As of December 31, 2018, the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) between the United States and South Korea — which had supported the US military presence in South Korea — expired. For the first time since 1991, the two countries are now operating without an SMA. On February 8, noting the vital role that the US-South Korea alliance plays in Indo-Pacific peace and prosperity, US Congresswomen Grace Meng (D-NY) and Norma Torres (D-CA) penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in support of a new “serious and robust” SMA, noting the 66-year anniversary of the alliance, and the importance of projecting the alliance to the rest of the Indo-Pacific. Congresswoman Meng told the East-West Center in Washington: “The United States and South Korea have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of many challenges for nearly seven decades. A serious and robust US-South Korea cost-sharing agreement is necessary to reaffirm our strong commitment to this alliance. I urge the Trump Administration to negotiate a robust, multi-year agreement after this preliminary one-year agreement expires that reflects our shared values and friendship.”
Also highlighted in the letter is the comprehensive nature of the alliance, which “encompasses robust trade, people-to-people exchanges, and shared values.” South Korea is the 7th largest export market for the United States, and trade and investment with South Korea support 400,000 jobs across the country. Since the implementation of the Korea United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), South Korean investment into the United States has increased more than 60%. The partnership has also vastly increased cultural ties, and there are now 100 sister city and sister state ties between the locations in the two countries, and nearly two million Korean Americans live in the United States. The 3rd largest group of foreign students in the United States, Korean students alone contribute $2 billion to the US economy annually. The US Representatives’ letter emphasizes that Korea matters not only to the United States as a whole, but to every state and district across the country.
The Korea Matters for America/America Matters for Korea project of the East-West Center in Washington provides up-to-date, interactive data and articles on a wide range of categories within US-Korea relations, and can accessed at https://asiamattersforamerica.org/korea/.
Peter Valente is a Program Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.