President Trump wants South Korea to pay the U.S. 50 percent more for American protection — more formally referred to as the “Special Measures Agreement” to pay the cost of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula. The problem: South Korean officials do not want anything to do with a 50 percent increase. Also, the agreement expired on December 31, so the U.S.-RoK relationship is in a kind of informal limbo state at the moment.
And it’s not for lack of trying to reach an agreement. In fact, there have been 10 rounds of talks between the U.S. and South Korea just since March, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The last deal, struck in 2014, had Seoul paying about $848 million annually (that is, 960 billion won) to host about 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula.
The Trump admin’s desired deal cost $1.2 billion a year (that is, 1.4 trillion won annually), or “about 1.5 times [South Korea’s] current contribution, according to Hong Young-pyo, a senior ruling party legislator,” Reuters writes.
According to one RoK lawmaker, Kang Seok-ho, “the government’s stance was not to pay more than 1 trillion won a year and an agreement should be valid for five years, not one year as reportedly sought by the United States.”
“Yikes,” tweeted Ankit Panda of The Diplomat. “Don’t sleep on how bad is getting worse quickly here.”
Another underappreciated dynamic: possible furloughs for Korean civilians working with the U.S. military. Reuters writes that the U.S. Defense Department notified some they may not have work come April if the current impasse persists. That would seem to be a dynamic “Not likely to help Trump’s popularity any in South Korea,” Panda added, flagging this prescient mid-December report from South Korea’s Yonhap News agency.
Writes Jeffrey Lewis: “Trump is shutting down the US-ROK alliance in much the same way he is shutting down the US government, holding negotiations hostage to an unreasonable demand.”
What next? Unclear, since Reuters notes there is no next meeting yet scheduled.
Asia-watcher Mara Rapp-Hooper’s forecast: “Trump’s shakedown of ROK could lead to: 1) loss of political influence with ally we most need on NK; 2) degraded defense and deterrence on Korean Peninsula; 3) Seoul looking for other security options. List goes on and both KJU and Xi watching.”
Consolation read: “U.S. and North Korean Spies Have Held Secret Talks for a Decade,” by Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel of The Wall Street Journal.
From Defense One
China Might Be Bugging US Subways — But There’s a Bigger Problem // Miriam Pemberton: Years of neglecting public infrastructure has undercut the U.S. manufacturing base.
FBI Agents Detail Shutdown’s Toll // Charles S. Clark: The FBI Agents Association is documenting the harms that the funding freeze have inflicted on investigations, travel, training, payments to confidential sources and employee benefits.
It’s day 33 of the partial U.S. government shutdown, and today we learned seven in 10 Americans don’t think the issue of a border wall is worth shutting down the government, according to a new survey from CBS News. (But break it down by party lines, and 65 percent of Republicans want a budget with a wall, and 69 percent of Democrats refuse to fund it.)
As well, “Six in 10 think [the shutdown] is causing serious problems for the country,” and “about 1 in 5 Americans report being personally impacted by the cutback in services or programs caused by the shutdown.”
Extra reading: Retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, 25th Commandant of the USCG: “Breaking Faith with America’s Coast Guard.”
Also on Tuesday: The FBI Agents Association released a 72-page report detailing how the shutdown is slowing down counter-terrorism, child abuse, and gang investigations. An excerpt: “We have lost several sources who have worked for months, and years, to penetrate groups and target subjects.”
U.S.-backed forces in Syria think they’re about to finish the war against ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports this morning. The city of al-Baghuz Foqani, in Deir al-Zor governorate, was reportedly the last town in Syria held by ISIS. That leaves the surrounding farmlands to clear with U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. A bit more from Kurdistan24 news, here.
Turkish President Erdogan is in Moscow today to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Voice of America reports from Istanbul. Background: “Turkish forces are poised to launch a major military operation against the Syrian YPG Kurdish militia.” Much more context, here.
Trump’s desire to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military cleared a few hurdles Tuesday from a temporary Supreme Court order lifting two nationwide injunctions on the ban. CNN: “In an unsigned 5-4 order, the justices took no stance on the legality of the ban, first proposed in a surprise tweet by Trump in 2017, but Tuesday’s action clears the way for it to take effect while lower courts hear additional arguments.” Read through at the CNN link for exceptions and the waiver options available to current transgender service members.
Need more clarity? Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has a decent explainer on what injunctions are currently in place and why and what could happen next, here.
For the record: The Defense Department told CNN it would not implement the ban until a final injunction in the state of Maryland is likely dissolved. Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin explains a little further, here.
Key threats, according to the intelligence community’s new guiding strategy: adversaries who exploit “the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals” and “increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West.”
The 36-page document, released Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to guide the intelligence community for the next four years, “marks the latest sign of discord between the nation’s spy services and President Trump,” writes the Los Angeles Times. “Trump isn’t solely responsible for those geopolitical and security shifts, but he has championed at least some of those disruptive trends.” Russia and others are trying to seize on Trump’s clashes with U.S. allies and his praise for autocrats, the paper writes. Read on, here.
Climate change a threat. D1’s Katie Bo Williams: “It lists climate change as a driver of migration and, by extension, extremism—language that was noticeably absent from Trump’s National Defense Strategy.”
Tech emphasis: The strategy emphasizes new technology, space, and cyber as areas the IC needs to watch.
“Otherwise, there isn’t much in here that’s a big strategic shift from the last iteration of this thing (under DNI Clapper),” Williams writes.
Shoring up alliances: Also on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill, 357-22, to block President Trump from withdrawing from NATO.
A Russian heavy bomber — a Tu-22M3 — jet crashed in the Arctic during an exercise on Tuesday, killing three of the four crew members, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported.
Related reading: “3 Russian Military Aircraft Have Crashed In The Last Week,” via Task & Purpose. (The other two: two Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers collided over the Sea of Japan last week.)
Should America’s military fear Russia’s new S-400 air defense system? Thomas Grove of The Wall Street Journal has a (paywalled) feature on just that question.
Two drones were detected at 3,500 feet near Newark Airport, halting all arrivals briefly on Tuesday. The brief pause had a ripple effect that affected flights for two hours, FAA officials said. Read.
Lastly today: McMaster to FDD. H.R. McMaster, the fast-rising three-star who served as Trump’s national security adviser for 13 months, has become chairman of the advisory board to the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He joins former defense secretary Leon Panetta and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work on the board.