As defense cost-sharing negotiations between South Korea and the United States were to take place Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighted the importance of allies sharing the burden for maintaining US forces in their countries.
“I’ve said since I took office, the importance of burden-sharing from all of our allies and partners, whether it’s host nation support in Japan, whether it’s increased GDP from our European allies, the key is to help share the burden,” Esper said Tuesday, speaking to reporters during his trip to Saudi Arabia.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper talks to reporters at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, Tuesday.(AP-Yonhap)
While his remark largely referred to the situation in Saudi Arabia, the message comes in line with what US President Donald Trump has been saying, that the allies should fully compensate for US troops services.
Esper’s statement also came when the negotiation teams of Korea and the US were meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, from Tuesday to Thursday for consultations on sharing the cost of maintaining the 28,500 US troops stationed here next year.
Seoul started to partly bear the cost of the US troops in 1991, when the two allies first inked the Special Measures Agreement. This week’s negotiation in Hawaii is the second round of talks of the 11th SMA. For this year, South Korea agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($867 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.
Announcing this week’s SMA negotiation with South Korea, the US State Department emphasized it is burdened with “enormous costs” as it is investing significant military resources and capabilities to meet defense treaty obligations around the world.
“Sustaining the costs of our global military presence is not a burden that should fall on the US taxpayer alone, but is a responsibility that should be shared fairly with allies and partners who benefit from our presence,” the statement read.
When asked about his thoughts on the views that US forces are becoming a “mercenary force,” Esper refuted the notion and said US forces defend allies and international rules-based order.
Esper also elaborated that burden-sharing can take many forms.
“Burden-sharing includes spending at least 2 percent of your GDP on defense. Burden-sharing includes paying for bases and utilities on bases, etc., that you would find anywhere where we have forces forward-deployed,” he said.
“Burden-sharing also includes, in my view, underwriting deployments, helping offset the costs of deployments. I think it’s a wide menu of things that I would put under the rubric of burden-sharing.”
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)