South Korea Officials Laugh at Trump’s Demand for $5 Billion to Keep US Army There

Seems Trump isn't getting his $5 billion but is the silly number just an excuse to draw down forces?

According to a report on July 30 from a South Korean newspaper, Washington has requested that the government in Seoul pay $5 billion next year for the continued presence of its armed forces on South Korean soil. This would be more than a fivefold increase from 2019, when Seoul paid $879 million.

During my recent visit to Seoul, numerous high-ranking South Korean officials and academics actually laughed at this request, amused by the absurdity of such a high number.

However, it should not be laughed at. The unreasonableness of $5 billion is the entire point: the Trump administration understands that Seoul will not pay, especially after it funded the $10.7 billion upgrade of the U.S. garrison, Camp Humphreys. Washington wants to use it as leverage to curb and eventually pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. [Or in fact Trump will settle for a much lower sum in the end and declare victory like usual.]

This would not only be a massive boon for North Korea, China and Russia — all South Korea’s rivals — but would also signal to U.S. allies around the world that its military presence abroad is based on tit-for-tat economic exchange, not mutual security.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tried to frame the request positively. He tweeted he was asking South Korea for a greater financial contribution:

“South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America. The relationship between the two countries is a very good one!”

But the desire to remove U.S. troops is not a new one for Trump. Since the 1990s, he has repeatedly said that he thinks U.S. allies freeload and take advantage of America.

He has specifically mentioned South Korea as a prime example of a rich allied nation that “rips off” the U.S. For example, in a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, Trump said, “I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies, i.e. Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea etc.”

In a 2013 interview with Fox News, Trump reiterated that South Korea takes advantage of the U.S. He said: “We send all those aircraft carriers over. All those ships, the planes, the bombers. And we get nothing out of it.”

Trump believes that the U.S. military presence in South Korea is a lose-lose situation since — to his mind — South Korea then takes advantage of the U.S. in trade.

Although Trump can be wildly inconsistent, his belief that South Korea is a freeloader has been remarkably consistent.

This conviction will certainly not change if he emerges victorious from the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which I believe he will.

Trump’s odd friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un also factors into this $5 billion request. His rapprochement with the North Korean leadership has been a centerpiece of his foreign policy. He cannot afford to lose favor with Pyongyang and needs to reward Kim’s patience for not testing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, Pyongyang has routinely called for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from South Korea. This has been a long-standing goal of the North Korean leadership, which views United States Forces Korea, or USFK, as a national security threat.

Trump and Kim’s mutual distaste for the U.S. military presence in South Korea could thus result in a peculiar situation in which their political agendas overlap. It becomes a win-win position for Trump.

What should South Korea do? It should call Washington’s bluff and pay the $5 billion.

It cannot afford not to. Currently, South Korea is in a volatile geostrategic environment. With heightened tensions with Japan and the recent violation of Korean airspace by Russian planes, Seoul is in no place to negotiate. [Actually the pro-peace Moon might welcome a reduced American footpring on the peninsula and fewer American obstacles to peace between Koreas.]

Combined with the innovation of the Korean people and investment from the state, the continued U.S. military presence has helped the peninsula remain in a relative state of peace and thus contributed to the remarkable economic prosperity of South Korea. [Actually the continued US military presence has helped to make and keep North Korea a regimented garrison state and allow the system to get away with remarkable levels of repression under the guise of necessity of countering the American superpower. It also helped to for decades prop up vicious South Korean dictators against their people.]

If USFK leaves South Korea, North Korea may feel emboldened to launch an attack on South Korean territory. [Nonsense.] China and Russia will exert pressure on Seoul and pull the smaller nation into its economic orbit. South Korea needs USFK more than ever.

Some may feel that Seoul paying the $5 billion request would be playing into Trump’s strategy. That is not true. As Trump explains in his 1987 book “Art of the Deal,” “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.” In other words, Trump knows that his first offer will often not be the eventual outcome.

However, by calling his bluff, South Korea will not only secure the continued presence of USFK but limit external pressure from its adversarial neighbors. Trump is a renegade but by understanding his tactics, South Korea can remain one step ahead of him.

Unfortunately, I do not believe they will do that. Opposition to a U.S. military presence in Korea is deeply ingrained in the political thought of the left, which tends to be ultranationalist, particularly since the democratization movement of the 1980s.

Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in for foreign affairs and national security, said in a 2018 interview with The Atlantic: “For me, the best thing is to really get rid of [the] alliance.”

The adviser’s wish may soon come true if Trump wins reelection in 2020.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

  1. Vish says

    This article deliberately avoids what America is really doing by “asking” for a measly
    5 billion dollars from South Korea.

    Mafia gangsters would accurately call it a Shakedown.

    The United States is simply demanding more money from South Korea as payment for the American military mafia’s global protection racket.

  2. Skoolafish says

    There is no need for these foreign troops – there is simply no one to defend against. The Korean people know what they want …


    • YU-NA KIM – “Arirang” (Korean Folk Song)

    • Meaning Behind the Song Arirang

    • Moranbong Band – Arirang

    1. Daisy says

      Beautiful videos. Thank you for the up votes Skoolafish, hope you are well.

    2. EmilyEnso says

      Its the one sport I follow.
      The Europeans, world and olympics.
      If you have a moment watch this.
      To me the ultimate of all skaters and in an amazing performance.

  3. Undecider says

    Even if Trump is completely ignorant of why U.S. military bases are in foreign countries, at least he’ll do good by making the attempt to remove them. Good luck with that!

    1. Mary E says

      Here is one time I am hoping trump is successful….if he is serious about getting the US military out of S Korea…they want it also, so get on with it, US!

  4. Mary E says

    The US is the one that wanted (wants) to place its military in over 800 locations all over the world…I never heard of any country begging the US to move its military into their countries! (Well, except Poland) Now that the bases are in place, the US is saying that it is there for the benefit of the ‘occupied’ country?? Oh please, take all your war toys and go home where you belong!! And don’t come have done enough damage to world unity – and any prospects of peace. Warmongers run the US

    1. Wesley says


  5. CHUCKMAN says

    I wish it were so.

    But I think this is more dream-spinning, along the lines of Trump is leaving Syria.

    It gives too much credit to Trump for cunning, something we’ve actually seen remarkably little of from him.

    He shoots off his mouth in ten directions, and I don’t think it sound to regard any of them as being very serious or cleverly planned.

    And, bottom line, he is not really running the show as far as American forces and bases go. We saw that in Syria.

    Of course, his bellowing about others paying more for dear old America’s occupations is just what this erratic man does.

    It makes good headlines for his flock.

    1. DarkEyes says

      Mr Trump knows very well what he is doing.
      He hopes by this request, South Korea is refusing so giving him the right excuse to either pull out of S-K or at least be able to reduce the amount of troops in S-K.

      Here are his five billions lying, by withdrawing the redundantcy.

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