The war in Ukraine is accelerating the breakdown of familiar geopolitical antinomies, such as Europe and Asia. Nothing illustrates the new landscape more powerfully than South Korea’s emergence as a major supplier of arms to Europe, which is at war with itself.


What does it signify?

Korea’s rise in the European theatre highlights two important new strategic trends.

  • One, Asia has long ceased to be a passive theatre for rivalry among the Western powers. We are now beginning to see Asian powers contribute to European security. No wonder, the trans-Atlantic military alliance NATO is stepping up its engagement with Asian powers.
      • China, which churned out so much propaganda about India joining an “Asian NATO” for nearly a decade-and-a-half, now has something real to chew on. Two of Beijing’s most important neighbours and economic partners — South Korea and Japan — are not only bringing NATO into Asia, but also taking Asia to NATO’s frontlines with Russia.
  • Second, the idea that Europe and Asia are separate strategic theatres is becoming difficult to sustain. China’s alliance “without limits” unveiled last year with Russia has broken through that mental block. The US has, in turn, responded by promoting greater cooperation between NATO and America’s Asian allies.


Increase in Asian arms sale to Europe

  • Moscow’s neighbours to the West, which have long memories of Russian expansionism, are also arming themselves with new weapons. The Western and Russian arms industries are not geared to cope with the massive demand.
  • North Korea — Seoul’s sibling Pyongyang has joined the party — on the other side. Russia has turned to North Korea for the supply of winter clothing and ammunition. Iran has become a major supplier of drones to Russia. Turkey has supplied drones and more to Ukraine over the last year.
  • China — Asian powers are now important producers and traders of weapons. China is the fourth largest arms exporter in the world after the US, Russia, and France. Most of China’s arms exports are to the developing world and have yet to penetrate the developed markets. With many European countries passing laws not to sell arms to conflict zones, the demand for Asian weapons has only grown.
  • South Korea — South Korea, whose arms exports reached nearly $20 billion last year, is now ranked eighth on the list of arms exporters. Buoyed by the surge in the demand for its arms sales, Korea wants to quickly climb up the list. The capacity to deliver high-quality weapons at low cost and on short order has put Korea in a pivotal position.
  • Japan — Russia’s war in Ukraine has also woken up the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, to rethink its security policies. Selling arms to friends and partners is among the many outcomes of Japan’s recent radical overhaul of its national defence policy. Tokyo plans to double defence spending over the next five years. Japan is also tying up with European and American arms companies to develop fighter aircraft, missiles and drones for domestic use as well as exports.


What about India?

  • India too is eager to export arms and there has been some progress in recent months. The export of Brahmos to the Philippines last year has been a major milestone in the country’s evolution as an arms producer.
  • The largest destination for Indian arms exports is not the developing world, but the US. That has largely come from the Indian supply sub-assemblies to US weapons systems.
  • When it comes to selling in the markets of the Global South, India is struggling to fend off competition from the better-organised and more developed South Korean manufacturers. There has been much media speculation that India’s HAL has been close to clinching the contracts in Malaysia and Egypt for its Tejas fighters. In both places, the fighter and trainer aircraft built by Korea Aircraft Industries won the competition.


Way forward – lessons for India

  • For India, which is coping with the Chinese military challenge on its borders as well as in its waters as well as reducing its dependence on Russian weapons, the new and dynamic defence engagement between Europe and Asia opens up multiple opportunities. This includes the possibilities for modernising its rusty defence industrial base in partnership with friendly states.
  • India’s recent agreement with the US on expanding joint defence production and technology should be a precursor to a wider range of agreements with its European and Asian partners to transform India’s defence production and enhance its arms exports.


SourceThe Indian Express


QUESTION – Asia, which has been historically identified as a passive defence producer, albeit with exceptions like Japan, is gearing up to challenge the western and Russian defence manufacturing giants in weapon exports. Discuss the situation that has emerged since the breakout of a war in Ukraine.