Week of August 02, 2023

The Search for Munitions
Comes to the Korean Peninsula


In the past, NATO and Russian weapons stockpiles were vast – enough for soldiers and weapons as World War Three surged across the European continent.

Surprisingly enough those stockpiles lasted a little over a year – hardly the apocalyptic scenario the vast stockpiles were expected to supply.  Nations are now holding back as supplies dwindle and many other nations are starting to produce munitions like artillery shells, the life blood of conventional warfare.

As a result, NATO nations are scouring the world for stockpiles to continue the war.

Probably the last remaining stockpiles are found on the Korean peninsula, where North and South Korea remain ready to go to war.  South Korea is probably sitting on one of the world’s largest stockpiles of munitions in the world.

The importance of that reserve was made obvious as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was invited to the NATO conference in Vilnius two weeks ago to learn first hand about Ukraine’s shortage of munitions.

In a war, where both sides are running out of supplies, South Korea’s munitions stockpiles could change the course of the war.  But there is the problem of South Korean policy of not arming countries that are fighting.  The South Koreans have shipped over $200 million in humanitarian relief but have refused to send munitions.

It’s not just the policy of not selling weapons to warring countries that is a hindrance.  Russian and South Korean trade was growing before the Ukraine war and Seoul hopes to keep that trade, while hoping that Russia may be able to moderate North Korea.

“The Russians made it very clear to us that weapons are their red line and that if it is crossed, they will retaliate,” according to the BBC.

Of course, Russian red lines have come and gone in the last year and a half.  Their threat to provide North Korea nuclear technology is seen as bluff just as the threat to use tactical nuclear weapons.

South Korean politicians are also aware that there are elections next year and the government wants to avoid making Ukraine arms sale an election issue.

South Korea has managed to sidestep its “no weapons” policy.  It sold hundreds of thousands of NATO standard artillery shells to the US in a private deal.  They have since been shipped to Poland for transshipment to Ukraine.

South Korea is also helping Poland modernize its military, with the replaced old Soviet equipment being shipped to Ukraine.  This includes tanks and jets, as well as 4 million rounds of ammunition.  This $13 billion arms order is also a major boost to the growing South Koreas military industry as it penetrates the lucrative Western nations arms industry.

When South Korea does finally start selling weapons directly to Ukraine, expect defensive weapons systems like anti-missile and anti-drone systems to be the first to be sold.


North Korea

Both Koreas are blessed with large stockpiles of weapons and Russia is in a buying mood.  This week they met in Pyongyang, North Korea in the first major meeting of the two nations since the Covid pandemic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss defense issues and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

Although there was no talk about munitions sales to Russia, the two nations have talked about weapons sales for over a year and the Biden Administration has accused North Korea of shipping arms to Russia.

Kim took Shoigu to an arms exhibit that showed off North Korean ballistic missile capability.  Much of NK arms sales in the Middle East are ballistic missiles sent to Iran and its allies.  Many are knock offs of the legendary Russian Scud missile like the No Dong missile, the Musudan missile, and the Taepo-Dong missile.  Since these are based on Russian 1950s technology, they are of no interest to Russia.  Rather, the Russians are in the market for artillery shells, simple anti-tank weapons like the RPG-7, and small arms ammunition.

Obviously, Russian, Chinese, and North Korean have other defense interests.  As more Western nations move naval assets into the South China Sea, China needs allies that will help offset the Western naval strength.

Last week, Russia and China held joint exercises called Northern/Interaction 2023 in the Sea of Japan.  The reason was for protecting strategic maritime routes and integrating their operations.

Western analysts however are claiming, none of the ships pose a threat to the Western alliance and if China or Russia think joint operations like these will force the Western allies to divert resources from Ukraine are deluding themselves.

They stress that none of the Chinese aircraft carriers or capital ships were involved in the operations.  Some intelligence analysts say it will take the carriers a decade to use them for more than propaganda purposes since they haven’t learned how to carry out carrier operations.

The Chinese and Russian ships in the flotilla were corvettes – the smallest ship that is considered a warship.  They don’t have endurance (they can stay out at sea for a few days) and are usually used for coastal patrolling.  The US decommissioned its last corvette in 1945.

These types of ships would be of limited impact in a major war and would merely be a target in any conflict between the US, Russia, China, and the Western allies.  The artillery shells the Russians undoubtedly are seeking pose a bigger threat.