'Largest Ever' Military Drills: US-South Korea and Saudi Arabia
February 24, 2016
Richard Green / Voice of America News & Armin Rosen / Business Insider
South Korean defense officials say the yearly military exercises with the United States next month will be the largest ever. About 15,000 US troops will take part in the yearly Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises. That is twice the number from last year. Meanwhile, on February 14, Saudi Arabia launched what it describes as the largest war game in the country's history. The "Northern Thunder" military exercise involved troops from 20 countries.
'Largest Ever' US-South Korea Military Drills
Richard Green / Voice of America News
(February 24, 2016) -- South Korean defense officials say the yearly military exercises with the United States next month will be the largest ever.
The military drills take place as tensions with North Korea increase over its recent nuclear and long-range missile tests.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo said Thursday that about 15,000 US troops will take part in the yearly Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises. That is twice the number from last year.
Yonhap news agency said Wednesday the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis will take part in the drills.
North Korea opposes the exercises on the peninsula. It says they are a preparation for an attack.
Officials say they are talking with the US about deploying an advanced US missile defense system. China strongly opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, called THAAD.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said: "The official announcement of the possibility of THAAD deployment is a defensive measure to counter increasing nuclear and missile threats by North Korea."
Opposition lawmakers say they are concerned about the possible missile deployment. They also say they worry about the closing of the Kaesong jointly operated industrial center by South Korea.
In related news, South Korean intelligence officials have told South Korean lawmakers that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered preparations for possible terror attacks on the South.
A member of South Korea's ruling Saenuri party told reporters Thursday the National Intelligence Service believes the attacks could target many groups. These include anti-North Korean activists, defectors and South Korean government officials.
Subways, shopping centers and power stations were also called potential targets.
President Park Geun-hye has promised a more hardline approach toward North Korea. Her government has taken measures aimed at causing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program or face, in her words, "regime collapse."
On Wednesday, the US military made an additional show of strength by flying four advanced fighter jets from Japan's Okinawa island.
A Nervous Saudi Arabia Just Launched a Massive Military Exercise
Armin Rosen / Business Insider
(February 18, 2016) -- Saudi Arabia just launched what it describes as the largest war game in the country's history. On February 14, the "Northern Thunder" military exercise began, involving troops from 20 countries.
Saudi Arabia's state news describes Northern Thunder as "the largest military exercise of its kind in terms of the number of participating countries and qualitative military equipment."
David Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider that Riyadh's claims shouldn't be taken at face value -- and that the exercise might not have a specific political objective either.
"Even year in recent years the Saudis announce some sort of 'biggest' military exercise, and people always try to find a message," Weinberg says, noting that Northern Thunder includes participants like Egypt, Pakistan, and Oman "which have balked at recent Saudi military requests."
Still, the exercise comes at a time when Riyadh is badly in need of effective hard-power projection.
Saudi Arabia is in an ambiguous geopolitical position, losing on a number of important fronts while gaining in military power and regional importance.
In Syria, Russian and Iranian support has enabled crucial battlefield gains for the regime of Bashar al-Assad -- advances that have come at the expense of Saudi-supported rebel groups.
The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which is fighting to restore the country's internationally recognized government after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels deposed it in early 2015, has made little progress in recent months and is widely thought of as a strategic misstep.
The recent agreement between Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, and Venezuela to cap oil production could lead to an OPEC production-level freeze that would hurt Iran, restraining the Saudi rival's output just as international sanctions against the country are lifted.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia's primary regional opponent still plans on spending a reported $8 billion on Russian arms and is seeing its global standing improve after the January implementation of its nuclear deal with a US-led group of world powers.
Saudi Arabia is facing internal pressures as well.
Low oil prices are forcing Riyadh to cut social services and impose unprecedented taxation measures, while the government plans on raising money through privatizing some of Saudi Aramco, the country's multitrillion-dollar state oil concern.
Despite these challenges, Saudi Arabia is arguably the most powerful of the Arab states, thanks in part to its low breakeven price for oil production and the effect of ongoing conflict and dysfunction on traditional regional leaders like Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.
Despite cuts in its defense budget, Saudi was the world's third-largest military spender in 2015 and its largest arms importer in 2014.
Riyadh has also carried out increasing military exercises in order to display the country's firepower, Weinberg explained to Business Insider.
"The increasing tempo of major Saudi military exercises reflects the kingdom's broader investment in military spending and operational capacity, which is first and foremost driven by the perceived conventional and unconventional threats posed by Iran."
An exercise like Northern Thunder sends the message that Saudi Arabia intends to keep up an assertive regional policy despite its recent setbacks.
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