The third meeting of the defense cost-sharing talks between South Korea and the U.S. will take place in Seoul for two days from Monday. As the U.S. is demanding South Korea to increase the latter’s contributions by five folds even by revising the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) itself, Seoul and Washington will likely engage immediately in an intense war of nerves over new items to be included in South Korea’s portion for cost sharing.
Washington is demanding Seoul to add to those items the costs required for regular rotation of U.S. troops stationed in Korea, the costs for U.S. troops and equipment deployed for joint military drills, and costs for facilities for the families of U.S. Forces Korea, on top of the three items, namely labor costs for South Koreans working for the U.S. forces stationed in Korea, costs for facilities construction, and military supplies based on the existing SMA. Since the U.S. is seeking to charge South Korea for the costs for repair and maintenance of its strategic assets in Guam or Okinawa that are deployed to the Korean Peninsula in the event of a situation on the peninsula by demanding the “reconsideration and update of SMA,” it would be difficult for the two sides to come up with a reasonable, coordinated measure.
Washington is reportedly making such irrational demand due to President Trump’s unilateral instruction. When President Trump demanded 5 billion dollars out of blue, top U.S. officials were reportedly perplexed and persuaded the president to lower the amount to 4.7 billion dollars. As President Trump suggested a random number, his staff members are seeking to coordinate the amount by combining all difficult reasons, and working level officials must have been facing major difficulties. A string of top U.S. officials have visited South Korea this month and urged Seoul to hike Korean contributions to joint defense, a move that could be a “road show” being taken to cater to the expectations of the White House.
The U.S. is reportedly also demanding Japan to increase Tokyo’s contributions to defense cost by four to five times from the current level. Hence, even watchers in the U.S. have raised concern about backlashes from excessive “pressuring on allies” as well. Some lawmakers in U.S. Congress have strongly blasted Trump’s move saying that it is no different from ripping off allies and insulting them, while experts have warned that it will spawn anti-American sentiment. However, President Trump, who is seeking to bring about diplomatic achievements through tangible numbers ahead of the next presidential election that is less than one year away, will unlikely change his mind soon.
President Trump already said the U.S. is not an unconditional giver, and cannot serve as the world’s police forever. We cannot blindly criticize the U.S. because the superpower that has been spearheading world order is moving to terminate its role as police, and instead is about to launch a security company. Many countries are in asymmetric alliance with the U.S. in which they depend on the U.S.’ massive military might, and if they reject, President Trump will pressure them with even bigger bargaining chips including withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea, and termination of the alliance.
Seoul is facing a grave emergency situation as Washington is trying to use its negotiations with South Korea as an example for its other allies, including Japan and Europe. In this grave situation, the government should take on negotiations all the more carefully and wisely. Seoul cannot afford to simply deny Washington’s demand. Seoul should provide Washington with a truly reasonable amount for its contributions to defense cost-sharing by including only indirect costs such as rent on land that South Korea has presented to the U.S. free of charge, utility fees including electricity, gas, running water and sewage system, and exemption of various taxes, as well as the cost for purchase of U.S. weapons. .