A truly ironclad alliance?Talks between Seoul and Washington about adjusting the shared cost of maintaining U.S. troops in Korea were cut short on Tuesday. The negotiation in Seoul was scheduled to last seven hours, but came to an abrupt end in the first 80 minutes. The U.S. delegation stormed out because its Korean counterpart was not “responsive” to its demand for increased contributions.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Manila did not flatly deny the possibility of cutting back U.S. forces if Seoul refuses to comply to raise its share by nearly five times to $5 billion from the current level. “I am not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do,” he said when asked what steps the United States would take if no deal is reached before the end of the year.
The ambiguous tone differs from a joint statement with his Korean counterpart during his visit to Seoul on Nov. 15 that the alliance between Seoul and Washington remains “ironclad” and that “two sides will continue to ensure that combined forces on the Korean Peninsula remain at a high state of readiness.” Yet the Pentagon chief may have touched a formerly taboo idea — changes to the U.S. military status quo in Korea — to demand more cost sharing from Seoul. The longstanding alliance has come to such a sad state.
The Trump administration is arguing for greater cost-sharing due to a higher risk to the U.S. forces as a result of breakdown in the military intelligence sharing pact between Seoul and Tokyo. Washington could reason a scale-down in U.S. military presence if Seoul does not take up a greater share.
Putting financial terms on the traditional alliance is demeaning. Washington is making a serious misjudgment if it underestimates the role of U.S. force for the security balance in not only the Korean Peninsula but also in East Asia. Still, we cannot go on blaming Washington if there is no chance of its changing its view. We must find a sensible solution. In a televised dialogue with the people on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed his position to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan and urged Tokyo to lift export bans first. But a sudden change from Tokyo is highly unlikely. Seoul must either reverse its decision or find an alternative solution to minimize the damage.
Seoul could seek cooperation from U.S. politicians who prize the traditional alliance. Diplomats must persuade opinion leaders in Washington to raise their voices against any changes in the U.S. military status quo in Korea. The floor leaders visiting the United States also should do their best. They must put aside political differences for national interests.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 21, Page 30