When It Comes to Building Its Own Defense, Europe Has Blinked

Rheinmetall, a German arms manufacturer, makes the Leopard tank and has about 200 in storage, and it says it needs up to a year to refurbish them for Ukraine. But Germany could have easily paid the company to get the tanks ready 12 months ago, even for its own military.

“Germany already wasted a year,” Mr. Wolff said.

European countries have tried to catch up with needed defense investment, but in a national and fragmented way, not coordinated by Brussels. That inevitably meant buying off-the-shelf, which mostly meant American weaponry, not European.

Germany annoyed France by immediately buying American F-35 fighter planes, rather than buying European or even waiting for a long-delayed Franco-German-Spanish jet project, the Future Combat Air System, itself in competition with a proposed British-Italian-Japanese one. But neither project expects to have a working fighter until 2035 or 2040.

Similarly, worried about its vulnerability to Russian nuclear-capable, medium-range missiles in Kaliningrad, Berlin shocked Paris by proposing a “European Sky Shield Initiative,” an air and missile defense system, in cooperation with 13 NATO allies and Finland, and later Sweden, too, that would primarily use existing American and Israeli technology, not a European design.

France was not one of the countries involved, and as a sign of displeasure, it postponed an annual Franco-German government meeting.

“In the long run, decisions like these increase European dependence on the United States,” said Ms. Fix, the analyst. “People are placing their bets now on NATO and the U.S., and on equipment that’s already there.”