President Trump is demanding that South Korea pay billions of additional dollars for U.S. protection, according to a report Friday at CNN.
South Korea is paying about $1 billion this year to cover the cost of keeping roughly 28,000 U.S. troops in the country, and Trump wants to see that increase to $4.7 billion in 2020.
Officials at the Pentagon and the State Department aren’t sure where the $4.7 billion figure comes from, though they reportedly talked the president down from an even higher request of $5 billion. Trump has long complained about the cost of keeping U.S. forces abroad, and last year canceled joint military exercises with South Korea in what was described as a cost-saving effort. Critics, however, worry that Trump may have other motives, perhaps related to his unusual relationship with Kim Jong-un, the dictatorial leader of North Korea who has continued to test missiles and maintain a nuclear arsenal, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary.
South Korean officials, along with many military and diplomatic experts in the U.S., expressed concerns that Trump’s demand could be seen as a shakedown, or the first step in an effort to withdraw U.S. troops entirely from the Korean peninsula. At a minimum, it suggests that the U.S. will press harder to collect fees from a staunch ally where it has maintained troops since the Korean War.
A congressional aide told CNN that the relationship appears to be getting more transactional. “So if we had bombers stop by the peninsula as a show of force, I guess like an Uber driver, we would bill them for the trip,” the aide said. And South Korea is wondering where that leaves their relationship with the U.S. The aide said that some Koreans are now wondering, “Are you guys mercenaries now? Is this a business arrangement?”