[Editorial] Using S. Korea’s USFK funds to support US Forces Japan is nonsensical and violates the SMA

Posted on : 2020-05-27 18:08 KST Modified on : 2020-05-27 18:08 KST
The US Forces Japan (USFJ) logo
The US Forces Japan (USFJ) logo

It has emerged that 13.4 billion won (US$10.9 million) from South Korea’s share of defense costs with the US last year was used for F-35 aircraft, HH-60 search and rescue helicopter equipment, and other equipment for US Forces Japan (USFJ). This use of the South Korean taxpayers’ money that is supposed to go toward US Forces Korea is contrary not only to the law but to all common sense.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) explained on May 26 that “support for US military equipment stationed outside of the Korean Peninsula ultimately contributes to South Korea’s security, as it is provided for military power that would provide reinforcements on the peninsula in the event of an emergency.” It also said that the “servicing for the equipment in question was performed by Korean Air and other South Korean companies. But the MND’s version merely looked at things through the narrow lens of military operations.

Article 1 of the 10th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on defense cost sharing concluded in February 2019 states that South Korea “shall bear, for the duration of this Agreement, as a special measure relating to Article V of the Status of Forces Agreement, a part of the expenditures associated with the stationing of the US Armed Forces in the Republic of Korea.”

It clearly indicates that the purpose is to share the costs of stationing USFK. Since the time of the 10th agreement, the US has been calling on South Korea to share costs associated with the deployment of strategic weaponry outside of the Korean Peninsula. It has been the consistent position of the South Korean government that this does not fall within the SMA’s scope as a rule.

South Korea has paid around 16.28 trillion won (US$13.19 billion) to the US as a share of defense costs since the first SMA in 1991. While the money has been paid by the government out of its budget, the Board of Audit and Inspection has never conducted a review of accounts or accounting audit. Under these conditions, USFJ used some 13.4 billion won (US$10.9 million) of the 1.04 trillion won (US$842.9 million) share of defense costs last year. For South Korea’s taxpayers, this is unacceptable.

Japan also contributes a share of USFJ defense costs. According to a 2019 US Congressional Research Service report, Japan’s share of defense costs comes to 74.5%. This means USFJ has been receiving money from both Japan and South Korea.

In their current negotiations on the 11th SMA, South Korea and the US have been unable to bridge their differences over the amount by which South Korea’s share is to be increased. This is because of the immoderate demands coming from the US. Rather than simply allowing the practice of funds being diverted to USFJ to continue, the South Korean government needs to use these negotiations as an opportunity to correct it.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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