Fact Check: How Much Do We Spend Defending South Korea?

Fact Check: How Much Do We Spend Defending South Korea?

Since 1953, when the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, the US has taken on a lot of the responsibility for the defense of South Korea. There’s a principle involved — a lot of American blood got spilled keeping South Korea free from communism, and we shouldn’t let it fall now. It also makes strategic sense. South Korea gives us access to bases in an important part of the world, as well as a reliable ally with powerful armed forces of its own. They also sent troops to help us in Vietnam. This all comes at a price though, as President Trump pointed out recently. However, now critics are attacking his figures to minimize the importance of what he’s doing in the region. Who’s right?

Highlights

  • President Trump said that South Korea’s defense is costing us $5 billion a year. That figure has been called false by “fact checkers” — and, on the face of it, they seem to have a good argument. After all, the DoD itself says the direct cost of keeping troops in South Korea is about $2 billion a year, and South Korea pays a large chunk of that.
  • If it was that simple, the president’s figures would be a massive overestimate of what defending South Korea costs us. The thing is, it’s not that simple. The Pentagon’s numbers are the cost of physically having forces in South Korea — paying the troops, heating their barracks, putting fuel in their vehicles and so on.
  • There’s a lot more to it than that, though. First, the US military actually has to have extra troops to deploy to Korea. They need to be recruited and trained. They have benefit packages that need to be paid for. Then extra troops need extra admin staff, both military and civilian, to support them. This all costs money, and while it might not be directly spent in Korea it’s being spent because of Korea.
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  • On top of that, there are costs involved in making sure the US military’s equipment is all suitable for use in Korea. Troops have to be trained to operate there, and that includes reserve and regular units who could be deployed in an emergency. It all adds up. Does it add up to $5 billion? Well, if you want to keep one soldier on the front line, you need three soldiers. Defense dollars work pretty much the same way. It costs $2 billion a year to pay for the troops in South Korea, but it probably costs at least three times that to make sure the troops are available and trained.
  • Speaking of troops, how many are there? The president said there are 40,000 US troops in South Korea. Well, there aren’t — there are about 23,000. That’s uniformed military personnel, though. How many DoD civilians and private contractors do you think are there to support those troops? If it’s much less than 17,000 we’d be very surprised. In any case, the strength of US Forces Korea has gone up and down over the years and was way over 40,000 in pretty recent memory.
  • If you take a narrow view of it, then President Trump was wrong to say we spend $5 billion a year defending South Korea. If you know how defense works in the real world, though, then if anything he’s underestimated the real cost. And, if you understand how badly the Left wants to smear our president, you’ll understand that they will pretty much twist any data they find to meet their need to do so.