South Korea’s Emergence as a Defense Industrial Powerhouse Asie.Visions, Ifri, No. 139, February 2024
In recent years, South Korea’s ascent in the global arms market has been remarkable. This surge, particularly amid a shifting geopolitical landscape and the ongoing Ukraine-Russia War, has captured the attention of security watchers worldwide.
This paper delves into the intricacies of the South Korean defense industry’s rapid emergence, wherein arms sales skyrocketed to 17.3 billion USD in 2022, and provides an in-depth analysis of its portfolio, capacity, and the rationales guiding its development over the last five decades. It explores how South Korea has capitalized on critical opportunities, including overcoming steep barriers to entry to major contracts with Central and Eastern European countries, especially Poland. It sheds light on South Korea’s competitive technologies, mass production capacity, and cost-effectiveness, and addresses the crucial role played by the government’s diplomatic support and coordination with key allies and partners. Against that backdrop, it concludes with some implications for the global defense industry and security architecture.