U.S. gets pay­ment deal for S. Korea

Troop-cost share to rise for Seoul

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea and the United States struck a deal Sun­day to in­crease Seoul’s con­tri­bu­tion for the cost of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence on its soil.

Un­der the agree­ment, South Korea will con­trib­ute about $924 mil­lion this year to help cover the ex­pense of sta­tion­ing 28,500 U.S. troops in the coun­try. That is an 8.2 per­cent in­crease from last year, when South Korea paid about $850 mil­lion, or roughly 40 per­cent of the cost of the de­ploy­ment.

The pre­lim­i­nary oneyear deal, known as the Spe­cial Mea­sures Agree­ment, re­places a five-year pact. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has in­sisted that South Korea and other al­lies shoul­der more of the cost of main­tain­ing U.S. bases on their soil.

The new deal is sub­ject to par­lia­men­tary ap­proval be­cause it re­quires spend­ing South Korean tax­pay­ers’ money, but For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha ex­pressed op­ti­mism that it would be passed.

“I think the re­sponse so far has been quite pos­i­tive,” she said. “Of course there are some points of crit­i­cism as well, and we will have to deal with them, but I think at this point we were able

to close the gap on the to­tal amount.”

The deal does not need U.S. con­gres­sional ap­proval, ac­cord­ing to the South Korean For­eign Min­istry.

The agree­ment was signed in Seoul on Sun­day by the chief South Korean ne­go­tia­tor, Chang Won-sam, and his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, Ti­mothy Betts. The two sides held 10 rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions last year, fail­ing to reach agree­ment be­fore the pre­vi­ous deal ex­pired at the end of 2018.

Both sides agreed to set up a work­ing group to han­dle cost-shar­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions in the fu­ture, ad­ding that if no new agree­ment is reached by the end of this year, “to pre­vent the ab­sence of an agree­ment, the two sides can ex­tend the pre­vi­ous agree­ment upon mu­tual con­sent.”

The South Korean For­eign Min­istry said in a state­ment that Wash­ing­ton had with­drawn its ear­lier de­mand that South Korea pro­vide “op­er­a­tional sup­port,” help­ing to pay the costs of the U.S. sol­diers, air­craft car­ri­ers and war­planes used in joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the South.

The state­ment also said the two coun­tries reaf­firmed the need for a “stable” U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment amid the “rapidly chang­ing sit­u­a­tion on the Korean Penin­sula,” and that the U.S. had stressed its com­mit­ment to the al­liance and its cur­rent num­ber of troops.

South Kore­ans had feared that Trump might pro­pose a with­drawal or re­duc­tion of U.S. troops in South Korea as a bar­gain­ing chip dur­ing his se­cond sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is set to take place Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, Viet­nam.

North Korea has long cam­paigned for the troops’ with­drawal, ar­gu­ing that the U.S. mil­i­tary threat had forced it to de­velop nu­clear weapons. At the Viet­nam meet­ing, Trump is hop­ing for ver­i­fi­able progress toward de­nu­cle­ariz­ing North Korea.

Won Yoo-chul, a con­ser­va­tive law­maker in South Korea, said the two sides had reached a “wise” and rea­son­able com­pro­mise.

“It is for­tu­nate that the deal was reached be­fore the up­com­ing Trump-Kim sum­mit in Viet­nam, so that the troops card is off the table,” he said. “De­fense-cost shar­ing is an is­sue be­tween us two al­lies, not a bar­gain­ing chip with North Korea.”

Trump said in a Feb. 3 in­ter­view on CBS’ Face the Na­tion that he had no plans to with­draw troops from South Korea. Dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, Trump sug­gested he could pull back troops from South Korea and Ja­pan un­less they took on a greater share of the fi­nan­cial bur­dens of sup­port­ing U.S. sol­diers de­ployed there.

Con­ser­va­tive South Korean com­men­ta­tors have said it is worth pay­ing more for U.S. troops to keep Trump from with­draw­ing them. But pro­gres­sives, in­clud­ing mem­bers of South Korean pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s gov­ern­ing party, are sen­si­tive to any im­pres­sion that the Amer­i­cans are bul­ly­ing their coun­try.

“Trump is not the United States,” Bae Myung-bok, a se­nior colum­nist for the daily Joong-Ang Ilbo, wrote last month, urg­ing South Korea not to give in to Wash­ing­ton’s de­mands.

Won, a mem­ber of the par­lia­men­tary for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee, warned that the short-term na­ture of the deal could cause fric­tion.

“With rene­go­ti­a­tion ev­ery year, the two sides will go through a stand­off each time, which will look bad for the al­liance,” he said. “The al­liance be­tween two coun­tries should not be ap­proached from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive alone.”


The 8.2 per­cent in­crease falls short of the ini­tial U.S. de­mand. South Korean me­dia ear­lier re­ported that Trump wanted South Korea to dou­ble its spend­ing for the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment, then scaled that back to an even $1 bil­lion — an in­crease of more than 17 per­cent.

Seoul’s For­eign Min­istry said the U.S. had called for a sharp in­crease in South Korean spend­ing but didn’t elab­o­rate.

How­ever, the in­crease is a con­ces­sion for Seoul. When South Korea signed its pre­vi­ous cost-shar­ing deal in 2014, it agreed to a 5.8 per­cent in­crease over 2013. Un­der that deal, South Korea’s con­tri­bu­tion in­creased 1 per­cent each year from 2015 to 2018, in keep­ing with do­mes­tic in­fla­tion rates.

Not counted as part of South Korea’s con­tri­bu­tion to the shared de­fense costs are large tracts of land that it sup­plies rent-free for U.S. mil­i­tary bases. South Korea has also taken on more than 90 per­cent of the $11 bil­lion cost of ex­pand­ing Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul, into the largest U.S. mil­i­tary base out­side the con­ti­nen­tal United States.

South Korea is also one of the big­gest buy­ers of U.S. weapons. It spends 2.5 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense, more than any Euro­pean ally of the United States.

“The United States gov­ern­ment re­al­izes that Korea does a lot for our al­liance and peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion,” Betts said Sun­day in Seoul. “We are very pleased our con­sul­ta­tions re­sulted in agree­ment that will strengthen trans­parency and deepen our co­op­er­a­tion and the al­liance.”

About 20 anti-U.S. ac­tivists ral­lied near the For­eign Min­istry build­ing in Seoul on Sun­day, chant­ing slo­gans in­clud­ing, “No more money for U.S. troops.” No vi­o­lence was re­ported.

The U.S. mil­i­tary ar­rived in South Korea to dis­arm Ja­pan, which col­o­nized the Korean Penin­sula from 1910-45, af­ter its World War II de­feat. Most U.S. troops were with­drawn in 1949, but they re­turned the next year to fight along­side South Korea in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The U.S. mil­i­tary com­mand was es­tab­lished in 1957, when South Korea was a largely agrar­ian coun­try. The U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in South Korea is a sym­bol of the coun­tries’ al­liance but also is a source of long-run­ning anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ments.

South Korea be­gan pay­ing for the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment in the early 1990s, af­ter re­build­ing its econ­omy. As it has trans­formed into a global trad­ing power, South Korea’s con­tri­bu­tion to cov­er­ing the cost of U.S. troops has in­creased along with its de­fense bud­get.

South Korean rul­ing party law­maker Song Young-gil said he ex­pected the United States to push harder for an­other in­crease in the next round of ne­go­ti­a­tions, so that Trump could de­clare a “win” ahead of elec­tions in 2020.

“The way Wash­ing­ton views the al­liance has changed since Trump took of­fice,” he said. “With Trump’s iso­la­tion­ist pur­suits, the United States is not tak­ing the role of global po­lice­man any­more.”

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