No End in Sight for Cost-Sharing Tug-of-War with U.S.

  • By Cho Yi-jun, Yang Seung-sik

    February 26, 2020 12:57

    Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper were unable to settle a drawn-out squabble over cost-sharing for the upkeep of American troops here when they met in Washington on Monday.

    In a press release after their meeting, the two defense chiefs agreed only that Seoul and Washington need to make more efforts to bridge their differences but were clearly no closer to a deal.

    Esper tried to pile pressure on Korea to bow to the U.S.' exorbitant demands for a hike. Calling Korea "a global economic powerhouse and an equal partner in the preservation of peace in the peninsula," he said, "Shouldering the cost of the common defense cannot fall disproportionately to the American taxpayer."

    "Increased burden-sharing is a top priority for the United States across our alliances," he added. He claimed the current agreement, under which Korea paid US$1 billion last year, "captures only a portion of the overall cost associated with the United States' defense of [Korea]."

    Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (right) speaks at a joint press conference with his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on Monday. /Reuters-Yonhap

    In fact Korea already shoulders a bigger share proportionally than any other U.S. ally where American troops are stationed.

    Jeong agreed that the two sides should reach a rational and fair "win-win" deal as soon as possible but pointed out that Korea has been contributing to the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea in various direct and indirect ways in addition to shouldering the cost of common defense.

    The USFK has already warned to put all its Korean staff on indefinite unpaid leave on April 1 to strong-arm Korea into agreeing to a hike. Instead, Jeong proposed that the two sides reach a deal first on the personnel cost out of a budget tentatively worked out at last year's level.

    But Esper merely repeated the warning unless a deal is reached "preferably by the end of March."

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