The Story Behind the Fraught Decision to Send All Those Tanks to Ukraine

President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz cut a deal on Tuesday: Biden agreed to send Ukraine some Abrams M-1 tanks; in response Scholz agreed to send Ukraine some of

its Leopard 2 tanks—and to let several European allies send Ukraine some of their Leopards, bought from Germany, as well. Scholz had resisted sending Leopards, fearful of

alienating constituents or provoking Russia into escalating the war further. He had demanded that the United States send some of its main battle tanks as a precondition. Now

the terms have been agreed upon: The U.S. will send 31 tanks, enough to fill a single Ukrainian tank battalion—a substantial but not enormous number—and those will arrive not in

weeks, but in several months, and possibly not for another year. This is because the tanks will be ordered from the General Dynamics factory, which will have to build them

from scratch, and will not be drawn from America’s existing stockpile, though the U.S. Army has about 4,400 Abrams tanks, many of them already in Europe. I could not get a

straight answer when I asked officials why they decided not to take 31 tanks from American stocks and later replace them with newly produced tanks. If they were to do so, the

tanks would have to be modified—export versions of the Abrams don’t have all the high-tech features of those built for the U.S. Army—but that would take less time than building

completely new vehicles.