The U.S. Chief negotiator Timothy Betts signed a “preliminary” agreement with his South Korean counterpart, Jang Won-sam, at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on February 10. Under the SMA or Special Measures Agreement, the two nations confirmed sharing the cost of the US troops serving in the country. The deal takes place as Trump prepares to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an upcoming summit.
The deal signed is unlike the normal five-year term and covers only one year of the total expenses. It appears to be the outcome of the President’s decisiveness of making Seoul pay considerably more. Initially, the US aimed at extracting double the contribution from South Korea. However, it had to later settle for a raise of only 8.2 percent for the first year, which was the same as Seoul’s total defense budget.
Under the agreement with the US, South Korea has confirmed to pay 1.0389 trillion won, which is equivalent to approximately $920 million. The payment has increased fairly largely from the 960 billion worth of won S. Korea paid between 2014 to 2018. Both the countries have expressed ‘satisfaction’ with the agreement of shared cost.
Timothy Betts, the deputy assistant secretary of state for plans, operations and programs in the US said, “The United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region and the SMA is only a small part of that.” He further added, “But it’s an important part and we are pleased that our consultations resulted in an agreement that I think will strengthen transparency and strengthen and deepen our cooperation in the alliance.”
Even though the deal will remain to be known as “preliminary” till it gets sanctioned by the Korean legislature, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha optimistically believes that it will ‘pass’ anyway. Expressing the same attitude, she said “I think the response so far has been quite positive,” while continuing to admit that “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.”
South Korea is one of US’ biggest weapon purchasers with more than 2.5 percent of its GDP spent on defense, which is far more than what its European allies spend. In the past year, the two nations initiated with multiple rounds of negotiations, but failed to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion before the expiry of the past deal. With this SMA deal, US and South Korea have finally agreed upon settling on at least a year’s deal for the time being, avoiding delays encountered in bigger decision making.
Senior members of the Trump administration have perpetually approached and convinced the President of the gigantic national security gains US enjoys by posting troops in Japan and South Korea. However, he continues to extract more in the name of cost-sharing from the two countries. Particularly because of the trade surpluses the two nations run with the US.
With Japan’s negotiations over cost-sharing in defense sector about to begin by the end of this year, Tokyo is expected to counter the argument. As per Tokyo, their extensive investment on US’ F-35s and Aegis Ashore missile defense system should make the defense cost a ‘free-rider’, basically a return of favor. However, the attitude Trump carries regarding the defense cost-sharing matter, national security conflicts are expected to emerge with Japan in the coming time.
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