SEOUL — After months of delays, the South Korean National Assembly on Wednesday easily approved a defense cost-sharing agreement that offsets the costs of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula.
Lawmakers voted 131-26 in favor of the Special Measures Agreement, with 35 abstentions, according to an Assembly officer. The agreement goes into effect immediately.
Negotiations on the SMA began last summer and were initially scheduled to end last fall. However, South Korean opposition groups complained that the U.S. was asking Seoul to contribute too much without giving it enough oversight of how those funds were spent.
The two countries eventually reached an agreement in January that said Seoul would increase its annual contributions by about 6 percent, to 920 billion won, or about $861 million. Yearly increases due to inflation will be capped at 4 percent.
A Congressional Research Service report issued earlier this year said that in response to South Korean criticism, the new SMA would increase the transparency of USFK’s use of South Korean money. Under the new agreement, USFK must submit an annual report on SMA funds to the National Assembly, and the South Korean government must approve every contract that uses SMA funds.
“Even with these changes, Korean opposition lawmakers complained that the agreement is ‘humiliating,’” the report said.
Despite the new oversight measures, the SMA stalled at the subcommittee level of the National Assembly.
With the old SMA expiring on April 1, USFK had warned earlier this year that it might be forced to furlough thousands of its South Korean employees working with the U.S. military because their salaries are mostly paid through the Seoul-provided funds. However, USFK announced last month that it would fully fund workers’ salaries to avert the furloughs.