‘Seoul needs to pay deployment of US strategic assets’
South Korea and the United States are currently holding discussions for the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) to decide how much Seoul will pay for next year’s defense cost-sharing for the stationing of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) here. The one-year long 10th SMA for 2019 is set to end Dec. 31.
James DeHart, senior advisor for security negotiations and agreements at the U.S. Department of States’ Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, visited Seoul from Tuesday to today to meet officials here, ahead of the official third round of negotiations. DeHart is the top U.S. negotiator for the 11th SMA. The first and second round of talks were held in September and October.
In the those rounds, Dehart asked South Korea to pay for U.S. military assets mobilized to defend South Korea in emergencies as well as the standing costs for the upkeep of the 28,500 USFK troops, diplomatic sources said Thursday. Washington allegedly asked Seoul to pay five- to six-times more than this year’s 1.04 trillion won ($895 million).
Experts believe the U.S. request was aimed at asking South Korea to pay for the “upkeep and operation” of the U.S. strategic assets as well as the costs for flying them to and near the Korean Peninsula.
“When we talked about the cost of deploying U.S. strategic assets to South Korea, we used to count only those related to flying U.S. aircraft such as B-52 bombers or their F-15 escorts, but such costs were not too high,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the
Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “To understand the new U.S. calculation, we have to say the U.S. wants South Korea to pay the costs of the upkeep of such assets in preparation for an emergency.”
Under the Indo-Pacific initiative, Washington is asking its Asian allies to play a more “active” role in maintaining regional security.
“When the U.S. talks of the cost of deploying strategic assets in preparation for an emergency on the peninsula, it also includes those occurring during training,” Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said, adding Seoul and Washington may revise a memorandum of understanding on crisis management on the peninsula through the clear definition of what constitutes a “time of emergency.”
“We need to narrow down the definition of ‘time of emergency,’ and whether it also includes a possible situation where U.S. territory is attacked,” Park said. “What also needs to be addressed is whether it also includes possible wars in regions (outside the Korean Peninsula), such as a possible war between the U.S. and Iraq for example.”
Earlier this week at the National Assembly National Defense Committee, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers that the U.S. and South Korea are discussing the SMA based on the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America.
To widen the role of the South Korean military in its contribution to regional security, the SOFA or status of forces agreement between the U.S. and South Korea needs to be revised accordingly.