House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops ‘a needless wedge’

The chairmen of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees have raised the alarm over the Trump administration possibly damaging relationships with key Asian allies, following reports that the United States is insisting that South Korea exponentially up what it pays to house U.S. troops in the country.

“We are concerned by multiple reports that the administration is currently asking South Korea to exponentially increase its annual contribution to roughly $5 billion per year, or more than five times its current contribution,” according to a Nov. 22 letter released on Tuesday by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

In the letter, Smith and Engel also express concern to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper over “reports that the Administration has similar intentions regarding negotiations with Japan.”

Such moves contradict key principles between the countries “and undermine U.S. efforts to affirm an enduring commitment to the region,” the lawmakers write.

Esper in November visited South Korea visited South Korea and participated in talks on cost-burden sharing, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement on how much South Korea should contribute for the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence in the country.  

In 2019, South Korea spent just under $1 billion to house and maintain U.S. forces on the peninsula, where U.S. troops have been based for nearly 70 years — since the end of the 1950-1953 war between North and South Korea. 

Washington, however, reportedly demanded that Seoul raise to $5 billion its annual contribution for the upkeep of the troops, who are meant to deter North Korea from attacking as well as monitor the region.

While Smith and Engel agree that allies and partners “should fairly contribute to the cost of our presence overseas,” the administration’s demands for a massive increase in annual contributions “serves as a needless wedge between us and allies.”

The lawmakers also ask Esper and Pompeo to provide the total annual cost of maintaining U.S. military forces on the Korean Peninsula, the costs the administration is asking South Korea to cover and the basis for the reported request for increase.

In addition, Smith and Engel want to know what the impact will be on the operations and readiness of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula and U.S. national security in the region if no agreement is reached in the negotiations. They ask for the answers within two weeks.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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