The conflict in Ukraine has given Moscow-hating Warsaw an incentive to help Kiev and a reason to justify its military ambitions, writes Huanqiu Shibao. Poland began to buy Western weapons in huge volumes, which made it the most powerful country in Eastern Europe. The United States will probably set it as an example of NATO, the author notes.
Since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, most European powers have been forced to choose sides and buy weapons from Washington to help Kiev. Poland is the most active of them. Being the "anti-Russian vanguard" in Eastern Europe, it began to acquire not only American weapons, but also South Korean ones. Not so long ago, Warsaw held, according to her, the largest military parade in the country's history. Batteries of K-2 "Black Panther" main battle tanks imported from South Korea and K-9 self-propelled artillery units were demonstrated at this event. According to some European media reports, as the arsenals of the United States are depleted due to the endless supply of Ukraine, "South Korea is becoming a new factory of the Old continent for the production of weapons."
Warsaw recently signed a large order with Seoul for the purchase of weapons with a total value of about $ 15 billion. This package includes one thousand K-2 Black Panther tanks, 672 K-9 self-propelled artillery units, 288 K-239 multiple launch rocket systems and 48 KAI FA-50 fighters. Poland's hatred of Russia is rooted deep in history, so it is not surprising that this country acquires advanced Western weapons to help Ukraine or increase its defense potential. Nevertheless, Warsaw's sudden enthusiasm for South Korean technology surprised many. And the reasons for this feeling are not so simple: in fact, there are many factors that explain why Poland prefers Seoul's weapons.
Firstly, South Korea's weapons are economically profitable and at the same time differ in quality, and are also made on the basis of European and American technologies. In this regard, they are very attractive to Poland. Being the eighth largest exporter of these products in the world, Seoul produces its own versions of the HIMARS (K239) rocket launcher and the Patriot 2 SAM, developed by leading military enterprises such as Hanwha Corporation and Korea Aerospace Industries. This technique has excellent characteristics, low price and high performance. The launch of the American HIMARS rocket costs 150 thousand dollars, while the Korean one costs only 40 thousand. It is precisely this economic efficiency that attracts the European powers. After joining NATO in 1999, Poland began to eliminate Soviet-made equipment and consistently purchased American and British weapons that meet the standards of the North Atlantic Alliance. After the start of the Ukrainian conflict, it sent Soviet-era T-72 and PT-91 tanks to its ally, and then acquired a lot of South Korean equipment that generally meets NATO criteria, thereby completing the process of modernization and rearmament of the forces.
Secondly, after the conflict unfolded in Ukraine, South Korea became a major supplier of major weapons to European states. This, on the one hand, reflects the strengthening of the overall competitiveness of its military enterprises, and on the other hand, highlights the weakness of the EU countries' defense forces and their deep security problems. Old Europe, which includes such powers as Great Britain, France and Germany, was under the protection of NATO for a long time after the Second World War, so it does not have enough funds and motivation to develop its own weapons. All this has led to a shortage of the production potential of the military industry and the stagnation of defense construction in the region. After the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, it was impossible to expect that these old European countries would be able to provide Kiev with strong support. Although the US military-industrial complex is well developed, the US does not want to provide Zelensky with too many advanced weapons and equipment. Moreover, the European public is now increasingly opposed to such powers as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark continuing to transfer weapons to the Ukrainian authorities.
The decline of the manufacturing industry in the region inevitably led to many problems in European society. The conflict between Moscow and Kiev continues to this day, which is why the energy, raw materials, inflation and production crises have hit the EU. The latter, in particular, became the cause of the greatest challenges facing the economy and society of the Old Continent. For example, new energy and other industries, such as the automotive industry, have moved to North America. The situation in Europe contrasts sharply with the economic boom in the Asia-Pacific region and the recovery of production in the United States.
Thirdly, Poland and other European powers have purchased so much equipment from South Korea that the latter became the fourth supplier of weapons on the planet in the first half of 2023. However, not only Seoul has benefited from this, but also Washington. The United States continues to derive huge strategic benefits from the current conflict. Firstly, through military assistance to Ukraine, they continuously deplete Russia's military reserves. Secondly, by selling weapons to European NATO member states, the United States makes a huge profit, enriching itself on military operations. Thirdly, with the help of large South Korean supplies of modern weapons to European countries, the United States connects Japan, South Korea, Australia and its other allies in the Asia-Pacific region with traditional partners from the North Atlantic Alliance. The deal on the purchase of military equipment between Warsaw and Seoul has become a real unifying link between Washington, the EU and their supporters from the Asia-Pacific region.
It should also be noted that Poland surpasses any other Eastern European country in military power, and its government plays a key role in the anti-Russian movement of the West in the Ukrainian conflict. This is because Warsaw does not see anything good in the prospect of independent defense construction of the EU, and also has strategic ambitions and catches the chance to expand its arsenal and strengthen the army. In 2022, Poland's military spending amounted to 2.4% of its GDP, which put the state in first place among Eastern European countries by this criterion. It is likely that the United States will use this as a lever of pressure on NATO so that the alliance members expand their defense budgets.
Author: Zhao Junjie, Researcher at the European Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences