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CNBC wrote in that 2020 about the cost-sharing agreement for US troop presence in South Korea

In the last one-year, cost-sharing agreement, Seoul agreed to pay roughly $900 million and in negotiations for the new one, they had offered a 13% increase on that number [...]. Those cost-sharing agreements, also referred to as the Korea Special Measures Agreement, have existed since 1991 [...]

It wasn't too clear that the time frame involved for the payments is, but I managed to find a later document:

The contribution of the Republic of Korea for 2020 is 1.0389 trillion Korean Won. The contribution of the Republic of Korea for 2021 is 1.1833 trillion Korean Won. The 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025 contributions shall be determined by increasing the contribution of the previous year by the ROK defense budget increase rate of the previous year.

1 trillion won is approximately 800 million USD, so those contributions are (since 2020 at least) annual figures.

Looking for similar figures for European countries, I found an article about Germany:

Between 2010 and 2019, Berlin paid a total of €982.4 million, with €648.5 million spent for construction measures and €333.9 million defence costs, according to the finance ministry figures published in response to a parliamentary query from opposition Left Party lawmaker Brigitte Freihold (Die Linke).

Per year, that seems like 10% of what South Korea is now paying, while the US troop levels are somewhat similar (tens of thousands) in both countries. Is the German payment figure really cumulative over 9 years, and if it is why is that?

(It's been suggested in an answer-comment below that South Korea should pay much more per US soldier given the risk of North Korean attack. However, the formal structure of the US-SK costs sharing agreement doesn't seem to have anything like that explicitly factored in. The high-level breakdown is on labor-sharing, logistics-cost sharing, and in-kind contributions. Of course, as one might say, there are many ways to slice a price. So, if there is indeed an accounting trick that covers up for that, it should be explained in an answer, rather than merely conjectured.)

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    Your question isn't clear - why do you expect EU or Germany to pay more than South Korea that faces an imminent nuclear threat and possible invasion from North Korea? Europe (or Germany) has been relatively conflict-free till the Russia - Ukraine war. After the Russian invasion, all EU members of NATO have committed to increase the defense spending which is what you would rationally expect a country to do - revise budget according threat perception. (Note also that your title is quite different from the final question you emphasise).
    – sfxedit
    Feb 21 at 14:43
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    I think it is a two-way street: the US does provide a protections, but it also gets in exchange loyalty, adhering to the US line in international policy, buying the US arms, etc. If the US asked Germany for more money, perhaps the latter would prefer to maintain bigger own armed forces, or would demand reduction of the US presence, etc. It is interesting to discuss various factors incorporated in this balance - by comparison with Korea seems far-fetched. Feb 21 at 14:50
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    Of course it's a two-way street. The USA wants its forces in Germany because there is a benefit to the USA beyond protection money and arms sales. Some presence of Country A's military in allied Country B is a benefit to both countries. A benefit to Country A is that its foreign-stationed military doesn't have to travel nearly so far to where Country A wants them to be. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_projection. The distance between Dover AFB and Baghdad is nearly three times the distance between Ramstein and Baghdad. Iraq war: 100s of flights/month, 10s of millions of pounds of cargo.
    – Lag
    Feb 21 at 15:31
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    A general comment: The question implicitly assumes (like many questions at Politics.SE) that things happen differently in separate cases for rational analyzed reasons that are fair and make sense compared to each other. This is almost never the case. This isn't how international relations is done. Nobody when negotiating with Germany asks if this is fair to South Korea. Each situation evolves in a path dependent way of its own to produce a status quo.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22 at 0:49
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    The bases in Germany are for the benefit of US power projection, not to defend Germany. The bases in Soeul are to defend South Korea (primarily). Why would Germany pay for something that benefits the US? Feb 22 at 14:45

3 Answers 3

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Because geopolitically these are two totally different situations:

  1. Germany is surrounded by allies - Korea only has Japan.
  2. Bases in Germany aren't there for the defense of Germany (at least not mostly), but to cover other missions in the region (from your article)

Germany had been a key hub for securing missions in the Middle East and Africa, and especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile the bases in Korea are there at most to defend Korea.

  1. At this moment the scenario of war with Russia is very unlikely and Russia would need to go through Poland. The combined armies of only these two EU & NATO countries, their mobilization potential, etc. would be bigger than the Russian equivalents. On the other side the Korean soil has seen over 1 million Chinese soldiers.

In general - Germany keeps those bases for political or tactical, but not for strategical reasons.

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    One could even argue that the US should pay for being able to use foreign territory. I guess it comes down to who profits how much in each case. Feb 21 at 15:46
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    One could argue that Germany does substantially benefit from the US 'nuclear umbrella,' but that is not dependent on sites in Germany. The NATO nuclear sharing is there to spread responsibility, not to provide significant extra capability.
    – o.m.
    Feb 21 at 15:58
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    Categorizing Japan as an ally of South Korea is a stretch. They're both US allies, but relations between them are frosty because South Korea is unhappy with the level of apologies and contrition Japan is willing to make over crimes that happened when they occupied Korea. Feb 22 at 23:41
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    @o.m. I think at height of the cold war, without access to nuclear sharing, West Germany would have likely started their own nuclear weapons program, something which the US emphatically did not want them to do. Then after the cold war larger parts of the population did not want any atomic weapons in the country at all. In either case, asking too high of a price for nuclear sharing would have just resulted in Germany saying no.
    – mlk
    Feb 23 at 11:42
  • @mlk, depends on who would have called the shots. FJS quite possibly wanted nukes.
    – o.m.
    Feb 23 at 14:28
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Why should Germany pay for US occupation in the first place?

Your entire question hinges on the assumptions that those US troops are actively wanted, desired and perceived to provide a service.

In the case of Ramstein for example, it is the Germans providing a service to the US military though (by giving a secure location for overseas drone piloting & logistics).

This is also highly reflected not only in how much is paid, but what is actually being paid. Germany only pays for costs related to US troops with (AFAIK) 0 cents going directly to the US military for their mere presence (save for cooperative training sessions etc).

Seoul wants the US troops there. In Germany, it's debatable. Or it would be if the topic were really open for debate. The US military is in Germany and it's a given fact that is just taken as a natural fact of (German) life. Yes, there are no society-wide major voices to remove/reduce their presence, but they are there. There also are no relevant voices towards actively keeping them there (save for local municipalities that benefit from local installations), or to increase their presence.

They are rarely seen as actively protective force, if ever. Historically they are an occupying force turned allies that are given some space because it benefits them logistically. This is very different to South Korea where they started out as a force liberating them alongside the SK government that then thankfully stuck around to protect it against an "outside" threat.

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Exercises

US forces in South Korea do regular, large scale, training exercises with with local forces. This is aimed at demonstrating to North Korea that the Joint Force is ready to respond.

Flight time for aircraft, at sea time for ships, and ammunition expended in live-fire exercises are all significant expenses for the US military. If US Forces in Germany do less of those kinds of expensive Navy and Air Force centric operations, and more "cheap" Army training, then there's a pretty reasonable explanation for the difference in cost.

[I'll try to find some refs to back this up later when I have time.]

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