South Korea Races to Feed Europe’s Insatiable Hunger for Weapons
Amid the free-for-all in the West to funnel weapons to Ukraine, along with escalated tensions linked to the much-touted alleged threats from North Korea and China, South Korea boasted an impressive arms sales boost in 2022, to the tune of $17 billion compared to $7.25 billion the previous year, according to its defense ministry.
South Korea is gearing up to make the most of a weapons procurement spree unleashed after the European Union willingly agreed to toe Washington's line and ship billions of dollars-worth of military support to the Kiev regime
After the East Asian nation secured an arms contract worth around $13.7 billion with Poland last year, to sell K2 tanks, K9 self-propelled howitzers, FA-50 light combat aircraft and K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery launchers, it found itself eyeing the role of one of the world's biggest arms dealers.
South Korea had a relatively modest $7.25 billion to show for its arms selling efforts in 2021, but last year the figure topped $17 billion, fuelled by Europe’s weapons frenzy.
Now, South Korean and Polish officials are gearing up to make their statement on the European arms market, hoping to secure a standing even when the Ukraine conflict ends, according to a Western press report.
Poland, which ramped up its defense budget to reach one of the NATO members' highest - 3% of GDP
- has also been buying equipment from the US
. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said last December, when greeting the first shipment from South Korea:
“We want peace, so we are preparing for war... We are strengthening by equipping the army with modern, state-of-the-art weapons."
Plan to 'Conquer' European Markets
According to assertions from 13 company executives and government officials cited by the media report, including individuals directly involved in the weapons deal, it offers a plan for how to extend Seoul's scope in the lucrative sphere of weapons supply. One of the people involved in the arrangement, Oh Kyeahwan, director at Hanwha Aerospace, was cited as saying:
"The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and others were thinking of buying defense products only in Europe, but now it is more well known that you can buy at a low price and have it delivered quickly from Korean companies."
But the arms deal is a great deal more than just about subcontracting and purchasing, as it presupposes setting up consortiums of South Korean and Polish companies. These will pool efforts to build weapons, offer maintenance to fighter jets, and will eventually start supplying "other European states," Lukasz Komorek, director of the Export Projects Office at the state-owned Polish Armaments Group (PGZ) said. The report cites him as adding:
"We don't want to just play the role of subcontractor, technological transfer provider and the purchaser," Komorek said. "We can both create the synergy and use our experiences to conquer the European markets."
South Korean weapons will be built on license in Poland. Thus, starting in 2026, a large part of the tanks and howitzers will be coming out of Polish factories. Warsaw eventually hopes to have 1,000 K2 tanks and 672 K9 howitzers produced on Polish soil. The K9 self-propelled howitzers, for example, which are being produced at a Hanwha Aerospace factory in South Korea, utilize NATO-standard 155mm ammunition. They are tailored to integrate without much hassle into command and control networks, added the report, boasting performance "comparable to more expensive Western options." South Korea's weapons are compatible with NATO and US systems. Already, Seoul accounts for 4.9% of arms purchases by NATO states, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Speed is an important selling point, say experts, as the debut shipment of 10 K2s - Seoul's Black Panther battletanks - and 24 K9s arrived in Poland mere months after the deals were signed, with the equipment welcomed in a ceremony at the port of Gdynia by President Andrzej Duda and Defense chief Mariusz Błaszczak. Since then, more tanks and howitzers have been delivered.
This lack of procrastination was hailed by Polish officials, said the report, which pointed to how Germany was yet to deliver any of its 44 new Leopard tanks ordered by Hungary back in 2018.
"They put things together in weeks or months that would take us years," one unnamed European defense industry official was cited as saying.
South Korea is also boosting weapons sales in Asia against the backdrop of the Western-hyped North Korea and China threat. The issue of the “North Korea threat” has been rationale peddled by Seoul and Washington. A recent case in point was the Washington Declaration - a
"new" plan aimed at boosting US-South Korean cooperation
on aspects such as military training, information sharing “with respect to the threat posed by the DPRK [North Korea]." It was the outcome of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol's visit to the US earlier.
Asia sales accounted for 63% of Seoul's defense exports from 2018-2022, according to SIPRI.
But, of course, South Korea's aspirations to beef up its arms dealer role are fed by the endless quest of European countries to support the Zelensky regime. Since Russia started its special military operation in Ukraine, the EU bloc has been shoveling weapons into the furnace of the conflagration
, even at the expense of their own stockpiles.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated earlier in May that the bloc needed to ramp up defense production, adding that it was time for the European Union to "move into war economy mode." Breton, speaking at the European Defense Summit, promised €1 billion from the European Peace Facility to continue to replenish member countries' stocks after they shipped arms to Kiev.
Moscow had earlier sent a note to NATO countries
over arms supplies to the Kiev regime. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that any cargo containing weapons for Ukraine would be a legitimate target for Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that NATO countries were "playing with fire" by supplying weapons to Ukraine. Lavrov warned in April that the European Union was “becoming militarized at a record rate
” and there was now little difference between the EU and NATO.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that flooding Ukraine with weapons from the West
would not contribute to the success of Russian-Ukrainian talks and would have a negative effect. Lavrov said the US and NATO
were directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine "not only by supplying weapons, but also by training personnel... on the territory of [Great] Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries".