Trump asks why US would defend Korea, hints at hiking Seoul’s defense cost burden

Posted on : 2024-05-01 16:58 KST Modified on : 2024-05-01 16:58 KST
In a new interview with Time magazine, the US Republican Party presidential nominee called South Korea a “wealthy country” and said the current defense cost-sharing arrangement “doesn’t make any sense”
Former President Donald Trump of the US arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 30, 2024, for his hush money case. (AP/Yonhap)
Former President Donald Trump of the US arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 30, 2024, for his hush money case. (AP/Yonhap)

Donald Trump reiterated his dim view of maintaining US troop presence in South Korea in a new interview where he asked, “Why would we defend somebody?” The former US president also underscored that Seoul should be made to shoulder a much larger portion of the defense costs for maintaining US forces in Korea. 

In an interview with Time magazine published Tuesday, Trump was questioned about whether he would withdraw US troops from South Korea. In response, he said, “I want South Korea to treat us properly.” 

“I had negotiations because they were paying virtually nothing for 40,000 troops that we had there,” he added.  

“And we have 40,000 troops that are in a precarious position. And I told South Korea that it’s time that you step up and pay.”

“We've essentially paid for much of their military, free of charge,” Trump said. 

“And they agreed to pay billions of dollars. And now probably that I’m gone, they’re paying very little. I don’t know if you know that they renegotiated the deal I made,” he added. 

“From what I'm hearing, they were able to renegotiate with the Biden administration and bring that number way, way down to what it was before, which was almost nothing.”

Trump was referring to recent South Korea-US negotiations over defense spending, as the current agreement is set to expire at the end of next year. 

Trump declared that the current situation “doesn't make any sense.” 

“Why would we defend somebody?” he continued. “They’re a very wealthy country, so why wouldn’t they want to pay?” 

The former president said that negotiations with Seoul were “not easy initially, but ultimately, they became a pleasure to deal with,” touting the success of his administration’s defense spending negotiations. 

“And they agreed to pay billions of dollars to the United States for our military being there.”

According to Trump, despite it being unnecessary for the US, America has offered its protection to South Korea at little to no cost to Koreans, and he stepped in to rectify the situation by getting Koreans to increase their financial contribution. 

Throughout the interview, Trump kept saying that there are 40,000 US troops in South Korea, but the actual figure is 28,500. 

Also, the US and South Korea signed the 11th Special Measures Agreement in March 2021, right after the end of the Trump administration. The agreement called for South Korea to contribute 1.18 trillion won, an increase of 13.9%. Trump’s claim that South Korea contributed virtually nothing toward joint defense is also false. 

Based on Trump’s comments in the interview, if he is reelected this November, it is probable that he will use the threat of pulling US troops out of Korea as leverage in a new round of negotiations designed to further increase South Korea’s contribution to defense costs. 

Some of Trump’s former advisers have commented that he mentioned withdrawing from South Korea behind closed doors. During his administration, Trump caused a stir by demanding a fivefold increase in South Korea’s contribution.

Trump voiced a similar stance on NATO members in the interview.

“Look, if you're not going to pay, then you're on your own,” he said. And I mean that.”

Trump previously raised eyebrows by insinuating that he’d encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” if NATO members didn’t step up in their military spending. 

Trump also indicated that he supports a universal tariff of 10% on all imports. Regarding Chinese goods, he said he would institute a tariff of 100%. 

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories