U.S. President Donald Trump, in his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G7 summit on Sunday, said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “was angry that (South) Korea was doing a war game. If you want to know the truth, I also don’t think they need it.” Though the military drill had been adjusted in size and manner, Trump called it “a complete waste of money,” which was unnecessary.
This is hardly the first time that Trump talks about money associated with the South Korea-U.S. alliance. He has constantly blamed American allies for “free-riding” on the U.S.’ security commitments, and even expressed his hopes to withdraw the U.S. Forces stationed in a South Korea during a summit with Kim. Such a perception that considers an alliance based on mutual interests as special consideration granted by one party is absurd enough, but more problematically, Trump is associating the defense cost with the nuclear talks. We may have to worry that a progress in nuclear negotiations could lead to a permanent suspension of combined military exercises or a pullout of the U.S. troops from the country.
Moreover, the South Korean government’s latest decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is expected to add another item on the bill requested by Trump, since Washington may claim that an additional cost is needed to offset the weakening of trilateral security cooperation caused by Seoul’s decision to leave the agreement despite the U.S.’ opposition. The Trump administration has already demanded that South Korea pay around 5 billion dollars a year to cover the cost for the U.S. Forces in South Korea and their combined military drills, the deployment of strategic assets, the defense of the Strait of Hormuz, and an unrestricted passage of vessels in the South China Sea.
The three axes of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, namely the U.S. Forces in South Korea, the joint military exercises, and the combined forces command, are weakening. The U.S. president has openly talked about a possibility of withdrawing the troops, and the combined drills have become perfunctory since long before. The combined forces command, once the wartime operational control is transferred, will be reformed in a way that South Korean troops take the lead followed by the American troops. While North Korea is ratcheting up tensions with a series of missile launches, South Korea is being obsessed with a resumption of nuclear talks, not being able to refute Trump’s calls for Seoul to pay more.
South Korea’s presidential office has asserted that the discontinuation of the intelligence sharing deal with Japan will serve as a chance to upgrade its alliance with the United States. However, considering that Seoul’s security capability is largely dependent on weapons from the United States, some even say that South Korea may have agreed to purchase American weapons in bulk to meet the U.S.’ demand for covering the defense cost. It is worrisome that the alliance may turn into the one based on financial ties, even during emergencies.