House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge'

House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge'
© Greg Nash

The chairmen of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees have raised the alarm over the Trump administration possibly damaging relationships with key Asian allies, following reports that the United States is insisting that South Korea exponentially up what it pays to house U.S. troops in the country.

“We are concerned by multiple reports that the administration is currently asking South Korea to exponentially increase its annual contribution to roughly $5 billion per year, or more than five times its current contribution,” according to a Nov. 22 letter released on Tuesday by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response The Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin MORE (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelThe Global Fragility Act provides the tools to address long-term impacts of COVID Five primary races to watch on Tuesday USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency MORE (D-N.Y.).

In the letter, Smith and Engel also express concern to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEstablishment-backed Marshall defeats Kobach in Kansas GOP Senate primary Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion Overnight Defense: Marines find human remains after training accident | Fourth service member killed by COVID-19 | Pompeo huddles with Taliban negotiator MORE and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Marines find human remains after training accident | Fourth service member killed by COVID-19 | Pompeo huddles with Taliban negotiator Trump participates in swearing-in of first African American service chief Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE over “reports that the Administration has similar intentions regarding negotiations with Japan.”

Such moves contradict key principles between the countries “and undermine U.S. efforts to affirm an enduring commitment to the region,” the lawmakers write.

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Esper in November visited South Korea visited South Korea and participated in talks on cost-burden sharing, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement on how much South Korea should contribute for the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence in the country.  

In 2019, South Korea spent just under $1 billion to house and maintain U.S. forces on the peninsula, where U.S. troops have been based for nearly 70 years — since the end of the 1950-1953 war between North and South Korea. 

Washington, however, reportedly demanded that Seoul raise to $5 billion its annual contribution for the upkeep of the troops, who are meant to deter North Korea from attacking as well as monitor the region.

While Smith and Engel agree that allies and partners “should fairly contribute to the cost of our presence overseas,” the administration’s demands for a massive increase in annual contributions “serves as a needless wedge between us and allies.”

The lawmakers also ask Esper and Pompeo to provide the total annual cost of maintaining U.S. military forces on the Korean Peninsula, the costs the administration is asking South Korea to cover and the basis for the reported request for increase.

In addition, Smith and Engel want to know what the impact will be on the operations and readiness of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula and U.S. national security in the region if no agreement is reached in the negotiations. They ask for the answers within two weeks.