Counting the costs of having US forces in Japan, South Korea

Above: American soldiers taking part in a military exercise in August near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. The US has about 28,500 soldiers in the country. Below: Two US ships docked at the White Beach Naval Fac
American soldiers taking part in a military exercise in August near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. The US has about 28,500 soldiers in the country. PHOTOS: REUTERS, US NAVY
Above: American soldiers taking part in a military exercise in August near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. The US has about 28,500 soldiers in the country. Below: Two US ships docked at the White Beach Naval Fac
Two US ships docked at the White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan. The US primarily sees its bases in Japan as crucial for the "forward deployment" of troops, and also sees the strategic imperative to buttress its presence in East Asia.PHOTOS: REUTERS, US NAVY

HEADCOUNT

Japan: About 54,000 US military personnel, 42,000 dependants and 800 civil service employees at 85 facilities. Another 25,500 locals are employed as doctors or clerks, among other roles. South Korea: About 28,500 soldiers.

COST

Japan: According to their bilateral pact, Japan has to bear the costs related to the hosting of US bases, while the US pays for maintenance and operational expenditures. But since 1987, Japan has been paying all the labour expenses and utility costs that were supposed to be covered by the US. The so-called "sympathy budget" peaked in 1999 and now stands at 192 billion yen (S$2.5 billion). Japan also pays for costs related to the realignment of US forces.

Japan's total tab comes up to about 377 billion yen this year, or 75 per cent of the total bill. South Korea: Under a five-year deal to share costs, inked in 2014, Seoul agreed to increase its share by 5.8 per cent to about US$867 million (S$1.2 billion) - or about 40 per cent of the total.

Seoul will also bear an unspecified amount of the costs of labour, logistics and construction of US bases. The total expenses add up to about 2.5 per cent of its defence budget.

ABOUT THE ALLIANCES

Japan: The US primarily sees its bases in Japan as crucial for the "forward deployment" of troops, and also sees the strategic imperative to buttress its presence in East Asia.

Under the Japan-US security accord, the US is obliged to defend Japan if the country is attacked. In return, Japan is mandated to let the US use its land, airspace and military bases to maintain "international peace and security in the Far East". South Korea: The US maintains its presence in Seoul to counter a belligerent North Korea, which has fired at least 20 ballistic missiles and conducted two nuclear tests this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Counting the costs of having US forces in Japan, South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe