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S. Korea, US fail to strike defense cost-sharing deal

South Korea and the US failed to close negotiations on how to share the costs for the stationing of American troops here, an official said Friday, with the allies still at loggerheads on the total amount of money Seoul has to pay.

South Korean negotiator Chang Won-sam and his US counterpart Timothy Betts held the 10th round of meetings from Tuesday to Thursday in Seoul on the renewal of the Special Measures Agreement that is set to expire Dec. 31.

Under the current SMA, a five-year contract between the US and South Korea, South Korea pays about 960 billion won ($848.8 million) per year for the stationing of more than 28,500 American troops here.

“Apart from one or two focal points, including the total amount, we reached agreements on every issue and drafted a document. But the final deal was not made due to differences on the total amount,” said an official from the Foreign Ministry on condition of anonymity.

The two countries are unlikely to seal a deal before the end of the year. In this case, the agreement from this year will be extended and the difference in the amount will be covered by a reserve fund, according to the official.

Seoul and Washington have held a total of 10 rounds of talks since they began a new round of negotiations in March.

They have negotiated how much South Korea will pay for the stationing of the USFK; how long the agreement will be valid; how sharply costs will increase every year; and whether Seoul will financially support Washington’s deployment of strategic assets here.


A major sticking point has been the total amount of money Seoul has to pay.

Trump has stepped up pressure on South Korea to pay a bigger share of US defense costs on the Korean Peninsula, questioning why the US is “subsidizing” its allies’ militaries.

Trump is demanding South Korea pay as much as double the current amount, equivalent to $1.6 billion per year for the next five years, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. It reported the Trump administration is pushing for 150 percent of the current deal, or about $1.2 billion. 

The allies will continue consultations through diplomatic channels, the official said.

The failure to seal a deal in time is expected to cause problems for about 8,000 South Koreans working for the USFK.

The USFK sent a letter to the Korean Employees’ Union last week, warning that Korean employees working at its bases may be forced to go on unpaid leave if a new cost-sharing deal is not struck. Seoul pays about 70 percent of the wages for the workers.

The official said that Seoul’s Defense Ministry will consult the US’ side to find a solution.

Since 1991, the allies have held talks to draw up special-measures agreements on how the allies share the costs of stationing USFK in three sectors -- payroll, construction and logistics -- to support its stable presence and defend against North Korea’s military threats.

By Ock Hyun-ju (
Korea Herald Youtube