Germany’s refusal to send ‘Taurus’ missiles to Ukraine is disputed, but won’t break the government

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Germany’s refusal to send ‘Taurus’ missiles to Ukraine is disputed, but won’t break the government

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) receives French President Macron and Polish Prime Minister Tusk with military honors at the Federal Chancellery for a joint meeting.

Christoph Soeder | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Debate around military aid to Ukraine is deepening the cracks in Germany’s administration — but despite “extremely unusual” public rifts, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to prevail.

The question at the heart of a months-long dispute is whether Germany will send Ukraine long-range Taurus missiles, which can independently locate and destroy a target after being released by a carrier.

Scholz has firmly rejected Kyiv’s request for these missiles — but he looks increasingly isolated in this position.

One key concern is that Ukraine may need on-the-ground help from German soldiers to work the Taurus missiles — a red line for Scholz.

According to leaked discussions by senior army chiefs reported by German media, there are very few copies of the complex data needed to program Taurus missiles. It means that Germany itself would likely lose access to the material if it handed those over to Ukraine, making it a potentially risky move.

Scholz has also said that Taurus weapons are sufficiently far-reaching that they could hit Russia, which the Kremlin could view as Germany becoming involved in the war. The country’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, could not handle holding a defensive line against Russia, Scholz argues.

Resistance

Not everyone agrees.

The opposition Christian Democrats, or CDU for short, has played down the risk that Russia might view it as Germany entering the war, while the Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens — coalition partners to Scholz’s Social Democrats, or SPD — say the risks are manageable and worthwhile to avoid Russia winning the conflict.  

Since last November, the CDU has repeatedly tabled votes on sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine in Germany’s parliament and failed. Even so, the debate has highlighted tensions within the ruling coalition.

“There’s clearly a rift between large parts of the Greens and the Free Democrats in favor of delivering Taurus to Ukraine and Chancellor Scholz and large parts of his Social Democrats vehemently blocking this decision,” Frank Sauer, senior research fellow at the University of the Bundeswehr Munich and head of research at the Metis Institute for Strategy and Foresight, told CNBC.

It comes as several members of parliament for the FDP voted in favor of a CDU motion following the latest parliamentary debate on Thursday.

Annalena Baerbock, Green party foreign secretary, meanwhile, discussed Taurus missiles with U.K. foreign minister David Cameron. She later said she would consider a so-called “Ringtausch,” whereby Germany sends Taurus missiles to the U.K. which in turn delivers some of its own long-range Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine.

Separately, a high-profile Green party MP joined forces with a prominent CDU politician to pen an op-ed advocating for the delivery of Taurus missiles.

Coalition chaos

“This level of open disagreement inside a governing coalition is extremely unusual for German politics. The coalition is in disunity because of Scholz’ refusal to deliver Taurus,” Ulrike Franke, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told CNBC.

An audio recording of army officials discussing Taurus, which was recently leaked by Russia, added fuel to the fire, raising questions about German cyber security.

The German-Swedish air-to-ground cruise missile Taurus can be seen in a showroom at the European defense company MBDA.

Matthias Balk | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Not only has the debate brought questions around the state and unity of the governing coalition, but it has also highlighted wider issues in German politics, according to Sauer.

“Unfortunately the Taurus debate keeps sucking up all the oxygen in the room, repeating itself over and over again. It’s quite unproductive and not conducive to the strategic learning curve that’s so sorely needed in Germany,” he said.

Franke echoed this sentiment, saying that the Taurus debate had shown yet again that Germany struggles with military and defense issues. Berlin previously made headlines over a protracted debate to send its Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine.

“Strategic thinking has atrophied over thirty years of geopolitical calm and peace,” she added.

‘Doomed to succeed’

Despite the increasingly public debate, Scholz is not expected to give in.

“It has become clear that Scholz thinks that delivering Taurus missiles would be a step too far,” Franke said. “It appears that the more he is pushed, the more Scholz insists on his view, and his authority to decide.”

The chancellor has repeatedly insisted the decision is his to make, Franke pointed out, which she said suggests that the debate has become about his chancellorship, not just aid for Ukraine.

Scholz’s hard line on Taurus could also be part of a long-term strategy to position himself as a pacifist before the next German parliamentary election in 2025, Sauer suggested.

“It seems like the SPD is already entering campaign mode, painting a picture of Scholz as the ‘Peace Chancellor’,” he said.

His party is currently third in the polls, however, after the CDU and far-right Alternative für Deutschland, according to a monthly survey by independent research institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen — suggesting that something must change if Scholz wants to remain in power.

Current poll results are also part of why the government coalition is unlikely to break up, as only the opposition would benefit, Franke explained. While the Green party and the CDU may broadly agree on Taurus, a coalition between them would be almost impossible as their goals and style are simply too different, Sauer noted.

Scholz’s “traffic light coalition is, in that sense, doomed to succeed,” he added.

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