Just Like Herding Leopards

by | Jan 27, 2023


“The worst defect weak republics can have is to be indecisive, so that all their decisions are taken out of necessity, and if any good comes to them, it comes through force of circumstance rather than through their own prudence.”
– Machiavelli [Discourses, I.38]

In a great moment of historic irony, Germany has given into criticisms that it is not sufficiently militaristic. After a large amount of hemming and hawing around the world, where the US refused to send tanks to Ukraine unless Germany would at least allow its Leopard tanks from other countries to be sent to Ukraine, both Germany and the United States have agreed to send modern tanks to Ukraine.

This tank situation is ridiculous for several reasons, most of all that we’ve seen this movie before, where all the pro-Ukraine gear autists on the internet are sure sending Ukraine a charity collection of some equipment will change the course of the war. In my opinion this represents a continuation of what I previously described as a sort of “demented arms control program” whereby NATO sends its equipment to Ukraine to be destroyed, though perhaps it really makes the difference this time.

However, between delivery and training it will be months before this equipment can be deployed, if it ever is.

With these weapons transfers NATO continues to sacrifice its military readiness on Ukraine. Though the ghouls in the scribbling and “national security” classes tell us this is a “cheap” way to counter Russia this could potentially harm NATO’s combat readiness for several years without doing anything meaningful to help Ukraine. [That we must counter Russia is an unquestionable assumption in all these arguments.] The efficacy such tanks will have against the world’s largest tank force and Russia’s massive artillery advantage is questionable at best. Perhaps efficacy is not the point; for dubious advantage to Ukraine, the United States has pressured Germany to escalate and allow Leopard tanks it manufactures to be used against Russia. It is unlikely these tanks will be replaced with other Leopards: they seem more likely to be permanently replaced with American manufactured tanks.

Yet again, it seems as if a main American goal of the Ukraine War is to hollow out Europe’s industrial capacity for its own benefit. Germany had many reasons to decline to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and it is probably worse for everyone, most of all Germany, that they gave in. The following is the story of how Olaf Scholz came to go against his better judgement to great public acclaim.

We need to start with some background on what is currently going on in Ukraine. As ever, this is what I like to call “Schrodinger’s War Effort,” in that we’re meant to believe that Ukraine is simultaneously easily winning and also desperately needs gear because it’s on the brink of catastrophic collapse; similarly, Russia is simultaneously comically weak and incompetent and able to conquer Europe if they are not stopped in Ukraine.

It is rare that things the pro-Ukraine people say pass the test of non-contradiction, and this drive for tanks is no different. The timing is also quite interesting, given that Russia has made considerable advances in the “meat grinder” at Bakhmut as well as in Zaporizhia after months of relative stale-mate in terms of land control. Meanwhile Ukraine appears to be undergoing some sort of purge disguised as “fighting corruption” [and a helicopter crash killing the Interior Minister and Deputy Interior Minister, which is surely a tragic coincidence.] Government officials and national police have also been banned from vacationing abroad, a move which can have no possible purpose but to prevent them from fleeing or defecting. In short, creating a mania about new gear and “insufficient” help from Western powers is ideal, in that it takes the focus away from what appears to be a dire military and political situation for the government of Ukraine, despite that it simultaneously draws attention to Ukraine being in a dire military situation.

As to the tanks themselves, we are assured they can be a game-changer for Ukraine, and will somehow be near-immune to Russian attacks, who idiot Ukraine supporters on the internet want you to believe are unable to successfully target tanks. They have no answer to what, then, happened to the many tanks Ukraine had before. The situation is apparently dire enough that the US is trying to get Russian-made tanks out of its own enemies in Latin America as a stop-gap effort while waiting for new NATO gear to be delivered. Four Star General of US Southern Command Laura Richardson said in an interview with the Atlantic Council that the US would supply military equipment to Cuba and Venezuela if they were to donate their current Russian equipment to Ukraine. This, you have to see to believe:

This makes Biden turning to Venezuela for oil, hat in hand, look like nothing by comparison. This woman just claimed they are “working with” the communist regime in Cuba, that the United States has spent over 60 years isolating, in an attempt to sell them military equipment if they will betray Russia. This may seem impossible to believe, and it is certainly stranger than fiction, but I found it on the Atlantic Council’s website, you can see it for yourself at the time mark 24:30.

What we can take from this is that the US is extremely desperate to supply Ukraine with weapons which can be deployed immediately. At the same time, as I’ve said before, you should never downplay the possibility that the point of a war is to destroy weapons and equipment which will then be replaced at taxpayer expense [be it ours or another nation’s,] so perhaps they just sniffed an opportunity for profit. Whatever the purpose, they want to get Russian manufactured arms to Ukraine badly enough that they are willing to provide American arms to Cuba.

Regarding the status of Ukraine’s equipment, The incomparable military enthusiast Big Serge reiterated what has been observed by many in a recent article:

– In the opening months of the war, the extant Ukrainian army was mostly wiped out. The Russians destroyed much of Ukraine’s indigenous supplies of heavy weaponry and shattered many cadres at the core of Ukraine’s professional army.

– In the wake of this initial shattering, Ukrainian combat strength was shored up by transferring virtually all of the Soviet vintage weaponry in the stockpiles of former Warsaw Pact countries. This transferred Soviet vehicles and ammunition, compatible with existing Ukrainian capabilities, from countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, and was mostly complete by the end of spring, 2022. In early June, for example, western sources were admitting that Soviet stockpiles were drained.

– With Warsaw Pact stockpiles exhausted, NATO began replacing destroyed Ukrainian capabilities with western equivalents in a process that began during the summer. Of particular note were howitzers like the American M777 and the French Caesar.

[For further reading on this subject, look at “Destroying the Mother of All Proxy Armies in Ukraine” by Will Schryver.]

[For the record, I have not seen a single neutral or pro-Russia account express that these tanks will pose a serious threat to Russia’s war effort, these “vatnik tears” are wholly imagined.]

The Ukraine supporters will say anything that portrays Russia as having done well is propaganda but we were all there for the repeated rounds of arms donations. It’s obviously the case that the equipment Ukraine had has been destroyed, or else they would not need more. There is no other explanation, especially given that they started with an army substantially bigger than Russia’s invasion force. I’m left wondering how much less total military equipment there is in the world than when this began 11 months ago. Either way, we’ve reached the time for Abrams and Leopards.

Now for a few words about tanks. I am not a gear autist, and understand, unlike them, that quality soldiers, especially infantry, are what win wars. This is the one thing that allies cannot donate in large, proper formations without wholly entering the war. A brave man with a weapon is like an arm and a hammer or like the baking soda which uses that name: no amount of technology will ever improve upon its reliability and versatility. In Machiavelli’s time gear nerds were already ascendant, with people claiming “in time wars will only be fought with artillery” [ibid.] They also, as now, valued cavalry over infantry, and a tank is simply a kind of heavy ranged cavalry. Machiavelli writes, “it often occurs that a courageous horse is ridden by a cowardly man and a cowardly horse by a courageous man; and whatever form this disparity may take, disadvantage and disorder arise from it” [Discourses, II.18.]

Similarly, a tank requires several men working together and relies on all of those men as well as the tank itself performing the proper functions. This is made worse when Ukraine is receiving multiple kinds of equipment, as neither the parts nor the men are interchangeable. Further, the men will inevitably have the minimum amount of training on this equipment due to desperation, facing an army with decades of experience in its own gear. All-in-all, this combined with the relatively small numbers and wait for deployment gives me every reason to believe these tanks are highly unlikely to change anything on the battlefield- assuming the war is still going on when they are deployed.

As Machiavelli said of artillery, “artillery is useful in an army where ancient excellence has been firmly implanted, but without it, artillery is quite useless against an excellent army” [Discourses, II.17.] We could argue all day about if either army was excellent at the beginning of the war, but the fact is Ukraine has lost its best troops to be replaced with recruits, while though Russia has lost many it maintains the core of a now battle-hardened army and has been able to replace them with other experienced soldiers. If such gear could help Ukraine it wouldn’t be in this situation. None of this is stopping the insane drive to offer up as much gear as possible to Ukraine, with Estonia sending all of its Howitzers to Ukraine. This begs the question of if anyone actually believes the Baltics are threatened by Russia, or if Estonian PM Kaja Kallas is really just that stupid, since her description of NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics was so grim I referred to it as, “The Worst Security Guarantee in the World.”

As to the Leopard itself, there is an overall analysis problem here that no one, least of all the gear obsessives who make up the majority of war nerds, like to admit: the performance of almost all modern weapons in a major conflict is theoretical. The last large-scale symmetrical war using equipment produced by “great powers” was in Korea in the early 1950s. You can test things all day, but you can’t truly know how equipment will fare against other equipment until they come into contact.

The US Abrams tank is known to be a good performer; it is an older model at this point, and has seen a fair amount of combat and thus been upgraded based on various shortcomings which were discovered. However, it has never gone against Soviet or Russian tanks equipped with modern technology, and has only seen a small amount of tank vs tank combat in the Gulf War. It’s a good tank, but there is no reason to believe a single battalion with newly trained crews are going to change the course of the war, when it will inevitably face a larger number of Russian tanks with more experienced crews. As to the Leopard tank, despite being around since the 1970s, its iterations have barely ever seen action, and when it was finally used by the Turks in Syria, the results were not good. The Daily Mail wrote about its poor results in 2018:

While the tank’s design dealt capably with conditions during the Cold War against Soviet fighters, the Leopard 2 has proved to be a feeble force in the battle in the Middle East, practically disintegrating under intense fire. 

Given that the tanks are widely operated by NATO members – including Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece and Norway – it is particularly embarrassing to see them so easily destroyed by Syrian terrorists when they are expected to match the Russian Army.

I’m not sure how, this being the case, it would have performed capably during the Cold War. You would think there is no spinning that result, but I dealt with a NATO gear true believer claiming the issue was that it was deployed alone [which it was.] The argument was that they only got this result due to it lacking infantry cover, when modern warfare is based on combined arms. That has always been true of war, and sending heavy cavalry after irregular light troops is a fairly classic mistake of a man who has contempt for his opponents as a disorganized rabble, but any tank’s armor works fine if you stop the tank from being fired upon. This doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t withstand heavy fire in the way it was believed it would.

Further, this simply demonstrates that quality infantry is the most important component, and good tanks by themselves cannot save an army. The fact is that neither of these tanks represent incredible equipment Russia is unprepared to face, and what will matter the most, besides the support they receive from other types of troops, are the quality of tank crews and overall volume of crewed tanks, areas in which Russia has an enormous advantage.

How, and why, then, did everyone become so obsessed with Germany’s reluctance to allow the provision of Leopard tanks to Ukraine? [Modern military equipment is complex to maintain, and generally comes with extensive contracts detailing when and how it can be used, especially transfers to a third party, and commonly requires employing people from the source country for maintenance.] From the beginning of this conflict, people have heaped blame on Germany for any moderate course that it has striven to take, despite that Germany has been the #3 supporter of Ukraine in terms of total contribution [not counting the EU, which Germany is a part of and the largest economy in.] One reason for Germany’s attempted moderation is that Germany is, or was, heavily dependent on Russian energy; however, the EU is heavily dependent on Germany’s economy, so they all would have been wise to share in that concern about deteriorating relations. Despite this, Germany seems to have accepted, for the time being, not being able to run its factories at affordable energy rates, as Europe switches to American supplied energy, along with scrounging for other sources.

The bigger, and substantially more ironical issue here, is that Germany is cautious about it’s military involvement due to a little known historical era where the country was under the control of these people known as the Nazis.

