Asia Minute: Deal Reached on South Korean Burden Sharing

Feb 6, 2019

South Korean and American Airmen step to their jets in preparation for takeoff during the Buddy Wing program at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
Credit Senior Airman Dana Hill / U.S. Air Force

During his State of the Union address last night, President Trump announced he’ll be meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam at the end of the month. In another regional development, the United States and South Korea have apparently reached a deal on financing U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula.

It’s been an issue under discussion for nearly a year: who pays for the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea?

It’s a roughly 2-billion-dollar question.

Costs are split between the United States and South Korea – the diplomatic phrase is “burden-sharing.”

U.S. Forces Korea estimates South Korea pays about 41-percent of the cost of keeping forces and their dependents in the country. Although it also paid for 90-percent of an 11-billion-dollar ten-year re-build of a U.S. military base.

Up to now, the numbers have been negotiated every five years — in the “Special Measures Agreement” – the last one expired at the end of December.

According to South Korean media, the U.S. was demanding South Korean annual payments go from about 850 million dollars to one and a quarter billion — or more. Local reports say the South Koreans were looking to keep the cost under a billion dollars — with at least a three year deal.

The final numbers have not been announced, but according to both U.S. and South Korean media, it’s a one-year agreement with South Korea paying about a billion dollars. It’s significant that the deal was settled before President Trump meets again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Next up on the military diplomacy front: the announcement of a revised schedule for the next round of U.S. and South Korean military exercises.