Talks ends with no agreement . . .
On December 18, South Korea and the U.S. ended their latest round of discussions on the renewal of the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) – a deal on cost-sharing for 28,500 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula – without reaching an agreement. Washington wanted Seoul to cover new costs, which South Korea has resisted. South Korean reports indicate Washington has demanded Seoul’s payments to increase five-fold from US$870 million to US$5 billion annually. The SMA expires at the end of the month; if the two sides fail to reach an agreement by March 2020, South Koreans working for U.S. Forces Korea will likely have to go on an unpaid leave.
‘America First’ policy . . .
U.S. President Donald Trump immediately raised the issue of cost-sharing with U.S.’s allies upon coming to power in 2017. He has consistently demanded that South Korea contribute more for the cost of the U.S. troops, which have been stationed in Korea for over six decades, a move that has stirred public outrage in the country. South Koreans have had complex relations with U.S. troops. While many acknowledge that their presence has maintained stability on the peninsula, others regard it as the deterrent to better relations with North Korea and a symbol of “American Imperialism.” A poll in late November indicated that nearly 70 per cent of South Koreans believe Seoul should reject Trump’s demand for a five-fold increase, even if the number of U.S. troops was to be decreased. Results of a separate poll suggest only four per cent of South Koreans believe Seoul should give in to Trump’s demands.
Crumbling alliances . . .
Similarly, the U.S. administration has requested that Japan, another strategic ally in the region, commit to a four-fold increase for its contribution to cost-sharing for the U.S. military presence in that country. The U.S. is also planning to lower its contribution to NATO expenditures from 22 per cent of the total cost to 16 per cent, with the gap to be filled by other member states. Trump’s approach is likely to jeopardize America’s security architecture – especially in Northeast Asia, a key geopolitical theatre for the U.S. – as it attempts to push forward the denuclearization agenda on the Korean peninsula and contain China and Russia.
- Foreign Policy: Trump asks Tokyo to quadruple payments for U.S. troops in Japan
- South China Morning Post: US, South Korea fail to agree on cost of American troops posted on peninsula
- Yonhap News Agency: South Korea, U.S. hold last day of defense cost talks