S. Korea calls for ‘mutually acceptable’ deal in defense cost talks with U.S.

October 25, 2019

South Korea called for a “mutually acceptable” deal in its latest defense cost-sharing talks with the United States in Hawaii this week, Seoul’s foreign ministry said Friday.

Seoul made the call during the negotiations on how much it would pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) this year and beyond. The allies wrapped up the two-day talks in Honolulu on Thursday (local time).

Ahead of the negotiation, Seoul stressed it would take a “fair, equitable” share amid Washington’s calls for a hefty rise in its spending under the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a bilateral cost-sharing deal.

“Through the consultations this time, our side stressed that the allies should reach a mutually acceptable agreement in a direction that strengthens the alliance and their combined defense posture,” the ministry said in a press release.

It added that the two sides plan to hold the next round of negotiations in Seoul next month, though a specific date has not yet been decided.

South Korea’s top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, apparently discussed a range of sensitive issues, including the duration of the new SMA and what specific items will be included in the new agreement.

The allies have been under pressure to renew the SMA, as the current deal is set to expire Dec. 31.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper renewed that position Thursday, saying there can be “no free riders” when it comes to common defense.

“There can be no free riders to our shared security. Regardless of geographic location, size or population all must do their part to deter war and defend the alliance,” he told an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund policy think tank in Brussels. “We are only as strong as the investments we are willing to make toward our common defense.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made similar remarks in an interview with a local newspaper.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that other countries have to step up too. Other countries must share the burden for not just the security of the world but security for their own countries,” he said.

Seoul has suggested a “reasonable and equitable” share in response to Washington’s call to pay more for the expenses.

“Our government’s basic position is that the defense cost-sharing negotiations should proceed within the framework of the SMA that we have maintained throughout the past 10 SMA deals,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a press conference Thursday.

This year’s SMA, signed in March, requires South Korea to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$886 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Since 1991, Seoul has shouldered partial costs under the SMA — for Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies’ readiness and other forms of support.