Wednesday, April 14, 2021

How Pakistan-North Korea Axis Is Getting India, South Korea Even More Closer With Strong Defense Ties

The danger emanating from the Pakistan-North Korea axis that has the blessings of China is bringing India and South Korea closer militarily. This is evident from the ongoing visit of the Indian Army chief General MM Naravane to South Korea, the first of its kind. 

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Pakistan helping North Korea in nuclear proliferation in exchange for the communist nation’s assistance in Pakistan’s missile development has been an open secret. The recently published annual report from the Czech Republic’s Security Information Service (BIS) mentions the relevance of the Pakistan-North Korea axis. 

A German government report earlier this year had also pointed out how Pakistan and North Korea continue to be involved in attempts to illegally obtain nuclear products and know-how from German hi-tech companies as part of efforts to develop their atomic weapons programs. 

Against this background, General Naravane’s visit implies the significant growth of the military dimension in the relations between India and South Korea, hitherto dominated by economic components, particularly after the advent of the Modi-regime in India. 

north-korea

It may be noted that the Modi government had stopped in 2016 the training of North Korean military personnel in India’s language training school in Madhya Pradesh that had been going on since 2008. This decision against North Korea has been accompanied by close military interactions with South Korea. 

So much so that with the exception of Nirmala Sitharaman, every Indian defense minister has undertaken official visits to South Korea since 2010 – AK Antony in September 2010, Manohar Parrikar in 2015, Arun Jaitley in 2017, and Rajnath Singh in 2019. 

Under Modi, the level of ‘Strategic Partnership’ between India and South Korea that was concluded in 2010 was elevated to ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ in 2015, when the Indian Prime Minister visited Seoul. 

Geopolitically speaking, India and South Korea share three common features. First, both of them are divided countries. North Korea and South Korea are officially not reconciled to the division and committed to the reunification of the Korean peninsula. In the case of India, Pakistan considers the partition an incomplete process without Kashmir in its possession. 

The second common feature is that both India and South Korea are democratic regimes, whereas both North Korea and Pakistan are essentially authoritarian military regimes (no civilian government in Pakistan is free from the eventual control of its Army in all the important matters). And interestingly, these two non-democratic countries have strong military ties, with China playing the role of a great facilitator as Beijing is very close to Islamabad as well as Pyongyang. 

The third common feature is that the Korean peninsula as well as South Asia is nuclearized. In the case of South Asia, both India and Pakistan are declared and tested nuclear weapon powers. With regards to the Korean peninsula, North Korea is a “rogue” nuclear country, while South Korea is acknowledged to possess the know-how to make nuclear weapons, but it has been refrained from making them because of the American presence in the country.

In any case, South Korea remains under the US nuclear umbrella, although it is said – and this still remains to be verified – that the US removed all the nuclear weapons from the South Korean soil by 1991.  

It is against this background that India and South Korea have been trying of late a comprehensive and productive relationship, in which the military component is assuming growing importance.

President Moon Jae-in’s ‘New Southern Policy’ or NSP in November 2017 (elevating South Korea’s strategic ties with the ASEAN and India to bring their relations on a par with Korea’s four major diplomatic partners: the United States, China, Japan, and Russia) and Prime Minister Modi’s Act East Policy towards a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific order have further strengthened this relationship.

President Moon during his visit to India in 2018 and Modi, in his second visit to South Korea in 2019, did point towards a comprehensive defense relationship between the two countries. 

Accordingly, now there are enhanced military exchange, training and experience sharing, research & development, and enhanced defense cooperation between the two countries. The two have instituted several forums for regular interaction between their Ministries of Defence.

The Defence Policy Dialogue (DPD) instituted at the level of Deputy Minister in 2013, has since been upgraded to the level of Defence Secretary and now a part of ‘2+2 Dialogue’, between the two sides. Joint Committee Meeting (JCM), a bilateral dialogue for cooperation in defense industries & logistics, is held every year.  

In fact, private sector defense major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin (HTW) have signed a $720-million contract for the Indian Army’s artillery gun program. The K9 Vajra-T gun in the army’s inventory is the result of this collaboration. A Korean defense firm is exploring the supply of the Biho self-propelled anti-aircraft defense system to the Indian military. 

Similarly, there are immense possibilities of the India-South Korea joint collaborations in naval shipbuilding. Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships have been visiting each other’s ports on a regular basis and have also been holding joint exercises. There has been an agreement on naval logistics sharing, a significant development as it is an arrangement that India currently shares only with the US and France. 

“The Indian Navy is often seen as lacking the maritime legs for sustained operations in the Pacific. A partnership with South Korea will help in creating the reach in a theater of growing strategic importance for India”, says Abhijit Singh, a former naval officer. 

There have been regular and active exchanges of bilateral visits by delegations from various military training establishments that include the National Defence College (NDC), higher command and management courses, and training center for United Nations peacekeeping operations. General Naravane’s visit will further consolidate these trends. 


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