Raise transparency in contributionsSeoul agreed to pay 920 billion won ($869 million) this year to help maintain the U.S. military presence in the country, up 5.8 percent from last year, after months of negotiations on cost sharing with Washington. The new bilateral Special Measures Agreement will be effective for five years, and the annual increase in Korea’s share will be limited to 4 percent during the period. Other terms, like creating a mechanism to enhance transparency in spending, were agreed upon in preliminary talks.
Both sides compromised to reach a deal on the increase in Korea’s contribution. The United States demanded an increase of more than 1 trillion won, while Korea wanted to keep it within the 900 billion range. The relatively speedy conclusion came amid the backdrop of increasing unpredictability in North Korea, ongoing bilateral negotiations on a nuclear power agreement and a delay in wartime command transfer. Seoul fared well considering the pressure from Washington, which is working with a reduced defense budget.
In the new deal, the two nations made progress on the details. For the first time since they entered into a cost-sharing arrangement in 1991, Washington has agreed to reveal specific details on defense spending by U.S. forces in Korea. The two countries will jointly review and evaluate the stage of budgetary appropriation to spending decisions. The joint review will be reported to the Korean legislature. In the past, Washington unilaterally reported its budgetary plan. The same system will be applied to new construction plans for American troops.
Transparency in defense cost sharing is essential. Taxpayers must understand how their contributions will be spent to fully support security decisions. The government has done well to improve transparency in defense spending. It now has to follow through with the agreement and keep an eye on how its funds are spent on American troops. Washington also should fully comply with its pledge in order to deepen the trust between the two allies and keep unnecessary rumors at bay.