South Korean President Seeks Arms Deal With UAE

January 16, 2023

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday with the aim of securing a military deal amid rising threats in their regions.

Yoon is apparently doubling down on previous business deals worth billions of dollars and a promise to station special forces troops to defend the UAE, which is eyeing tensions with Iran, including the seizure of a South Korean oil tanker in 2021.

Yoon was greeted Sunday by Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayan, who took office in May after serving as the UAE’s de facto president for years.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying the UAE planned to invest $30 billion in South Korea. “We decided to make the investment with confidence in the Republic of Korea that keeps its promises under all circumstances,” he said.

Already, South Korea reached a $3.5 billion deal with the UAE in 2022 to sell the M-SAM, an advanced air defense system designed to intercept missiles at altitudes below 40 kilometers (25 miles). Emirati officials have further grown concerned about protecting their airspace from long-range drone attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

South Korea, meanwhile, is eyeing rising threats from its neighbors. In December the U.S. military formally launched a space force unit at Osan Air Base near Seoul, a move that’s expected to allow the Pentagon to better monitor North Korea and China as well as Russia.

The activation of U.S. Space Forces Korea comes after North Korea has test-fired an unprecedented number of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles over the past year, and had threatened to launch “fiercer” military responses to the U.S. bolstering its security commitments to South Korea and Japan. 

North Korea also last month said it had fired a test satellite in a final stage for its first spy satellite.

The South Korean President’s visit to the UAE follows a week-long visit to allied world leaders by the Japanese Prime Minister that culminated with Fumio Kishida and President Biden committing to the security cooperation of those two nations. 

The White House meeting followed shifting U.S. military defense postures on the Japanese island of Okinawa meant to better respond to adversaries in the region. Kishida also secured a military deal strengthening its military ties with the UK that could eventually see troops deployed to each others’ countries.

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