|Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper hold hands after a joint press conference following the 51st Security Consultative Meeting, annual talks between the defense chiefs of the two allies, held at the Ministry of National Defense, in Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps|
Defense cost-sharing highlighted at 51st Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul
By Jung Da-min
Defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States discussed alliance issues during an annual meeting between the two allies, held Friday at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul. These included the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) of Korean troops during wartime from Washington to Seoul and adjusting joint exercises in accordance with diplomatic efforts to support the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
At the 51st Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper assessed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region centering on recent missile tests by North Korea, the U.S. extended deterrence for the peninsula and progress in the OPCON transition.
Also on the agenda was the defense cost-sharing negotiations and how to harmonize South Korea's New Southern Policy and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Policy, initiated by the presidents of the two countries, Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump. The issue of defense cost-sharing in particular, has been highlighted as the two allies are facing a year-end deadline for the 11th round of the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations.
"Secretary Esper and I assessed that the SMA is greatly contributing to strengthening the U.S.-ROK combined defense capabilities and the defense cost-sharing should be decided at a fair and reasonable level which can be agreed upon by both sides," Jeong said during a joint press conference with Esper after the security meeting. He added the two sides also agreed that the 11th SMA should be settled before the expiration of 10th SMA, which is the end of this year.
Regarding media reports that the U.S. asked South Korea to pay around $4.7 billion or 5.5 trillion won, about five times the 1.04 trillion won figure agreed upon in the 10th SMA, Jeong said he could not make specific comments about this as the negotiations were still ongoing.
Esper has reiterated the U.S. government's stance that South Korea should pay more, for the burden sharing and said this is the same message from the U.S. government to all its allies "from Asia to Europe and everywhere in between."
"This is a very strong alliance we have (with South Korea), but Korea is a wealthy country and could and should pay more," Esper said.
On the progress of the OPCON transition, the defense chiefs of the allies have approved the results of the Initial Operative Capability (IOC) certification of the future Combined Forces Command (CFC) conducted during a joint drill in August called the Combined Command Post Training. After the OPCON transition, a four-star South Korean general will lead the future CFC.
"The two sides will closely coordinate in pursuing the Full Operational Capability (by the future CFC) in 2020," Jeong said.
Adjusting the scale of a joint winter-time air drill called the Vigilant Ace, against which North Korea has recently beefed up its criticism, has also been discussed. The massive Vigilant Ace air drill has been suspended since 2018, replaced by scaled-down joint drills.
Esper said the purpose of U.S.-South Korea joint exercises and training was "not only to support the diplomatic efforts but to also enable and empower it."
Jeong also said that the U.S. side had reaffirmed its nuclear deterrence on the Korean Peninsula was guaranteed.
Other sensitive or unofficial agenda items have also received attention from the media and public. Those included the U.S.' alleged request to revise a memorandum of understanding for crisis management by the allied militaries to expand the scope of it to also include contingencies "of the U.S." as well as "of the Korean Peninsula" as stated in the existing one, and the U.S. calling for South Korea and Japan to restore an intelligence sharing pact set to end in about a week.
The issue of the General Security Of Military Information Agreement between Seoul and Tokyo, has become a political hot potato not just in the two countries but also in neighboring countries including the U.S., in particular, which has been pursuing its Indo-Pacific Policy in the region to counter China, North Korea and Russia.
Meanwhile, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the three allies South Korea, the United States and Japan ― Gen. Park Han-ki, Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Koji Yamazaki ― held a regular trilateral meeting the same day, where they reaffirmed trilateral defense cooperation for the security of the region.