South Korea organized its first major military parade in ten years in Seoul on Tuesday with unprecedented American participation, a show of force at a time when tensions with its northern neighbor are at their height.
Some 6,700 soldiers took part in this parade in the heart of Seoul in pouring rain, cheered by a crowd sheltered under umbrellas and waving South Korean flags. Tanks, drones and missiles were also deployed during this parade.
The South Korean Air Force, which was to fly fighter jets, including American-made F-35 stealth fighters, into the skies over Seoul, ultimately canceled its demonstration due to the weather.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol watched the parade from a platform, where he applauded the marching troops.
Unprecedented: Around 300 soldiers from a US combat unit also marched through the center of the capital with their South Korean comrades, illustrating the consolidation of the military alliance between Seoul and Washington in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat .
Traditionally, a military parade was held in Seoul every five years for Armed Forces Day. The last one was held in 2013, but the 2018 edition was replaced by a more sober ceremony by the left-wing president at the time, Moon Jae-in, who was attempting a policy of rapprochement with Pyongyang.
South Korea is now led by Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who advocates toughness toward North Korea. Since taking over the presidency in May 2022, South Korea has intensified its military cooperation with the United States and Japan, organizing joint maneuvers on an unprecedented scale.
On the occasion of Armed Forces Day, Mr. Yoon also presided over a ceremony on Tuesday at an air base south of Seoul, during which he notably praised the strengthening of ties between the United States and South Korea in the field of defense.
“If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be stopped by an overwhelming response from the U.S.-South Korean alliance,” Yoon said at the base.
Message to Pyongyang
This first parade in ten years, which constituted a commercial showcase of the latest South Korean weapons, “is an unsubtle and visually provocative gesture on the part of the South Korean government to address (to the North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un the message that Seoul will not back down and seek ways to reconcile,” Soo Kim of LMI Consulting, a former CIA analyst, told AFP.
South Korea is a major arms exporter. In 2022, arms sales brought the country $17.3 billion, including $12.7 billion from contracts with Poland, a NATO member country, notably for K2 tanks and K9 self-propelled guns.
However, under a long-standing doctrine, South Korea refrains from selling weapons to countries at war. Although having condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it refuses to directly deliver weapons to Kyiv, unlike Western countries.
But that policy, experts warn, could change if North Korea begins exporting weapons and munitions to Russia in exchange for space and military technology, as Seoul fears.
A fear reinforced by the recent trip to Russia by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who visited arms factories and attended a demonstration of the Russian Pacific fleet.