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No Taurus missiles for Ukraine, Germany decides

March 14, 2024

Germany's Bundestag votes against the delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine, aligning with Chancellor Olaf Scholz's concerns about escalating war involvement.

Olaf Scholz with eyes closed, seeming to pray
Chancellor Olaf Scholz sees his refusal to send Taurus missiles as proof of his prudence rather than weaknessImage: picture alliance/Flashpic

The center-right Christian Democrat (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) opposition in Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, has failed once again to win a clear majority in favor of the delivery of German Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine. Of the 687 lawmakers who took part in the vote, 494 voted against the delivery with 188 in favor and five abstentions.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrat Party (SPD) has taken a clear line against the delivery. He fears the weapon could only be operated with the involvement of German soldiers, and that this could drag Germany into the war against Russia.

The Taurus missile is considered one of the most modern weapon systems used by the Bundeswehr. It can be fired from the air by fighter jets, travels at almost the speed of sound and can strike targets as far as 500 kilometers (310 miles) away.

What is the Taurus missile capable of?

Moscow has repeatedly warned against the delivery of weapon systems such as the Taurus to Ukraine.

While Scholz's Social Democrats have taken a line against the delivery, several lawmakers even from within his coalition partners, the Green Party and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), have declared themselves in favor and have opposed the chancellor on this matter.

Among these dissenters is Green Party lawmaker Anton Hofreiter, who has been particularly outspoken on the matter. Together with the Christian Democrats' foreign affairs expert Norbert Röttgen, he wrote an essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in which they accused Scholz of "catastrophic defeatism" and of making a false statement. Scholz's claim that Taurus deliveries make Germany a party to the war, they argued, is "factually and legally false."

In February, when the CDU/CSU bloc also tabled a motion in the Bundestag for the delivery of Taurus, FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann voted with the opposition.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is increasingly coming under pressure in the war with Russia. This also has an impact on Germany, warned CDU security spokesman Roderich Kiesewetter.

"It must be clear: If Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, the risk of war will increase massively for all of us," Kiesewetter told DW.

Scholz again rules out sending Taurus missiles

UK proposes idea of a missile swap

Germany's NATO partners have also been trying to allay the chancellor's concerns. "Ukraine has the right to self-defense enshrined in the United Nations Charter," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pointed out in February. He welcomed the delivery of Storm Shadow and Scalp cruise missiles by the UK and France, which have a much shorter range than the Taurus.

In a proposed compromise, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron last week suggested Germany could supply Taurus to the UK, which in turn would send more of its Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine. Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, of the Greens, has indicated support for this idea.

Scholz, however, has so far rejected the plan. Political pundits speculate that Scholz's reluctance suggests he has his 2025 reelection bid in mind and wants to hone his image as "the chancellor of peace" in preparation for the campaign.

"Prudence is not something that can be qualified as weakness, as some do, but prudence is what citizens are entitled to," said Scholz during question time in the Bundestag this week.

Support for Scholz

Meanwhile, Scholz has received support from a former Bundeswehr general. Writing in the political periodical Journal für Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, former General Helmut Ganser warned that the most important target of Taurus missiles would be the strategically important Kerch Bridge from the Russian mainland to Crimea, which supplies the entire southern front in the Ukraine war.

"Not only in Moscow but [...] also internationally, the destruction of the bridge would then be seen specifically as a German achievement," he wrote.

Ganser believes that while the destruction of the bridge would not significantly improve the overall military situation of Ukraine, it may bring "incalculable risks" for Germany. The former general therefore supports Scholz in his rejection of Taurus deliveries, "because this would drag Germany deep into the gray area of war participation."

German defense minister: Russia running 'information war'

Even if the CDU/CSU opposition had won Thursday's vote in the Bundestag, victory would have been merely symbolic. It would not have forced the chancellor's hand, as it is not parliament but the government that has the final say on arms deliveries to Ukraine.

The chancellor's own party is clearly behind him. In Thursday's debate, Rolf Mützenich, head of the SPD parliamentary group, defended Scholz, arguing that this was not a good time to take political gambles.

The socialist Left Party and the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) have rejected all weapons deliveries to Ukraine, and therefore side with the chancellor on this point. Scholz also has the support of a majority of the population: 61% of respondents to a recent survey by pollster Infratest-dimap spoke out against Taurus deliveries to Ukraine.

This article was originally written in German.

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