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U.S. experts oppose cost-sharing increase

Say risk of alienating a ‘responsible and reliable ally’ too great

Nov 23,2019
A number of U.S. congresspeople and pundits on Seoul-Washington relations have voiced their opposition to the United States’ pressure on Korea to pay nearly five times more than its current contribution for the upkeep of American troops here as the allies fail to find a middle ground in the ongoing cost-sharing talks.

In a joint op-ed published this week in The National Interest, a bimonthly international affairs magazine, Gen. Walter Sharp, former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, and Thomas Byrne, president and CEO of The Korea Society, wrote, “There is too much at stake for the U.S. to ask for too much, and thus risking alienating a responsible and reliable ally.”

Sharp and Byrne cited three main reasons why Washington shouldn’t be pressuring Seoul to pay as much as $5 billion in the next cost-sharing agreement, saying Seoul is the third-largest purchaser of U.S. military goods; Seoul is shouldering around 90 percent of the expenditure for the consolidation of U.S. bases south of the Han River in Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi; and Seoul is increasing its defense burden, outpacing the levels of other countries that the United States has bases in.

“South Korea is the third-largest purchaser of military goods from the U.S. - $6.7 billion from 2008 to 2017 - and it does not seek subsidies from U.S. taxpayers from its purchases, unlike Israel and Egypt,” the piece read, adding, “South Korea shouldered around 90 percent of the $11 billion capital expenditure for the consolidation of U.S. bases south of the Han River to Camp Humphreys, forming America’s ‘largest power projection platform in the Pacific.’”

In a another op-ed published in the same news outlet Thursday, Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a foreign policy organization, wrote that Washington’s 500 percent hike was “as daring as it is absurd.”

“The Trump administration’s position in the SMA [Special Measures Agreement] talks also has the potential to undercut its own Indo-Pacific strategy, where competing with China is fast becoming the core of U.S. foreign policy in an era where great powers are again sizing one another up,” said DePetris.

The fellow continued that compared with other U.S. security partners, Seoul has “distinguished itself” and is doing “exactly what fair burden-sharing requires.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, he noted, is so focused on the monetary aspect that he is unaware of South Korea’s future defense plans or doesn’t care - both of which aren’t calming scenarios.

Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Voice of America on Monday that if the Trump administration is truly hoping Seoul would pay five times more in the next SMA deal, it would “certainly be something that has the potential to hurt the alliance.”

And that, he added, would be “very, very foolish.”

Despite such concerns, U.S. officials apparently aren’t budging to reduce their paycheck.

The floor leaders of Korea’s three largest parties who visited Washington this week told Korean correspondents during a press conference Wednesday that Stephen Biegun, the U.S. nominee for deputy secretary of state, said the U.S.-Korea alliance needs a “renewal” and “rejuvenation” while stressing the need to increase Korea’s monetary contribution.

BY OH WON-SEOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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