U.S. set to press S. Korea, NATO over burden-sharing next week

November 29, 2019

Next week promises to underscore the Trump administration’s demands that allies pay more for their defense, with a new round of negotiations over South Korea’s contributions to the upkeep of American troops in the country and President Donald Trump’s attendance at a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders.

In Washington, negotiators from South Korea and the United States will hold a fourth round of talks on renewing a cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement.

The two-day meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday will come after the U.S. delegation walked out of the last round of talks in Seoul last week, citing South Korean proposals that “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing.”

South Korea apparently balked at what has been reported to be U.S. demands for a fivefold increase in its contributions to nearly US$5 billion next year.

Under the current SMA, which expires at the end of the year, South Korea is required to pay $870 million for Korean civilians hired by the U.S. Forces Korea, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies’ readiness and other forms of support.

Reports have said the U.S. has asked that under the new SMA South Korea also cover expenditures related to supporting American troops’ families and conducting combined military exercises.

“The United States seeks a fair and equitable outcome to the SMA negotiations for both countries that will strengthen and sustain the resilient U.S.-ROK Alliance,” a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.

“The U.S.-ROK Alliance is strong and vital for regional peace and stability,” the spokesperson continued. “We appreciate the considerable resources the Republic of Korea provides to the U.S.-ROK Alliance, including but not limited to the Korea SMA, but the President has been clear that the Republic of Korea can and should contribute more of its fair share.”

Trump’s determination to get allies to pay more has also affected NATO member states.

On Monday, he is scheduled to travel to London to attend a NATO leaders summit and hold bilateral talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others.

There, Trump “will be urging Germany and other countries to do more,” a senior U.S. government official told reporters in a background press call.

“The president, as you know, has been committed to making NATO stronger and ready to face today’s threats and tomorrow’s challenges,” the official said. “This is why he places such an emphasis on encouraging all allies to live up to their commitments and increase defense spending.”

NATO member states have a target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

The official credited Trump with getting the allies to meet that target.

“Since he has taken office, the Allies have added over $100 billion in new spending,” the official said. “In 2016, only four Allies spent 2 percent of GDP on defense. Now, there are nine, and following through their implementation plans to get the 2 percent, we expect there to be 18 by 2024.”