The United States reportedly has demanded South Korea pay more than $100 million for the cost of deploying its strategic assets in a recent meeting on defense cost sharing between the two allies. The amount was reached based on the usual five to six flights of a fleet of B-1 strategic bombers per year. But the money is three times bigger than the $30 million the U.S. Department of Defense requested in a negotiation last year. CBS News estimated the cost of a B-1B flight around the Korean Peninsula at $1.15 million — or, less than $6 million for five flights at a minimum. Therefore, the United States is suspected to have inflated the amount in an incomprehensible way.
Moreover, a fleet of U.S. B-1Bs reportedly flew from the South and East China Seas to the East Sea of the Korean Peninsula this year instead of flying across the peninsula as they did in the past. That means the United States sent a B-1B fleet as part of its military strategy for Northeast Asia overall — not the Korean Peninsula alone.
Washington says the U.S. military changed their flight course at the request of Seoul not to provoke North Korea. But such an argument can hardly ease Seoul's doubts about Washington trying to force South Korea to bear its defense costs for all of Northeast Asia.
Security analysts link the United States' exaggerated estimates for sending strategic assets to its need to meet U.S. President Donald Trump's demand for $5 billion in annual defense cost sharing from South Korea. Trump seems to regard South Korea and Japan as countries that enjoy a free ride in terms of their security. According to news reports, Trump even demanded $60 billion from South Korea to cover all costs for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). That amount is 13 times more than the $4.46 billion needed for the United States to maintain its forces in South Korea.
Such calculations are shortsighted. The USFK plays a crucial role in not only countering North Korean threats but also checking threats from China and Russia in the volatile region. In particular, Pyeongtaek base on the west coast is strategically more important than any other U.S. bases overseas as it plays a pivotal role in containing China's growing military prowess.
Trump often says the United States is bearing the costs for USFK on its own. That's not true. South Korea provided a huge plot of land for free and built sophisticated facilities there, spending 10 trillion won ($8.57 billion). South Korea's ride isn't free in any sense.
If this kind of unnecessary friction continues, calls for South Korea to protect itself with its own nuclear armaments will certainly grow. That helps neither side in circumstances in which the North Korean nuclear problem is not yet solved and China keeps on building up its military power. Trump must stop making excessive demands of a key ally.
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