The U.S. is moving toward a rupture with two important allies, South Korea and Japan. Already, President Trump has reportedly demanded a five-fold increase in the amount South Korea pays toward the cost of stationing U.S. forces there, raising the amount to $5 billion a year. Reports suggest that Washington is likely to seek a similar increase from Tokyo to support the cost of U.S. troops based there in next year’s negotiations.
For decades, Trump has derided America’s allies as “free-riders” who don’t pull their own weight. That is an inaccurate depiction of the large contributions provided to the U.S. by South Korea and Japan over the decades.
South Korea spends 2.6% of its gross domestic product on defense; that’s more than any of our European allies. By 2022, South Korea will be among the world’s top five or six highest spenders on defense. Seoul paid 92% of the $11-billion cost for building Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. base on foreign soil, and over the last four years, South Korea has purchased $13 billion in arms from the United States.
South Korea has fought alongside the United States in every conflict since the Korean War. Seoul sent 300,000 troops to the Vietnam War, and 5,000 of its soldiers were killed. At one point, it fielded the third-largest troop contingent in Iraq after the United States and Britain. It has also conducted anti-piracy operations off Somalia and participated in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, East Timor and elsewhere.