“Shakedown” near the 38th parallel. South Korea needs to be paying the U.S. more money to host American troops on the peninsula, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during his visit to Seoul today. “This is a very strong alliance we have,” Esper said, “but Korea is a wealthy country and could and should pay more to help offset the cost of defense.”
Last year, Seoul agreed to pay $927 million for the U.S. forces — negotiated under what’s called a Special Measures Agreement, or SMA. In 2018, that contribution came to $850 million, covering about 40 percent of the total U.S. cost of $1.8 billion, the Washington Post calculated earlier this year.
The U.S. is asking as much as $5 billion this time around, according to one Korean lawmaker, and an echo of one of President Donald Trump’s remarks about how much U.S. protection from North Korea costs from his perspective.
Here’s a counteroffer Seoul could put on the table, according to the editorial board of South Korea’s conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper: “longer missiles, a nuclear sub, and nuclear weapons sharing like NATO,” Toby Dalton, who co-directs the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program, summarized helpfully on Twitter.
For what it’s worth, “The current agreement expires Dec. 31,” the Wall Street Journal notes. And prior negotiations “stretched more than a month past the year-end deadline.”
The South Korean military perspective: “We have agreed to set our expenditure at a reasonable level going forward and also in a direction that takes the alliance further,” said Jeong Kyeong-doo, South Korea’s defense minister.
SecDef Esper’s perspective: “It is crucial that we conclude the [SMA] … with increased burden-sharing by the Republic of Korea before the end of the year,” he told reporters Friday.
Said MIT’s Vipin Narang to CNN: “Nothing says I love you like a shakedown.”
And U.S. lawmakers’ concerns? They appear to be split along party lines, CNN reports. Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts was “troubled” by the SOFA increase. Sens. Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. James Risch of Idaho could not be reached for comment.
And what do Koreans think? “A survey by the government-affiliated Korea Institute for National Unification released last week showed 96% of South Koreans opposed paying more for the U.S. military presence,” according to Reuters. Review the U.S.-South Korean relationship in an August backgrounder from the Congressional Research Service, here.
Next in the SMA saga: Another round of negotiations is scheduled for November 18 and 19 in Seoul, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
From Defense One
Amazon Will Protest JEDI Cloud Contract; Cites ‘Political Influence’ // Frank R. Konkel, Nextgov: In July, Trump said he was looking into the $10 billion contract, which went to Microsoft last month.
Erdogan Blasts US at White House. Was That Good for NATO? // Kevin Baron: Critics howled at Trump’s invitation to the Turkish autocrat. Others clench their teeth and say it’s paramount to keep Ankara in the anti-Russian alliance.
US Is Moving Too Slowly to Harness Drones and AI, Former SOCOM Commander Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Tony Thomas says he wishes he’d spent less time growing his command and more time pushing it to embrace new technology.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: “Remoras” in DOD’s AI market; Could Turkey rejoin F-35?; Gun-export changes, and more.
We Haven’t Done Enough to Ensure That America Never Tortures Again // Michael R. Lehnert: The first post-9/11 commander of the Gitmo detention facility maps out what’s done and what still needs doing.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1864, the industrial section of Atlanta is set ablaze by the men of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman as they began their march to the sea.
Live, now: The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted from her post earlier this year is testifying to the House impeachment inquiry. “Marie Yovanovitch was recalled from Kyiv early amid a smear campaign waged by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his allies accusing her of disloyalty to the White House and of attempting to interfere in Ukraine’s justice system—accusations Yovanovitch and other witnesses have attributed to her anti-corruption work, which may have stymied certain Trump allies’ business interests,” Politico reports.
So far: Yovanovitch has told lawmakers that “shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American Ambassador who does not give them what they want.” She also criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his unwillingness to state publicly “that the attacks against me are dangerously wrong.”
The Taliban blame the U.S. for postponing a prisoner swap with the Afghan government, Reuters reports today from Peshawar and Kabul. The plan had been for Kabul officials to release “a leader of the Taliban’s Haqqani militant faction and two other commanders in exchange for two university professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks.” But somehow, the three Haqqani fighters were returned to a prison at Bagram Air Base.
“It was a shortcoming from the American side the swap did not happen,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. “The deal was we would free them after our prisoners landed in Qatar,” a Taliban source said. But those prisoners never arrived to Doha.
Meantime, King and Weeks have reportedly been moved “to a new and safe place,” according to their captors. Little else seems to be known with much confidence, but you can read on, here.
The American ISIS fighter Turkey is sending back stateside is known as 39-year-old Muhammad Darwis B., the Associated Press reports, adding the man is “of Jordanian origin.” According to Turkey’s interior ministry this morning, he was put on a plane to the U.S. from Istanbul “a short time ago.” Tiny bit more, here.
Cold War-era spy exchange in northern Europe. Lithuania returned two Russians jailed for spying back to Moscow today in exchange for two Lithuanians and one Norwegian Russia had convicted of espionage, Agence France-Presse reports from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
“Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis and Norwegian citizen Frode Berg successfully returned to Lithuania,” said Lithuanian intelligence chief Darius Jauniskis today in Vilnius.
The two Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko, were exchanged “at a Lithuanian border crossing with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.”
In case some of this sounds familiar, AFP writes “Estonia and Russia swapped convicted spies last year, while in 2015, Russia freed Estonian officer Eston Kohver in a Cold War-style bridge handover.” More here.
Don’t miss our latest Defense One Radio podcast, which takes a look at Baltic security, changes in tactical training for Denmark’s military, as well as how pressures from China are reshaping the European political and security landscape. That nearly 40-minute episode begins here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone! And we’ll catch you again on Monday…