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes the first important statement at the conference via video link. He compares his country and the entire free world to a David fighting the Russian Goliath. "There is no alternative to defeating Goliath," says Zelenskyj.
Ukraine has shown that it has the courage and determination to win. Now she needs a slingshot big enough to knock down Goliath. "While Putin can buy himself time for his aggression, we lose lives," says Zelenskyj. "We have to speed up the arms deliveries." This is also an appeal to the Europeans and Olaf Scholz in particular.
How important an earlier delivery of modern Western main battle and armored personnel carriers would have been is currently being shown on the front in eastern Ukraine, which is becoming hotter. For many months, military experts had predicted that Russia would use the mobilization of some 300,000 new recruits and the winter months to regenerate its own armed forces and then launch a new offensive at the end of the winter or in the spring at the latest.
This new offensive now appears to have begun. Russian attacks have intensified significantly on several front sectors in recent weeks. This applies, for example, to the Kreminna region in the north, where the Russians are attempting to recapture the city of Lyman, which was recaptured from Ukraine in the autumn.
In the area of Bakhmut in the central sector of the front, the Russians managed to take the city of Soledar with considerable losses and to advance further towards the city. And further south in Wuhledar, Russian efforts have intensified considerably.
During the Russian advances, Ukrainian soldiers die unnecessarily every day because the modern battle tanks and armored personnel carriers promised by the West will only be ready for action in many weeks. After all, they either have yet to be delivered, or the training of Ukrainian crews and maintenance crews is ongoing. In the meantime, the Ukraine is still dependent on heavy equipment of Soviet design for many branches of arms, which are inferior in quality to Western products and, moreover, after a year of war are showing clear signs of fatigue.
Western politicians were of course aware that the Ukrainians were under time pressure, and Kiev has not tired of pointing this out again and again in recent months. However, the tank decisions then took too long to make a difference to the Russian offensive already underway.
When the German chancellor spoke after Zelenskyy, he emphasized that Germany is now taking on the responsibility that has repeatedly been demanded at the security conferences of recent years. With the deliveries to the Ukraine, the Federal Republic is Kiev's biggest supporter on the European continent and is asking its partners for further help. "For me, this is an example of the kind of leadership that everyone can expect from Germany - and which I expressly offer to our friends and partners."
But when Scholz then sits down on the stage in the main hall with CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour for a short interview, he is asked about the limits of German possibilities.
Supporting Ukraine is also a question of speed, says Amanpour. "Then why do you have to advertise to the partners who have promised Leopard tanks for the Ukraine that these tanks will actually be delivered?" Scholz, who previously formulated Germany's global responsibility in fairly fluent English, responded a very German word: "Tja", says the chancellor.
Then he smiles a bit painfully mischievously and then continues back in English. You just have to stand together with your partners, and he is very grateful for their partnership. Especially for the transatlantic alliance. "I am convinced that we will stand together till the end." The Chancellor is convinced that we will stand together until the end of this conflict.
Scholz is finally hoping for the USA again. He knows that America's support for Ukraine is more likely to decrease than increase. In any case, hardly anyone in Washington expects Congress to approve another aid package for Kiev as large as the $30 billion previously budgeted. Europe must increasingly take responsibility for the fight against Goliath. And not in the future, but right now.
Germany and its government learned a lot in the first year of the turning point. But the European reality does not seem to have fully arrived in the present.