Some 9000 South Korean employees at US bases in the country may be forced to go on unpaid leave if no cost-sharing deal is reached between Washington and Seoul.
On Monday, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet South Korean minister of defense Jeong Kyeong-doo to discuss a range of bilateral issues including the regional security environment, policy toward North Korea, the planned transition of wartime operational control (OPCON), and the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) cost-sharing deal.
The SMA outlines South Korea’s contributions to the non-personnel costs of hosting the US military. Contributions are divided across three categories: Korean National labor, ROK funded construction, and logistics, with the vast majority of SMA contributions going back into the Republic of Korea (ROK) economy.
Since 1991, the SMA has been updated every five years to ensure Seoul shares about half of the burden. Funding provided under the 10th Special Measures Agreement lapsed on December 31, 2019.
To sustain American troops, the US says it has been using its own funds that will get exhausted on March 31, 2020. If agreement cannot be reached on a comprehensive new SMA, the Pentagon says, it will be “necessary to furlough most KN employees on April 1, 2020, and suspend many construction and logistics activities.”
The US Forces Korea (USFK) claimed that South Korea paid only around $860 million for the 28,500 American troops deployed there in 2018. That reportedly accounted for 41% of the non-personnel costs. The White House is now demanding yearly renewal of the agreement, and a nearly a 100% increase in Seoul’s pay up, according to some reports.
US President Donald Trump has reportedly called on Seoul to cover the cost of deploying new aircraft carriers and bombers. The US has already deployed two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers to South Korea.
“Furloughs may be avoided if the ROK agrees to a more equitable SMA. The US remains committed to negotiating a mutually acceptable agreement which provides for fair and equitable burden sharing and strengthens the US-ROK alliance,” a Pentagon statement read.