January 28, 2020

Senators Menendez, Reed Raise Heightened Diplomatic and Military Risk Posed by Trump Admin’s Failure to Finalize Defense Cost-Sharing Deal with South Korea

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, raised their concerns with the Trump Administration’s failure to reach a deal determining South Korea’s new financial contributions to help pay for the current level of American military troops stationed in the Korean peninsula. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Senators urged the Administration to reconsider its current posture in the negotiations for a new burden-sharing agreement known as Special Measures Agreement (SMA). The most recent SMA expired on December 31st, 2019.

“A fair and mutually-beneficial burden sharing agreement that reflects the realities of the twenty-first century is an essential element to strengthen a strong and durable US-ROK alliance,” wrote the Senators. “The Administration’s fixation on its notion of burden-sharing belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of our alliance with the Republic of Korea and the importance of the US strategic position in the Indo-Pacific, and is almost-guaranteed to fail.”

The government of South Korea has previously announced its disposition to make greater contributions to its own defense and to the alliance to protect itself from North Korea. However,  the ongoing stalemate in negotiations threatens to jeopardize the U.S.-ROK relationship and our nation’s presence in the Indo-Pacific.

“We agree that there are significant areas where the Republic of Korea can and should make a greater contribution to its own defense and to the alliance.  We note, however, that following the conclusion of the 2019 agreement wherein the Republic of Korea agreed to increase its contribution to approximately $925 million for one year, the Department of Defense testified before Congress that the current burden-sharing agreement was fair and mutually beneficial,” added the Senators.

Absent a new SMA agreement between Presidents Trump and Moon, the United States government expects it will soon begin furloughing thousands of South Korean civilians working at U.S. bases in the Peninsula.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found HERE and below

. Dear Secretaries Pompeo and Esper, We write today to express our concern about the still unresolved Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations between the United States and the Republic of Korea, one of our closest allies.  It is almost a month since the lapse of the previous SMA, and no resolution appears in sight, creating increasing diplomatic and military risk on the Peninsula.

A fair and mutually-beneficial burden sharing agreement that reflects the realities of the twenty-first century is an essential element to strengthen a strong and durable US-ROK alliance.  The Administration’s fixation on its notion of burden-sharing belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of our alliance with the Republic of Korea and the importance of the US strategic position in the Indo-Pacific, and is almost-guaranteed to fail.

We note that the Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy emphasizes the unique benefits and critical importance of these alliances that the United States has led and nurtured for the past several decades.  These critical alliances enable a cost-effective and strategically-vital forward-deployed posture and presence in the region for U.S. national security.

The Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report refers to the U.S.-South Korea alliance as “the linchpin of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, as well as the Korean Peninsula.” Our alliance with Korea is critical to deter adversaries, provide stability to the region, shape the environment, and endows US forces in the region with leverage that enhances our nation’s security, extends our values, and enables our prosperity.

Yet the current US negotiating position appears to contradict these key principles and undermines our enduring commitment to the Republic of Korea.

We agree that there are significant areas where the Republic of Korea can and should make a greater contribution to its own defense and to the alliance. We note, however, that following the conclusion of the 2019 agreement wherein the Republic of Korea agreed to increase its contribution to approximately $925 million for one year, the Department of Defense testified before Congress that the current burden-sharing agreement was fair and mutually beneficial.

The United States and the Republic of Korea face shared challenges, from the grave and growing threat presented by North Korea’s on-going nuclear, ballistic, missile, and conventional military programs to the necessity of forging a unified approach to China’s growing regional assertiveness.  Achieving a fair and mutually beneficial SMA is essential to these ends.  It should bind us closer together, not serve as a wedge that drives our ally away.

We reiterate our support for a burden-sharing agreement that is fair and mutually beneficial.  But given the clear and overwhelming benefits for our own national security, we urge you to reconsider the administration’s current negotiating posture, which threatens to jeopardize our alliance relationships, our posture, and our presence in the Indo-Pacific. We look forward to your prompt response.

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Press Contact

Juan Pachon (Menendez) 202-224-4651

Chip Unruh (Reed), 202-224-4642