The South Korean national defense budget is to be increased by an average of 7.5% each year between 2019 and 2023, for a total investment of 270.7 trillion won (US$242 billion) over the five-year period. This was the content of the “Intermediate-Term National Defense Plan, 2019–2023” announced on Jan. 11 by the Ministry of National Defense (MND). A look at the plan for the defense budget over the next five years shows totals of 46.7 trillion won (US$41.75 billion) allocated for 2019 (up 8.2% from last year), 50.3 trillion won (US$44.97 billion) for 2020, 54.1 trillion won (US$48.37 billion) for 2021, 57.8 trillion won (US$51.68 billion) for 2022, and 61.8 trillion won (US$55.25 billion) for 2023, for a 7.5% annual rate of increase.
The 7.5% average annual rise is higher than the previous average of 4.9% experienced over the last decade. This also includes a 10.8% rise in average defence capabilities spending and a 5.8% rise for force management. Of the total aggregate spending, the ministry said that KRW65.6tr will be used for a variety of projects over the next five years including counter-measures to combat nuclear arms threats and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) from North Korea. To achieve this, South Korea will be investing in surveillance equipment, such as military satellites, medium and high-altitude drones and long-range, air-to-surface guided missiles. The ministry will also aim to implement a new missile defence programme using early warning radars and Cheolmae II interceptors, which can shoot down incoming projectiles at a height of up to 20km.
The 270.7 trillion won (US$242 billion) total for defense spending over the next five years as announced by the MND on Jan. 11 includes 94.1 trillion won (US$84.12 billion) for improvements to defense capabilities and 176.6 trillion won (US$157.87 billion) for military power operation costs. The ministry explained that 65.6 trillion won (US$58.64 billion) – roughly 70% of the total for defense capability improvements – would be spent on “responding to nuclear/WMD threats, establishing the South Korean military’s core capabilities for the operational control transfer and achieving strategic deterrence capabilities to respond to a full range of threats, including acquisition of the necessary military power in anticipation of structural changes in the military.”
The increased budget will help establish a more independent South Korean defence industry, and the ministry will be investing in its ability to lead wartime operations, by doubling counter-fire capabilities. With China, Australia and Japan ramping up defence spending in the Asia-Pacific region, and the political uncertainty of North Korea, South Korea’s defence spending plans could signify an elongated Asian arms race. The five-year spending plan is subject to internal review by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and after parliamentary approval.