Updated January. 13, 2014 06:56
Korea and the U.S. have concluded 10 rounds of negotiations over annual defense costs that will be applied over the next five years. Korea has agreed to pay 920 billion won (867 million U.S. dollars) to the U.S. this year, a 5.8 percent increase from 869.5 billion won (820 million dollars) that Seoul paid last year. This hike in percentile is larger than the 2.5 percent increase that was set at their 2009 talks, but Koreas share of the defense cost is somewhat smaller than 1 trillion won (940 million dollars), which the U.S. initially demanded.
Washington requested Seoul to significantly increase the latters portion in defense cost sharing by citing the American troops beefed-up defense readiness due to heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula and U.S. defense budget that was sharply slashed due to the cuts of sequestration. Since reinforcing the defense capability of the U.S. forces Korea is a critical factor for Koreas security, Seoul cannot disregard Washingtons demand. Defense costs that Korea pays are used to support military construction and military supplies for American troops and labor costs for Korean workers. The special measures agreement (SMA) on defense cost sharing should be ratified by the National Assembly and fine-tuning of the figures could be made in the process of parliamentary ratification.
The U.S. forces Korea had more than 1 trillion won (940 million dollars) that remained unspent, including a portion that was unused from the defense cost paid by Korea, and a surplus fund, earning distrust from the Korea side. The U.S. explained that unspent budget is created because it implements budget by the unit of project rather than by annum. Nevertheless, suspicion was raised over whether Washington is making excessive demand for defense cost sharing. Unlike the situation thus far, Korea will hold prior consultations and coordination with the U.S. from the budget allocation phase. For military construction projects, Seoul and Washington agreed to hold prior consultations at different levels ranging from the working level to ministerial level. If Korea can verify whether the amount of money it pays is properly used, distrust in defense cost sharing will be eased.
The two countries have yet to hold negotiations over revision to the bilateral nuclear treaty and another postponement of the transfer of wartime operational control. On the nuclear talks, the two sides delayed the deadline by two years to 2016, but have yet to narrow major differences despite nine rounds of talks. The planned transfer of wartime operational control is scheduled in December 2015, but it is uncertain whether the transfer will be postponed again. How negotiations over these issues are concluded will determine not only Koreas security but also the nations nuclear technology development and the future of export. Since Korea has made concessions in the talks over defense cost sharing, the U.S. should make sincere efforts to resolve the remaining issues.