South Korea: One of the World’s Biggest Arms Exporters


    Korean K9 Thunders.


    South Korea has seen military expenditure rising for ten consecutive years since 2010. Its military technology has improved, and its weapons have become of comparable quality to those produced in the US. South Korea’s arms exports have exponentially increased in the past years, enabling the country to become one of the world’s biggest arms exporters.

    KJ-1 It is highly likely that arms exports will increase in the next 12 months. 

    • South Korea’s arms exports have increased more than sixfold since 2005. They exceeded imports for the first time in 2021.  Korea’s arms exports between 2016 and 2020 were worth $3.8 billions, which made up 2.7% of the world’s arms sale. South Korea is the ninth-largest arms exporter and owns more than half of the market share for self-propelled artillery. Its trade involves armoured vehicles, tanks and fighter jet trainers, cluster bombs and rocket launchers. [source]

    • In the past years home-grown military technology has improved in the country. Many domestic weapons system are now of a comparable quality to those produced in the US. The only difference is that they are cheaper, attracting many costumers in emerging countries. [source]

    • K9 Thunders, a self-propelled howitzer manufactured by a South Korean defence company, has become one of the most traded items of Korean military exports. In December 2021, South Korea concluded a $788 millions contract with Australia to provide K9 thunders. In the same year, a $3.5 billions contract was concluded with United Arab Emirates as well as a $1.7 billions agreement with Egypt. [source]

    • In addition, increasing arms exports make perfect economic sense for South Korean defence companies. Producing larger quantities should lower production costs per unit and should also lower the costs of development. [source]

    KJ-2 It is highly likely that security bilateral agreements and technological cooperation will increase in the following 12 months. 

    • According to experts, South Korea emerging role as one of the world’s biggest arms exporters, will also have other benefits for the government. This is because arms deals often come with bilateral security agreements, technology sharing and close alignment of foreign policy. [source]

    • For instance, the $788 millions contract with Australia came with South Korea future construction of manufacturing plants in Geelong. In addition, the $1.7 billions agreement with Egypt was accompanied by the promise to offer Egypt military cooperation, such as training and maintenance. Moreover, in March 2022, the UAE’ s defence minister discussed with his Korean counterpart to expand cooperation in the arms industry and defence collaboration. [source]

    KJ-3 It is likely that South Korea’s arms buildup will have negative consequences for peace-building in the Korean Peninsula in the next 12 months. 

    • South Korea saw its military expenditure rising for ten consecutive years from 2010 throughout 2019. Critics question the contribution of South Korea’s massive arms increase to national security especially with regard to North Korea, which is still considered the country’s primary security threat. [source]

    • North Korea’s arsenal falls far behind the one of South Korea, as Seoul’s annual military spending amounts to $50 billions, which is more than North Korea’s entire GDP. Some experts say that the arms disparity between the two countries is what motivates Pyongyang to continue to develop its nuclear weapons and missiles.  [source]

    • North Korea has embarked on an accelerated buildup on weapons. Since the start of the year North Korea has tested hypersonic as well as long-range ballistic missiles. According to South Korea the last test launch was of an intercontinental ballistic missile. [source]


    Arianna Sparviero
    Arianna Sparviero
    Arianna Sparviero is a graduate student at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. She is currently enrolled in the first year of the master course in International Affairs.

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