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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 22)

Diplomacy 07:03 January 22, 2020

USFK as 'form of aid'
Troops in South Korea represent common interests

The Donald Trump administration's perception of the U.S. troop presence in South Korea, illustrated in the 110-page Trial Memorandum for the Senate's impeachment proceedings, is baffling enough for South Koreans.

It is nasty that Trump is using negotiations with South Korea over how to share the cost of the troop deployment for his own defense in the impeachment trial. What is more awful is that Trump sees the stationing of U.S. troops here as a "form of foreign aid."

Trump may be partly right because American soldiers stationed in South Korea, as a symbol of alliance, represent common strategic interests of both nations. The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has contributed to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region, and we cannot deny this. However, it is also true that the U.S. has been operating its military bases here to promote its interests in this part of the world. The USFK -- like American soldiers stationed in other countries -- is part of its global military strategy.

But what is happening since Trump's inauguration in January 2017 to the two countries regarding this particular matter gives the impression that the U.S. is "reluctantly" deploying troops in the South because the latter wants them even through it is too costly for the U.S. Regrettably, we feel that the dominant message from the U.S. in dealing with the USFK cost-sharing issue under Trump has been, "You pay enough for our troops, or we will pull them out."

Trump may be successful in cutting the U.S. burden for operating the USFK with this negotiating tactic during his tenure, but this will certainly transform the ROK-U.S. alliance in a way that damages Washington's long-term interests here.

Few South Koreans will be pleasant about the USFK being regarded as a form of aid.

In the memo to the Senate, Trump's defense cited South Korea's case to defend him from accusations that he used U.S. military aid to Ukraine to pressure it to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden. Maintaining that Trump has often paused, re-evaluated and even canceled "foreign aid" programs, the memo said, for example, that he announced in August 2019 that Washington and Seoul were in talks to increase substantially Seoul's share of the expense of U.S. military support for it. Other examples cited by the Trump side to justify his behavior regarding Ukraine were his decisions to suspend aid to Afghanistan and cut or pause aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The U.S. has reportedly demanded a five-fold increase of the South's annual payment to $5 billion in the ongoing defense cost negotiations. In a joint column in the Wall Street Journal, published last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper described Seoul as a "dependent" on Washington, claiming it should contribute more to its national defense.

What is South Korea for President Trump and his aides? Is it strange for South Korea to question the true meaning of the alliance? One thing now seems clear. Like it or not, we need to redefine the alliance with the U.S.


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