South Korea Flexes Military Muscle with Rare Parade Amid Rising Tensions

By Olivia Weaving September 26, 2023

South Korea unveiled an impressive showcase of advanced weapons during a rainy military parade, signifying its growing power amidst increasing conflict with North Korea.

The streets of Seoul, drenched in rainfall, served as the canvas for South Korea's impressive display of military might, as the nation presented a grand parade of state-of-the-art weapons on Tuesday. This unprecedented demonstration, the first of its kind in the past ten years, was held to celebrate the 75th Armed Forces Day, marking the establishment of the nation's military.

This compelling spectacle occurs in the midst of simmering tensions on the Korean peninsula, as South Korea finds itself increasingly aligning with the United States and Japan to confront North Korea's rapidly advancing weapons program.

The event started with morning ceremonies followed by performances at the Seoul Air Base. Here, President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a stern warning to Pyongyang against attempting any use of nuclear weaponry. He resolutely declared, "If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be faced with an overwhelming retaliation from the Seoul-Washington alliance."

The afternoon saw the commencement of the parade, with containers of military hardware passing through downtown Seoul, near city hall and the renowned Gwanghwamun Square. Thousands of onlookers, donned in plastic ponchos, watched as the parade of soldiers and machinery trudged through the rain-soaked streets.

According to the Ministry of National Defense, the parade participants included several thousand South Korean soldiers and over 300 US troops. An array of domestically produced equipment, including drones, tanks, and armored personnel carriers, lined the procession. Soldiers waved enthusiastically at the crowd from their vehicles, all embellished with the South Korean flag.

Peter Layton, affiliated with the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University, noted that while such a spectacle serves to send a message to external entities, including allies like the United States and regional powers North Korea and China, the event primarily centers on domestic issues.

The parade, along with President Yoon's attendance, helps to project an image of a globally influential South Korea to its own people. Also, it boosts public confidence in the Korean defense industry, which Layton says is experiencing "remarkable export success," even as other sectors of the economy stagger.

President Yoon has publicly stated his ambition to elevate South Korea into the world’s top four arms exporters, alongside nations like the US, Russia, and France. The industry has seen rapid expansion, with defense exports worth $7 billion recorded in 2021, as per data from the Export-Import Bank of Korea.

Layton further emphasized that the parade signifies the enduring bond between South Korea and the US, with their alliance becoming increasingly important as North Korea escalates its weapons testing.

Recent evidence from international intelligence agencies suggests that North Korea may soon resume nuclear testing, as indicated by satellite imagery showing activity at its underground nuclear test site.

Earlier this year, President Yoon and US President Joe Biden announced a strategic agreement aimed at curbing North Korean aggression. This includes America's pledge to deploy a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea for the first time since the early 1980s. In a historic summit this past August, Yoon, Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida revealed plans for novel military exercises and established a hotline for crisis communication.