It was a triumph of political calculation over logistical concerns. It made no sense for the Pentagon to go through the logistical headaches of sending the country’s most advanced tanks to Ukraine when there were very capable German Leopard tanks nearby that could get to Ukraine. faster and operate more efficiently.
On top of that, several European countries, including Spain, Poland and Finland, were willing to send their German Leopard tanks if Germany would only agree – a legal requirement that accompanied their initial acquisition of their German-made equipment.
In high-level Biden administration meetings, Mr. Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have outlined the Pentagon’s position. In subsequent interviews, White House national security officials dutifully repeated military talking points about why the Abrams were meaningless, while European tanks were.
But Mr. Austin and General Milley are responsible for giving Mr. Biden their best military advice; in this case, it came up against the need to preserve unity between the allies. What the Pentagon failed to take into account enough, one official said, was the intense fear of European governments doing anything to provoke Russia without the cover of the United States doing the same first.
“Whether we like it or not, this means that the United States remains the glue that binds NATO and Europe together,” said Peter Juul, national security analyst in The Liberal Patriot newsletter.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Mr. Scholz made it clear, according to several people who overheard him, that he would not agree to send Leopard tanks until the United States would not agree to send their Abrams. American officials initially thought he could be persuaded otherwise, and hoped that a commitment from Britain to send Challenger 2 tanks – which have different operational requirements – would spur him to do the same.
That is not the case, as German officials made clear to Mr. Austin and General Milley during a Friday meeting of more than 50 allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.