The effort to provide tanks for deployment against Russian forces in Ukraine is revealing shortcomings in the capabilities of some European militaries.
In late January, the United States, as well as other allies like Germany, Poland, and France, committed to sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to the Ukrainian warfront in an effort to help the country push back the Russian offensive, as The Dallas Express reported.
According to The New York Times, a month after these promises were made, European nations have only managed to scrape together enough Leopard 2s to fill two battalions of tanks — 62 vehicles in total. Contributing to these shipments are Germany, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Finland, and Canada, per The Washington Post.
The delayed tank deliveries met several difficulties, both material and political.
Some European military officials discovered that their tanks were not operational, had insufficient spare parts, or required refurbishment that would take weeks or even months, according to the NYT.
Political leaders have also faced unexpected resistance within their own coalitions, even from their defense ministries.
Additionally, a few armies had to retrieve retired trainers to educate Ukrainian soldiers on operating outdated tanks.
These problems suggested European militaries are ill-prepared to fulfill the requirements of large-scale land warfare, as the NYT’s reporting suggested.
The U.S. has been urging Europe to boost military spending for years.
In 2014, NATO members agreed to devote 2% of their GDP to military expenditures by 2024. However, only nine out of the alliance’s 30 members are meeting this target. Thirteen countries, including Germany, spend approximately 1.5% of their GDP or less.
This chronic underfunding of European militaries is largely the result of post-Cold War leaders believing that large-scale land wars were obsolete, reported the NYT.
That is, until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has just reached its first anniversary and shows no signs of letting up, as The Dallas Express reported.
Some leaders in Europe have been reserved in their military support of Ukraine as a result of shortages of weapon systems, ammunition, and soldiers.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for instance, is concerned about preserving his country’s own capabilities. Despite Greece being second only to Germany in its number of Leopard tanks, the country’s leadership refuses to participate in the tank shipments, explaining that “they are absolutely necessary for our defense posture,” as reported by The Washington Post.
Additionally Finland, which is not a NATO member and borders Russia, recently announced that it would supply three Leopard mine-clearing vehicles, but not the 200 Leopard main battle tanks that had been previously estimated, per the NYT.
Sweden likewise encountered an unexpected hurdle in shipping tanks. Even though its leaders expressed enthusiasm to provide tanks to Ukraine, its military was ultimately not in agreement. The proposal is still under consideration.
Similar worries have emerged among military officials and experts in the U.S. amid rising tensions with China. A recent report from the Center for Strategic International Studies claimed that the U.S. defense industrial base is ill-prepared for war.
Within the U.S., public support for Ukraine has also waned, amid rising costs borne by taxpayers as U.S. military aid to the war-stricken country reaches historic levels.
It is yet to be seen how European leaders’ struggles to keep their tank pledges will impact the war in Ukraine.
The two tank deliveries and the Ukrainian soldiers trained to use them are expected to be on the battlefield by late March, per The Washington Post.
Ukraine has already lost over 3,000 tanks. Now we act as if these 62 tanks from the 1970’s is going to change the war.