News   Partnerships

Esper Urges South Korea to Contribute More to Its Defense

Feb. 24, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Though the U.S.-South Korea alliance remains strong, South Korea must bear a more proportional share of the cost of maintaining its security, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

Esper hosted South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the Pentagon today. DOD officials said the two leaders discussed a range of issues including the regional security environment, policy toward North Korea, transition of wartime operational control, and the special measures agreement between the United States and South Korea.

As the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War approaches, Esper said, the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea remains strong.

American, Korean soldiers work together.
Skills Exchange
South Korean air force Brig. Gen. Kim takes part in a joint U.S.-South Korean skill exchange field trip at Osan, South Korea, Oct. 10, 2017. The exchange is an annual event that allows soldiers to demonstrate their military skills and learn from each other.
Photo By: South Korean Air Force Sgt. Park Sang-hyun
VIRIN: 171010-O-NQ385-780R
Runners take part in a race. Two runners carry a U.S. and South Korean flag.
Camaraderie Run
U.S. and South Korean troops run together during the 15th anniversary of the Comrade Marathon, Sept. 8, 2018. The event allows family and friends from both nations to come out challenge themselves and support each other.
Photo By: South Korean Army Pfc. You Chul Lee
VIRIN: 180908-O-NQ385-609R

"The United States stands fully committed to the defense of the ROK," he said. "Forged through years of combat and shared sacrifice, our alliance is ironclad and remains the linchpin of security, stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the larger Indo-Pacific region. Our shared values, interests, and commitment to the rules-based international order form the foundation of an alliance that is as vital today as it was in the 1950s."

But South Korea must contribute more to its own security, the secretary said.

"Shouldering the cost of the common defense cannot fall disproportionately to the American taxpayer," Esper said. "As such, we must find a more sustainable and equitable means of sharing the costs of our combined defense with the Republic of Korea. As a global economic powerhouse and an equal partner in the preservation of peace in the peninsula, South Korea can and should contribute more to its defense."

A helicopter flies over tanks.
Tank Prep
Tank crews with the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, prepare to qualify at Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, South Korea, March 19, 2019. The training allowed crew members to improve gunnery skills to maintain readiness.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Alon J. Humphrey
VIRIN: 190319-A-YG558-671A

Esper noted that the United States is asking many security partners around the globe to step up and contribute more to mutually beneficial partnerships. In particular, he pointed to U.S. relationships in Europe.

"Increased burden-sharing is a top priority for the United States across our alliances," he said. "We consistently urge NATO allies to contribute more to our shared defense, and we ask the same of South Korea and other partners."

South Korean and U.S. sailors stand side by side listening.
Foal Eagle Forces
U.S. and South Korean sailors listen to a safety briefing at the Naval Education and Training Command in Jinhae, South Korea, as part of Exercise Foal Eagle, March 13, 2017. Foal Eagle is an annual, bilateral training exercise designed to enhance the readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces and their ability to work together during a crisis. The U.S. sailors are assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Torrey W. Lee
VIRIN: 170313-N-CJ186-0100R

Esper said he and the South Korean defense minister also discussed continued efforts toward the common objective of the complete denuclearization of North Korea and the importance of the trilateral relationship among the United States, South Korea and Japan. That relationship includes high-level policy consultations, shared military exercise and information sharing; and progress toward meeting the conditions needed for the eventual transition of operational control to a South Korean commander.

Jeong said that the operational control transition will happen in a systematic manner "based not on timing, but on conditions." Certification of those conditions, he said, will be assessed jointly by South Korea and the United States "in a transparent and credible manner."

Afterward, he said, guiding principles agreed upon during the 50th Republic of Korea-United States Security Consultative Meeting will ensure a continued strong defense of South Korea. The alliance and its posture will only strengthen as a result of continued presence of U.S. Forces and the guaranteed role of the United Nations Command, he said.