Two influential U.S. senators have written a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, urging the administration to reconsider its demands for a hefty increase in South Korea's contributions to shared defense costs.
The letter, penned by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed (D-RI), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, underscored concerns that the failure to reach a cost-sharing deal with South Korea increases diplomatic and military risks on the Korean Peninsula.
"A fair and mutually-beneficial burden sharing agreement that reflects the realities of the twenty-first century is an essential element to strengthen a strong and durable U.S.-ROK alliance," the senators wrote in the letter dated Monday, using the acronym for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
"The Administration's fixation on its notion of burden-sharing belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of our alliance with the Republic of Korea and the importance of the U.S. strategic position in the Indo-Pacific, and is almost-guaranteed to fail," they said.
The allies have struggled to narrow their differences on how much South Korea should pay and for what as they negotiate a new deal for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.
The previous Special Measures Agreement expired at the end of last year.
"Our alliance with Korea is critical to deter adversaries, provide stability to the region, shape the environment, and endows U.S. forces in the region with leverage that enhances our nation's security, extends our values, and enables our prosperity," the letter continued. "Yet the current U.S. negotiating position appears to contradict these key principles and undermines our enduring commitment to the Republic of Korea."
The senators went on say that there are "significant areas" where South Korea can and should contribute more to its own defense and to the alliance.
"We note, however, that following the conclusion of the 2019 agreement wherein the Republic of Korea agreed to increase its contribution to approximately $925 million for one year, the Department of Defense testified before Congress that the current burden-sharing agreement was fair and mutually beneficial," they added.
The missive comes after Pompeo and Esper published a joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that said South Korea is an ally, not a dependent, and should pay more for its own defense.
"We reiterate our support for a burden-sharing agreement that is fair and mutually beneficial," the senators wrote. "But given the clear and overwhelming benefits for our own national security, we urge you to reconsider the administration's current negotiating posture, which threatens to jeopardize our alliance relationships, our posture, and our presence in the Indo-Pacific."