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Rise of the Defense Industry in the 1970s :
Building the Foundation for Independent National Defense


1. Prologue: South and North Korea at the forefront of the Cold War system

August 1945.
The deadliest war in human history came to an end with the victory for the Allied Forces led by the United States and the Soviet Union.
But the end of World War II gave rise to the Cold War, dividing the world into two opposing forces - the US-led Capitalist bloc and the USSR-led Communist bloc.
The shadow of the Cold War was also cast over the liberated Korean Peninsula.
The Korean Peninsula was split between two countries run under two totally disparate systems.
The Korean War wasn’t simply a conflict between South and North Korea. It was a proxy war fought on the Korean Peninsula by the opposing sides of the Cold War.
The three-year war was concluded with a cease-fire agreement, but it left South and North Korea in the state of constant military confrontation at the forefront of the Cold War.
Then how did the Republic of Korea respond to ensure its national security?


2. The Development background of the Defense Industry: Hot War in the Détente.

North Korea’s post-war reconstruction strategy focused on beefing up its military strength to put South Korean under Communist control.
Later in the 1960s North Korea even initiated armed provocations against South Korea.
Meanwhile, after concluding a mutual defense treaty with the United States, the South Korean government poured all its efforts and resources into post-war restoration and economic development.
But while the enforcement of the Nixon Doctrine led to the withdrawal of one division of U.S. forces in Korea and the beginning of détente between the East and the West, tension was rising in the reason due to North Korea’s provocations against South Korea, critically jeopardizing South Korea’s security.
The South Korean government realized the need for independent defense capability.


3. Establishment of Foundation for the Defense Industry: mastered the technology of making weapons

In the late 1960s the armament of the South Korean military relied on American aids. Independent defense at the time meant producing weapons for our military on our own by building up the defense industry.
The government founded the Agency for Defense Development in August 1970.
In November of the following year the Lightning Project to make basic arms prototypes was launched. With the blueprint drawn by disassembling and copying old American weapons, the ADD scientists worked around the clock to develop weapons. Over the three phases of the Lightning Project, Korea finally became capable of making the prototypes of basic weapons, communication devices, and personal gears.
The emboldened government decided to develop missiles. The Polar Bear Project was carried out in secret since the U.S. was against Korea’s missile development.
Failure after another, but South Korea did not give up.
The Polar Bear Project succeeded four years after the development program began. Now a new era of missiles opened for South Korea.


4. The Development of the Defense Industry in Korea

But there wasn’t a sufficient and stable arms production system to produce those weapons.
In order to promote the defense industry, the heavy chemical sector needed to be expanded first.
Moreover, the heavy chemical industry needed to be expanded to maintain a steady rate of economic growth.
In 1973 the government declared its intention to foster the heavy chemical industry.
In February of 1974 the so-called Yulgok Plan, which contained road maps for the Korean military’s autonomous military strategy and build-up of military might, was launched to propel the national defense industry to another level.


5. Epilogue

The Korean Peninsula, a strategic point that links the sea and the continent.
This geopolitical location again put the Korean Peninsula at the forefront of the Cold War.
In the late 1960s and the 1970s, while the global security environment was shifting toward reconciliation, North Korea instead intensified its provocations, putting South Korea’s security at peril. A self-reliant defense system and the buildup of the defense industry were the best way to protect South Korea and its people.
The Korean defense industry started out by disassembling American weapons and putting them back together. Nonetheless, South Korea, determined to defend the nation unaided, was able to build the foundation for self-reliant national defense by the late 1970s.