On the 19th, chief U.S. negotiator James DeHart, who had been facilitating talks on sharing the cost of U.S. armed forces in South Korea, stormed out of a meeting after just 80 minutes. Representative DeHart said that “we cut short our participation in the talks today in order to give the Korean side time to reconsider,” criticizing the Korean team’s proposals as “not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing.”
It has also been revealed that on the 7th, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris invited National Assembly intelligence committee chairperson Lee Hye-hoon to his official residence and mentioned a $5 billion increase in share of cost at least 20 times. The United States is demonstrating an application of pressure from all sides in order to increase the Korean share of defense costs. Its preposterous pressure and diplomatic discourtesy shows strong discontent.
The sharing of defense costs is – for Korean employee wages, military construction costs, the munitions budget, and other expenses – necessary to keep American forces stationed in South Korea. However, after 28 years of following these principles, the United States is now unilaterally ignoring them and instead demanding $5 billion (more than five times the current payment) after adding items such as American labor and strategic asset deployment costs. It has been recently revealed that American administration officials are aggressively trying to come up with that figure – without rationale – after it was first suggested by President Trump. Korea’s share of the defense budget is already sufficient. Korea’s national defense budget in 2018, at 2.6% of its gross domestic product was higher than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member country standard of 2%, with Germany at 1.2% and Japan, at 0.9%. Korea paid for almost 90% of the $11 billion cost of the Pyeongtaek military base. Korea has also been the world’s third largest importer of American weapons for the past 10 years. America is unable to spend all of these payments. To be asking for the payment of $5 million is unjust nonsense and exceeds the limit of Korea’s financial ability.
The dangerous piece is that the United States is using the reduction or complete removal of its armed forces from Korea as a negotiation card. On the 19th, after General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “the average American looking at the forward deployed U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan asks … why are they needed there?”
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper responded ambiguously to a question about the breakdown of negotiations on burden-sharing and the possibility of reduction of troops in Korea, saying, “I’m not going to prognosticate or speculate.” This is behavior that causes doubt about their basic attitude as an ally nation.
An alliance must be beneficial to both parties. In a true alliance, it is only right that the burden of money owed have a reasonable basis in logic. If the United States continues to demand these preposterous increases, anti-U.S. sentiment among Koreans will assuredly rise. The U.S. must know, without a doubt, that until a debt is proposed with clear reasoning behind it, Korea can never accept. The alliance should not be shaken just for the sake of increasing our share of defense costs. I hope the United States does not suffer a great loss while chasing a small gain.