Seoul and Washington seemed to have considered the need to consolidate the foundation of their alliance amid the unstable security situation on the Korean Peninsula when they reached a deal Sunday on sharing the cost of stationing American troops here.
Under the five-year accord concluded after 10 rounds of negotiations since last July, South Korea is to pay 920 billion won ($866 million) this year to retain U.S. soldiers who help guard against threats from North Korea. The figure represents a 5.8 percent increase from 869.5 billion won that Seoul spent last year under a previous Special Measures Agreement. The two allies also agreed to cap the annual increase rate at no more than 4 percent through 2018.
Since being first signed in 1991, the SMA has been renewed nine times to set South Korea’s share of the cost of hosting American troops, currently numbered at about 28,500 ― a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
This year’s contribution to be made under the latest agreement, which is subject to parliamentary approval here, goes far above South Korean negotiators’ initial pledge to reduce the cost-sharing amount. But it may still be seen as an acceptable compromise with Washington’s demand for an increase of at least 1 trillion won, which U.S. officials claimed would be needed to build up the American military posture on the peninsula despite planned cuts in the Pentagon budget.
Seoul’s negotiators may also be credited for having pushed to introduce some specific devices aimed at enhancing the transparency and accountability of the fund expenditure. The U.S. agreed to strengthen prior consultations and provide South Korea with periodical reports detailing the unspent cash.
Such measures should have been taken earlier. They should now serve as a starting point for clearing doubts held by some critics here over whether the fund has been used strictly for its intended purposes.
It appeared that the two sides were ready to make a compromise on the deal to bolster their alliance in the face of increasingly volatile situations on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia amid North Korea’s internal shake-up, China’s rise and Japan’s shift to unbridled right-wing nationalism. Seoul needs more stable conditions for hosting U.S. troops as it is girding itself for possible military provocations by Pyongyang after the execution of the communist regime’s No. 2 figure Jang Song-thaek. The U.S. also seems to have recently focused on projecting its alliance with South Korea as a linchpin for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
To further cement the footing of their alliance, the two sides should continue consultations based on mutual trust and interests to smooth out differences over other pending issues, including transferring the wartime operational control and renewing an accord on nuclear energy cooperation.