Jun 13, 2018

What they're saying: The price tag of ending Korean "war games"

President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning to argue that suspending military exercises between the United States and South Korea — announced yesterday as a part of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — would save the U.S. "a fortune."

What they're saying: Experts view Trump's argument as geopolitically short-sighted, acknowledging that — while it might technically reduce costs in the short-term — it could stand to reduce the country's military readiness and force projection in Asia, which could create massive long-term consequences and costs.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted Trump's cost argument as "ridiculous" because American forces in the region "[bring] stability" during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, though he did agree with the president's decision to end the war games as part of a good faith process with North Korea.
  • William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, told CNBC: "Yes, it's very expensive to be in shape, to be ready to defend our country and our allies in the region. To point out how expensive it is misses the point of what strategic deterrence is and how it protects U.S. interests as well as those of South Korea."
  • Tom Spoehr, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense and a retired three-star Army general, told The Washington Post: "If it just means the big and joint exercises, we could do without those for several months. Longer than that, you start to suffer some issues. You’ve got to train, otherwise you start to get rusty. We can’t go too terribly long without doing these exercises without having some impact."
  • Kathleen Hicks, an Obama administration senior Pentagon official, told The New York Times: "It is true that if you don’t choose to ready your force, you can cut costs. But the administration should be acknowledging that it is in fact a readiness decrement."

P.S. ... During his post-summit press conference yesterday, Trump also floated an even bigger idea: removing all American troops currently stationed on the Korean peninsula.

  • "I want to get our soldiers out.  I want to bring our soldiers back home.  We have, right now, 32,000 soldiers in South Korea, and I’d like to be able to bring them back home.  But that’s not part of the equation right now.  At some point, I hope it will be, but not right now."
  • Yes, but: A source with direct knowledge told Axios' Jonathan Swan that Trump’s national security advisers have, on a number of occasions over the past year, tried to explain to Trump that he wouldn’t necessarily save money by withdrawing American troops from Korea.
  • The reasoning: It’s not as if the troops would suddenly disappear from government payrolls — and, in fact, the U.S. then would have to pay the full cost of their salaries and upkeep. Plus, the federal government would have to pay relocation costs and possibly build new facilities for the relocated troops on American soil.

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