I don’t want to get into a thing about Ukraine’s once widely acknowledged neo-Nazi problem, but basically, most Ukraine supporters and eastern European’s now generally try to avoid talking about Adolf Hitler. Instead, they have developed a deranged obsession with Joseph Stalin, and think he is the framework with which to view everything about Russia and the Russian people- in truth, if anything it’s more informative to view Putin as a sort of petit Peter the Great, and even that is quite the stretch. Russia is legitimately not the USSR in terms of government type or what physical country it is. Further, Stalin was a dictator who never in any way represented the will of the people, and he wasn’t even Russian. Beyond which, even within the Soviet Union they went through a “de-Stalinization” process to try and correct his worst crimes. Stalin is no more of a representation of who the Russians are than Hitler is of who the Germans are, less even, because Hitler was at least initially democratically elected and was a native German speaker.

At this point we need a new “Godwin’s Law,” discouraging referencing Stalin as we once had for Hitler [who now only comes up when the ever clever NPCs call Putin “Putler,” because Putin is somehow both Hitler and Stalin.] It’s especially strange as no one ever defends Stalin besides occasional hardcore Bolsheviks; you mostly just get people like myself arguing that Stalin is irrelevant to the current situation, or that the Holdomor wasn’t really a genocide and was instead a result of communist central planning causing famine, such as The Great Leap Forward in China [which no one claims was a genocide.] It’s gotten so bad that it is now common for people to shamelessly tout their ancestor’s status as Nazi partisans and assume no one will notice or care:

Ames isn’t being hyperbolic here, there is no other way a Ukrainian fought the Soviets for five years. He was sent to prison for being a Nazi partisan. Ukrainian immigrants are why there are Nazi memorials in Canada. The point is, despite this generation trying to “memory-hole” it all the sudden after spending years telling us Trump is “literally Hitler” it’s apparently fine to be proud of your dad or grandpa having fought for literally Hitler, but they hate the people who fought Hitler in eastern Europe.

This is how far their irrationality has gone: Germany caused WWII and did the Holocaust, but will never recover its reputation from being slow to gift tanks to Ukraine. The older generation of Germans have shown a better historical memory and somewhat more responsible leadership. However, nuance and responsibility are the biggest sins to internet Ukraine supporters. Hence, the Chancellor of Germany has had his name turned into a verb:

Right, “irrational fear of escalation” with a major nuclear power, and “long-term capture.” The Ukraine supporters and seemingly Ukrainians themselves are identical to our horrible modern Democrats in a stunning number of bizarrely specific ways. The ones which apply here include the belief that since they are inherently morally good they can do and say anything and should not have to care how people may react, believing all that they consider evil in the world is a Putinist plot and that no rational disagreement can exist, extreme entitlement coupled with drastic incompetence, a worldview less complex than the average comic book, and extreme deference to all forms of Western institutional authority. But though the war was “unprovoked,” of course it isn’t entitlement at all, because Ukraine is the one fighting for some vague American interest and is the new west Berlin and we are all in their debt no matter how many billions of dollars their corrupt tinpot regime filches out of us.

I will give just some examples here of how ludicrous Ukraine supporters are before moving on. Bear in mind, these are prominent and influential people:

It’s beyond distressing knowing whatever mental disorder the modern Democrats have has gone international, taking a whole nation, and dragging us towards a nuclear World War III. I feel very bad for the Ukrainians who have remained sane- they are the true victims here. Anyway, on top of Ukraine’s usual begging for weapons despite everything going completely great, this particular around of madness picked up in advance of and following a meeting at the German Ramstein airbase of what they call the “Ukraine Defence Contact Group.”

Zelensky, being the Sam Bankman-Fried of world leaders, addressed this group of his patrons wearing a sweatshirt, because he still does not respect our largess enough to even wear a suit. This is no different from our pathetic leaders prostrating themselves in front of petulant children like Greta Thunberg. He spewed nonsensical cringe like “it is in your power to make a Ramstein of tanks.” He also went on and on about how Russia is solely motivated by hatred for the Ukrainian people. To anyone who has been following this conflict with clear eyes this is gaslighting of the worst order; Ukraine partisans are extremely open about hating the Russian ethnicity as a whole, as I detailed regarding the Baltic states, listing centuries of grievances and insisting that actions of the Tsarist and Soviet governments are inherent features of the Russian character [so instead they prefer the famously non-imperialist British.]

Meanwhile, even on the pro-Russia Telegram channels, Russians very rarely say anything like that, and seem to think it is sad that it has come to this and Ukrainians are driven by such suicidal hatred they have thrown in with Russia’s enemies. They constantly scream “genocide” and that Russia believes Ukraine and Ukrainians shouldn’t exist, but I follow many pro-Russia people on both Twitter and Telegram, and have never seen a single thing of the sort, whereas the pro-Ukraine people, including Zelensky himself, constantly say that Russia and Russians have no place in the “civilized” world and call them a barbaric people.

I understand that war generates hate, but they are quite clearly the more hateful side. However, I also understand why it’s necessary, because the war has to be explained to the Western public as an “unprovoked” attack by evil Asiatic hordes- the new Mongols at the gates of Europe- held back only by the brave Ukrainians. I’ve long suspected that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is making the public even more stupid, and nothing has convinced me more than this simplistic “good vs evil” understanding of the Ukraine war.

Regardless of what misgivings this would have given any still-rational people in the room, another massive aid package was announced for Ukraine following the conference. Still, they did not come to an agreement on modern tanks. Germany’s position was that it would only send tanks if the US agreed to as well. It speaks volumes of the uneven position the US holds with its “allies” that somehow this was seen as a form of German blackmail. It’s not obvious to me how this made Germany the pro-Russian bad guy, though it’s true that there are a lot of Leopard tanks in Europe near Ukraine, so they can be delivered quite a bit faster than Abrams. According to a questionable source called UkraInska Pravda, the German parliament was hit with “Free the Leopard” protests, because being pro-war is the cool thing on the liberal protest circuit now.

Pressure continued to mount on Germany over the tanks, with one “popular” satirist saying, “Russia’s most advanced anti-tank system is called the Olaf Scholz.” Note once again that Ukraine doesn’t own these tanks, is not paying for them, and Germany did not directly encourage the antagonism that led to this war. [I didn’t bother to look into what repayment plans may exist, we all know at best the money would be repaid by a different generation of humans decades from now.] Poland continued to demand to send German tanks to Ukraine. Germany ultimately decided to allow Poland to send tanks, and then later said it would do the same. With this, the “floodgates,” if you want to call them that, opened and many NATO countries agreed to send some of their own most advanced tanks. Joe Biden announced the United States would be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which is one Ukrainian battalion.

It will take “months” for the American tanks to arrive. No word yet on how Ukraine intends to remain afloat in the intervening time, or if they will be able to train on them in advance. An op-ed for The Guardian said this made it clear there is a Western war against Russia, which certainly isn’t news to Russia.

Most European countries are sending a small amount of Leopards, with the United Kingdom sending its Challenger tanks. Of course, militaries thrive on uniformity and interchangeability, which the components and crews of different kinds of tanks are not. All together, it comes out to around 100 Leopards, and around 150 total tanks including Abrams and Challengers. Analysts for the International Institute of Strategic Studies have said that around 100 Leopard tanks are necessary for them to make a “significant” difference, so they are getting the bare minimum to potentially matter. Bear in mind that in technical speak “significant” means “noteworthy,” not “large” and certainly not “game-changing.” It basically means if used together competently their role in a battle may be worth writing about in the newspaper; this is a far cry from rolling into Svestapol.

These tanks will arrive at various times in small batches as Ukraine rushes to train on them. Perhaps sending a fraction of Russia’s tank numbers into Ukraine will change the course of the war, but it is hard for me to see this as anything but a fool’s errand that will reduce the prospects of a settlement while wasting lives and resources. However, Ukraine activism has developed a life of its own, and the Western politicians have made it impossible for themselves to negotiate. Meanwhile, Russia is publicly showing a lack of concern, though Moscow said that “Berlin has abandoned its historic responsibility to Russia” by sending its tanks onto Russian soil. [It needs to be noted, that Zelensky agreed to not send the tanks into pre-war Russia, but Russia now considers four regions of pre-war Ukraine to be Russian soil, so the sides have substantially different maps of what constitutes Russian soil.]

In a way this is a big domestic win for Russia, where memories of the German Blitzkrieg run deep; even some people who opposed Russia starting the war are bound to see this as a real threat where the only choice for their personal well-being is to support their state. Either way, Russia is publicly saying these tanks will “burn like all the rest,” which I don’t take to be bluster being as that is clearly what happened to Ukraine’s previous tanks.

At least some of the Western leaders must know this is a pointless escalation, Scholz certainly seems to. So why are they doing this? I suppose, perhaps, because they want to escalate. Otherwise, here are some thoughts: I’ve written off the Baltic states as having gone crazy and being led by idiots; I still think Poland is being sketchy and wants the rest of Galicia back, and further has a poor record of reading the winds of history; the UK can’t accept it’s role as a reduced power and thus must be involved in games of power; the rest are probably just going along because of public and peer pressure and to look like team players. [France, which manufactures its own main battle tanks, is currently deciding whether or not it will send any; this would represent a fourth kind of tank Ukraine needs to train crews for.] Only the United States stands to benefit, and potentially in a huge way.

It is unlikely that Germany will be able to replace these tanks for a variety of reasons, and a great deal of power comes with being a country’s tank supplier. Further, supplying arms is extremely lucrative to companies with a huge amount of political pull, as Eisenhower famously warned us. Scholz must know Germany’s influence and independence is being reduced in a large and long-lasting way, but simply waffled under pressure. It seems most likely to me that America is angling to fully replace Germany as the tank supplier to these European countries. The German writer Eugyppius, best known for his covid coverage, has proved insightful on this as well. He explained the situation deftly enough that there is no point in me doing it myself.

One should always take a cynical view about how the United States military industrial complex uses its power and controls government actions, and this is the only explanation for this whole thing which makes sense, though one should also always consider that it could just be incompetence. It is highly likely this is the beginning of the end for the once-famous German tank industry- and that’s before we see if Leopards hold up in tank vs tank conflict. If they outperform the Abrams by a substantial degree things could be much different.

Ukraine war fever, like covid mania before it, has taken on a life of its own. Politics has always relied on manipulating the stupid, but with modern social media the stupid have more voice than ever, and can feed on each other in a frenzy. Every government must be seen to do ever more for Ukraine. Perhaps I’m wrong and this isn’t a fool’s errand, perhaps this specific batch of weaponry is the one that makes a difference. I doubt it, though, because if it could make the difference it would not need to. Ukraine cannot produce the quality troops it needs to in the timetable available, assuming it holds out long enough to deploy these tanks at all. Most likely, at best they get destroyed and in no time Ukraine is back asking for another round of costly arms, and we are again told it will make all the difference this time. In fact, the next round of lobbying for arms should start by the end of…this sentence:

One thing is for certain about tank-mania: Germany has made itself look weak and indecisive. To quote Machiavelli again, “the entire matter resulted in their disgrace, had they managed the situation differently, it would have been a minor matter” [Discourses, I.38.] The way this played out means that Germany and Scholz’s government cannot win. If things go well, and the tanks are a “game-changer,” it will be seen that Scholz did not want to make the right decision out of cowardice and corruption; if it goes wrong it will be seen that he knew the right course of action but made the wrong one out of weakness. There is no one who will be left thinking that Scholz considered the situation carefully and made a measured and wise decision, presumably including Scholz himself. As for the sane amongst us, we watch off-ramps fade as the world slides closer to catastrophic war, conventional or nuclear:

Never forget that peace was, in fact, always an option, but instead our empire-manager class got the war they wanted. C’est la vie.

Reprinted with permission from The Wayward Rabbler.
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