US, S. Korea start talks next week on divvying up troop expenses
SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea will begin negotiations next week on how much each country will pay for the upkeep of American troops on the peninsula, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Initial discussions for the next Special Measures Agreement will begin Tuesday in Washington, though a statement from the ministry offered no details on how long they will last.
U.S. Embassy officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The latest SMA was signed in January 2009, setting South Korea’s contribution for that year at about $775 million, with provisions for increases for inflation in following years.
There has been rampant speculation in the South Korean press that Washington will push for Seoul to shoulder more of the financial burden of stationing 28,500 troops in South Korea, particularly since the Department of Defense faces significant budget cuts, known as sequestration.
An April report from the Senate Armed Services Committee found that South Korean contributions were not keeping pace with the growth in U.S. costs, and in 2012, U.S. spending was expected to outpace South Korean contributions by $330 million.
The report said South Korea’s contributions had increased by about $42 million between 2008 and 2012 as U.S. non-personnel costs nearly doubled from $592 million to nearly $1.1 billion.
That figure does not include the more than $2 billion in military personnel costs or hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions from South Korea , the report said.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported this week that the U.S. plans to ask Seoul to shoulder half of the cost of stationing troops on the peninsula and that Korean officials plan to reject that request.
Hwang Jihwan, an international relations professor at the University of Seoul, said most South Koreans see the SMA as a way to strengthen their country’s military alliance with the U.S. and are willing to tolerate some increase in contributions. But many believe Washington will ask for too much, he said.
“They think South Korea needs USFK (U.S. Forces Korea). Nowadays, however, there is negative awareness about USFK troops’ behavior outside bases because of several [criminal] cases,” he said. “Some South Koreans think the U.S. has no right to make such excessive demands of us.”