Seoul gears up for new defense cost-sharing pact with Washington

By Park Han-na
  • Published : Sept 15, 2019 - 15:15
  • Updated : Sept 15, 2019 - 17:51

South Korea and the United States are set to start negotiations on their cost-sharing deal for the upkeep of the 28,500 US troops stationed here, amid increasing pressure from the US president to increase contributions from allies.

The two countries will launch negotiations for the Special Measures Agreement as early as late this month, as the current one-year deal is set to expire Dec. 31. 

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris sign a South Korea-US defense cost-sharing agreement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Mar. 8. (Yonhap)

US President Donald Trump has been upping the ante as he heads into his reelection campaign, pressing for the country’s allies to pay more for costs related to the presence of US soldiers.

Speaking at the 2019 House Republican Conference Member Retreat Dinner, Trump asserted that the US defends other “immensely wealthy” countries that “don’t pay us for almost anything” in return.

“They’re our friends, they’re our allies. Sometimes our allies treat us worse than anybody else. But we can’t let that happen, and they don’t want to let that happen,” he said during the event in Baltimore, Maryland, Thursday.

On Sept. 4, Trump singled out Korea, Japan and the Philippines as countries that do not show appreciation for the money the US spends to station its troops abroad.

Washington reportedly asked Seoul to significantly increase its share of the costs, showing a statement with details of US spending that included training fees and wages, which totaled $4.8 billion per year.

Under this year’s SMA, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($862 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Given that the SMA outlines Korea’s contributions to the non-personnel costs of hosting the US military, Korea shouldered over 40 percent of the burden last year.

For the 10th SMA, Washington had proposed that Seoul finance “operational support” covering the deployment of strategic assets, which Seoul rejected as it was not part of the deal’s purpose.

The Korean government is considering appointing an official from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to spearhead the upcoming negotiations, unlike the other times, when the Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry took on that role.

Seoul has stressed that it will conduct the negotiations in a “reasonable and fair” way.

The Seoul-Washington alliance has been in doubt over the US’ repeated expression of disappointment over its Asian ally’s decision not to renew its bilateral intelligence-sharing deal with Japan amid an intensifying historic and trade row between the two countries. Seoul’s Foreign Ministry asked the US to refrain from public criticism and pledged to strengthen its alliance with Washington.

President Moon Jae-in will hold a summit with Trump in New York late this month, the agenda of which may include the SMA and a trilateral alliance with Japan.

By Park Han-na (