- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006


The Pentagon may feel compelled to trim its presence in South Korea unless Seoul agrees to pay more of the cost of hosting American military forces, a senior official said yesterday.

Richard Lawless, the deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told reporters that the administration may have to make cuts in Korea — in personnel or in other areas — if the 38 percent share of costs now paid by the Korean government is not raised toward the 50 percent to 75 percent range.

He was not explicit about the kind or size of cuts that might be made under that circumstance. He said the reductions would be in personnel or “capabilities,” which he did not define.

The money dispute reflects, in part, a Korean view that the United States has been moving toward a reduced military commitment to its longtime ally, and that therefore Seoul should be able to trim its payments.

The U.S. military is already cutting its troop levels in Korea from 37,500 to 25,000 by 2008 and is making arrangements with Seoul to turn over wartime command of Korean troops to the Korean government. But it says it remains fully committed to a defense alliance that was born in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mr. Lawless said Washington and Seoul disagree on how soon wartime control should be returned to the Korean government. He said he hoped this could be resolved when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his Korean counterpart meet in Washington on Oct. 20 for annual consultations on security cooperation.

The Pentagon wants Seoul to take wartime command by 2009; the South Koreans argue that they need more time to develop the proper command structure, and therefore, want the shift made no sooner than 2012.

The administration is not proposing to withdraw the U.S. military from South Korea. Even when wartime command of Korean troops is returned to the Korean government, the United States would keep a command element there to support the Korean military, and it says it has no plans for further substantial troop cuts.

Mr. Lawless’ comments, however, left open the possibility that some additional troop cuts might be made if the South Koreans refuse to pay more of the cost. He said the United States typically expects a host nation to pay between 50 percent and 75 percent of the costs. He said Japan, for example, pays more than 70 percent.

He said the 38 percent share now covered by Seoul amounts to about $680 million a year. U.S. and South Korean officials have been negotiating a new burden-sharing arrangement to replace one established last year.

“We don’t feel that this is an equitable arrangement,” he said, referring to the 38 percent share, which was established a year ago. “If we have an outcome this time similar to the outcome last time, we will be forced to make real cuts,” he said. Such cuts, he said, would “begin to damage the capability of the alliance.”

Mr. Lawless said he expected the negotiations to be completed by December. The next round of talks is set for later this month.

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