Analysis: America’s Allies Already ‘Pay Up’

New research undermines Donald Trump's criticism of allies' contributions to U.S. military bases

NATO exercise / AP

Countries in Europe and Asia that host U.S. military bases contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support American troops operating overseas, according to new research that clashes with Donald Trump's assertions about allies' defense contributions.

Germany, Japan, and South Korea together pay billions in direct cash payments and in-kind contributions to support U.S. military bases, according to a new analysis prepared by the American Action Forum and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The research, released on Tuesday morning, argues that it would cost the United States more to project global power without maintaining military bases abroad.

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Trump has repeatedly said that U.S. allies need to pay more for their defense, singling out Germany, Japan, and South Korea as nations that need to "pay up." Trump has said the same of NATO allies, saying that he would only come to the defense of a member country—as required by NATO's governing treaty—if the nation met its spending obligations.

The U.S. government spends $10 billion each year on permanent military presence overseas to defend allies and secure American strategic interests, including $7 billion for bases in Germany, Japan, and Korea. The bases in these three countries house more than half of American active-duty troops stationed abroad.

Germany, which hosts 35,000 U.S. active-duty military personnel, contributes nearly $1 billion of the $5 billion annual costs for American military presence there, largely in the form of in-kind contributions such as the supply of facilities.

Over 45,000 American active-duty personnel are stationed in Japan, a force that costs $4 billion each year to maintain. Japan pays for half of these defense costs through in-kind contributions and direct cash payments. Likewise, South Korea, where 25,000 American troops are based, pays 41 percent of the $1.9 billion needed each year for the United States to defend the country.

Trump has said that allies pay little or nothing for American defense and should pay more or be forced to defend themselves, drawing ire from some Republicans.

"South Korea has to pay up. Germany. We protect Germany," Trump told CNN in January, months before he won the GOP nomination for president. "We protect so many different countries. We get nothing."

"We are supporting them militarily," he said of Japan at a CNN town hall in March. "With Japan, they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves."

Trump has also said that he would only come to the defense of a NATO member country invaded by Russia if the nation met its defense spending obligations in the alliance.

"You can't forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they're supposed to make. That's a big thing. You can't say forget that," Trump told the New York Times in an interview that was published during the Republican National Convention, inviting criticism from members of his own party.

Trump told the Times that if he could not "make a deal" with countries "with massive wealth" to be "properly reimbursed" for military costs, he "would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.'"

The American Action Forum's new report pushes back on Trump's statements. The report said it would cost "significantly more" for the United States to project power without its overseas military bases.

"If the United States could not use its airfields in Germany for deployments to the war in Afghanistan, refueling aircraft would cost significantly more. This would only be more pronounced with any potential future deployments to the Middle East," stated the report, which was authored by defense analyst and GOP party platform committee member Rachel Hoff.

"In Asia, if the United States removed the base for its aircraft carrier battle group in Japan, it would need to replace it with several more carrier battle groups to continue the same Pacific presence—at a cost of nearly $50 billion," the report reads. "In South Korea, it is likely that the United States is actually saving money by stationing troops there rather than at home."

The report echoes previous statements made in April by Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, emphasizing the contributions that Seoul has made to maintain U.S. military presence in the country.

Brooks told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "the Republic of Korea is carrying a significant load" of the U.S. defense commitment, arguing that it is "absolutely" cheaper to keep American troops in the country instead of relocating them to the United States.

The defense budgets of Germany, Japan, and South Korea have lagged over the last decade as spending on entitlement programs by each country has increased.

However, all three countries have shown signs of increasing their defense spending in recent years amid increased aggression from regional powers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last month that the country would boost defense spending to meet NATO's target amid rising threats from Russia; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has increased the country's defense budget since taking office in 2012 as China has acted more aggressively in the Asia-Pacific region; South Korea said last year that its defense budget would be increased by $8 billion by 2020 to counter North Korea's military and nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. defense budget has been squeezed as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act and sequestration, which have forced the military services to make trade-offs in order to maintain current readiness and meet overseas commitments. The four service chiefs said in congressional testimony in September that their forces would not be able to defend the homeland if sequestration continues.

At the same time tTrump has called on allies to "pay up" for defense, he has promised to increase defense spending and "rebuild" the U.S. military.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump faces Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election. While Clinton had built a healthy lead over Trump, the race has tightened amid revelations from the WikiLeaks release of emails connected to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and news that the FBI has reopened its investigation into Clinton's use of private email at the State Department.

Update 9:20 A.M.: A previous version of this story said the report was from the American Action Network. The report came from the American Action Forum, the policy side of the group.