Excessive demandsU.S. President Donald Trump has once again criticized his allies for their defense contributions. On Monday, he wrote on Twitter: “We are substantially subsidizing the Militaries of many VERY rich countries all over the world, while at the same time these countries take total advantage of the United States, and our TAXPAYERS, on Trade. General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I DO, and it is being fixed!”
Though he did not specify what countries he was referring to by “rich countries all over the world,” it could be South Korea given his record of steadfastly pointing to South Korea as one of the countries he holds responsible for “free riding on security.” His comment is ringing alarms in the country particularly after the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who prioritized Uncle Sam’s role of maintaining peace around the world.
South Korea and the United States have been in a war of nerves over a new accord to determine each side’s share in the defense costs for 2019. While Seoul has been paying over 960 billion won ($852.6 million) — nearly half of the money needed to station U.S. Forces in South Korea (USFK) — Washington wants to raise our share by 50 percent. Trump himself wants to increase our share by 100 percent. The drastic increase will certainly pose a huge fiscal burden for our government as it has to spend lots of money to meet its ever-expanding welfare programs.
The Moon Jae-in administration must improve its argument as to why such a rapid increase in our share is not justifiable and launch a PR campaign to convince the U.S. Congress and powerful think tanks. In fact, South Korea has been providing the USFK with many benefits, including rent-free bases, tax cuts and utility fees, as well as the free use of roads and harbors in the country. When including all types of direct and indirect benefits involved, it amounts to 4.52 trillion won. If you take into account the amount of total benefits and the comparative size of the U.S. forces — 28,500 soldiers in South Korea and 62,000 in Japan — South Korea pays a bigger share than Japan does.
At the same time, the Moon administration must let Washington recognize that the presence of the USFK and joint military exercises are not simply aimed at protecting South Korea; they contribute to blocking the military threat from North Korea, but also China’s expansion in the region. That’s not all. Washington’s excessive demands for cost sharing will not help its national interests as it can provoke anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea. Seoul must dissuade Washington from raising our defense bill.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 26, Page 30