Trump Pushes South Korea to Pay More for US Troops

April 21, 2020 Updated: April 21, 2020

President Donald Trump said he’s pushing South Korea to pay more toward the 30,000-strong U.S. military forces in the country, and confirmed he has rejected one offer of increased payments.

Addressing a question during the daily press briefing on April 20, Trump said a reduction in troop numbers wasn’t on the negotiating table.

“It’s not a question of reduction, it’s a question of, ‘Will they contribute toward the defense of their own nation?'” he said. “We’re defending nations that are very wealthy. South Korea’s a very wealthy nation.”

“We are negotiating for President Moon and for South Korea to help us out monetarily.”

Trump has previously said the U.S. military presence South Korea was “$5 billion worth of protection.”

Trump noted that U.S. troops have been on the Korean peninsula for eight decades.

U.S. troops have been deployed permanently in South Korea since the Korean War, where they operate under a unified command with local troops predominantly to counter the threat from the north.

Trump emphasized the positive alliance between the two countries, saying that they had a wonderful relationship, and praised Moon, but said the current arrangement wasn’t fair.

“Before I came onboard, they paid very little, if anything,” said Trump. “Last year I went to them, and now they are paying $1 billion a year. And I went to them again, and I said, ‘Look, I’ll be back, because that’s just a fraction.'”

“We’re asking them to pay for a big percentage of what we’re doing,” said Trump.

The United States seeks up to $5 billion a year, South Korean lawmakers told Reuters in 2019—more than five times the $890 million they say South Korea agreed to pay last year.

Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House on April 18, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Neither country has officially verified the numbers.

“Now they’ve offered us a certain amount of money, and I’ve rejected it,” Trump said during the April 20 briefing, but he didn’t state the amount. “What’s going to happen, I can’t tell you, but we’ll find out fairly soon.”

He had earlier said that they were asking South Korea to pay for “a big percentage of what we’re doing.”

“I think the taxpayers in our country want to hear these things,” said Trump, after describing how he wanted other allied countries to start paying more.

When Trump came into office, he chastised NATO members and other U.S. allies for paying too little toward shared defense and suggested that withdrawing from alliances was on the table.

That led some observers to interpret the newly-born America First foreign policy strategy as a shunning of old alliances.

However, the Trump administration’s U.S. National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy emphasized the importance of partnerships as a cornerstone of tackling the renewed “great power competition” with Russia and China.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and President Donald Trump
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and President Donald Trump shake hands in the Oval Office at the White House on April 2, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Trump’s repeated calls for other countries to increase their financial contributions have made a real impact, with tens of billions of dollars added.

“What he’s doing is to help us adapt the alliance, which we need because we live in a more unpredictable world with a more assertive Russia using violence and force against a neighbor, Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “And therefore, NATO has to adapt.”

NATO countries in 2014 agreed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs on defense, a commitment which not all have met.

By comparison, South Korea’s military spending has increased, growing by 9.3 percent in the latest budget, and by more than 7.5 percent in the previous two years.

“South Korea is among the top customers for U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS),” according to the Congressional Research Service. “From 2008 to 2016, ROK FMS contracts with the United States totaled $15.7 billion, and commercial acquisitions totaled $6.9 billion.”

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