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Editorial: Trump’s ‘Cost Plus 50’ strategy could undermine its own security

The Trump administration is said to be weighing plans to demand that America’s allies, including Japan and Germany, shoulder the full cost of hosting U.S. forces in their countries and pay a 50 percent premium for the protection they receive.


If the United States goes ahead with this exorbitant demand, it will seriously strain ties with key allies and undermine Washington’s global strategy.


The plan is called “Cost Plus 50,” according to U.S. media reports.


As some top policymakers within the administration have expressed skepticism about the idea, it is not clear whether the Cost Plus 50 plan will become official U.S. policy.


Demanding such a steep increase in the financial burden allies bear for hosting U.S. troops would only be viewed as a sign that the United States does not recognize the value of its security alliances.


In recent negotiations between the United States and South Korea over a cost sharing agreement, Seoul had to accept an 8.2 percent increase from the previous year in the amount it pays for the U.S. military presence on its soil. The tab came to 1,038.9 billion won (101.2 billion yen).


Also, the term of the bilateral agreement on how to share the expense of stationing American troops in South Korea has been shortened to one year from five. South Korea will continue to face more pressure from Washington for a further increase in its share.


The cost of maintaining U.S. military bases in Japan is supposed to be borne by the United States in principle under the bilateral status of forces agreement (SOFA).


Since the late 1970s, however, Tokyo has been paying for certain expenses, including the salaries of Japanese workers at the U.S. bases, under the name of “omoiyari” budget, or consideration subsidy. The scope of the exceptions has since been expanded. Currently, under a special 2015 agreement with the previous Obama administration, Japan pays about 200 billion yen annually for hosting U.S. troops.


But the total of government expenditures related to the U.S. forces in Japan exceeds 600 billion yen, a far larger amount than the figure for any other U.S. allies.


Increasing that amount is unacceptable, given Japan’s fiscal squeeze and public sentiment about the issue in this country.


As the current cost-sharing agreement expires in March 2021, serious negotiations for a new deal will start next year. The Japanese government needs to mount a pre-emptive move to fend off pressure for footing a larger share of the bill from Washington.


A scheduled “two plus two” meeting between the top Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense policy officials this spring will be a good opportunity for Tokyo to ask Washington to clarify its intentions and state that Japan will not accept any unreasonable demand.


The Trump administration is reportedly considering asking Japan to cover even part of the salaries of American servicemen and the costs of port calls by U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines.


This idea has been criticized even within the United States. Critics say if a host country pays for such expenses, U.S. troops would effectively become mercenaries.


The Trump administration is also weighing cuts in its cost-sharing demands, depending on the closeness of the host country’s ties with the United States.


There is speculation that the Trump administration may use the demand as a means to extract concessions from Japan during the bilateral trade talks expected to start shortly. That cannot be allowed to happen.


The United States stations troops in allied nations not just to defend the countries but also as part of its strategy to maintain the U.S.-led world order.


Its global network of allies and friendly countries is a key element of the U.S. power that is vital for protecting its national interest.


The Cost Plus 50 proposal being considered by the Trump administration could destabilize the U.S. alliances and undermine the foundation of its own national security.


–The Asahi Shimbun, March 16

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