South Korea to pay $920 million for U.S. Military Presence in 2019, Up 8.2% from 2018

By Dimitri Simes | February 14, 2019 | 11:15 AM EST

F-15 fighter jet in South Korea.
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- Following nearly a year of negotiation, the United States and South Korea finally inked a new defense cost-sharing agreement on February 10. Under the deal, Seoul pledged to raise its spending on U.S. military personnel deployed in South Korea to $920 million, up from $830 million in 2018.

A State Department spokesperson described the deal to CNSNews.com as “a one-year agreement for 1.0389 trillion Korean won (approximately 920 million U.S. dollars) in support of U.S. military requirements in labor, logistics, and construction.”

This figure represents an 8.2 percent increase from last year, when South Korea spent $830 million to help cover the cost of maintaining a presence of 28,500 U.S. troops in the country.

(Getty Images)

The agreement signed Sunday comes after a long and contentious negotiation process.

Washington initially insisted that South Korea boost its expenditures on U.S. military related expenses to $1.2 billion, a demand that Seoul refused. Between March 2018 and December 2018, U.S. and South Korean officials went through 10 rounds of talks without reaching a final deal. The previous defense-cost sharing agreement, adopted in 2014, expired at the end of last year without a replacement.  

In the end, the United States settled for a smaller sum than it originally requested. However, it succeeded in persuading South Korea to increase its payment for the stationing of U.S. soldiers and accept a one-year deal instead of a multi-year one. Once the South Korean parliament ratifies the agreement, it will go into effect.

Increasing military spending by allies is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration. The president has previously asserted that the United States disproportionately shoulders the financial burden for Seoul’s security.

“When you have wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia, like Japan, like South Korea, why are we subsidizing their military?” Trump complained during a September 2018 speech in West Virginia.

Some scholars believe that the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam at the end of February prompted South Korea to make this deal.

(Getty Images)

Sung-Yoon Lee, the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, argues that Seoul’s decision to raise military spending is part of a larger effort to gain Washington’s support for reconciliation with North Korea.

“For the Moon Jae-In administration, for now, putting down some more money, refraining from fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment, and riding the peace charade train is essential to its overarching goal of faux rapprochement,” he wrote to this reporter.

Speaking in his personal capacity, Lyle Goldstein, research professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War college, told CNSNews.com that he does not expect the recent agreement to “have a major impact on negotiations” between Trump and Kim.

“It's a positive sign that Seoul and Washington are not at severe loggerheads about the future of basing. That could marginally help Trump in his difficult negotiations with Kim,” he stated.

However, Goldstein also noted that the new spending promised by South Korea “is not large by [Department of Defense] standards,” and therefore does not anticipate “the money issue to have a decisive impact on U.S. calculations.”

Dimitri Simes
Dimitri Simes
Dimitri Simes

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