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Trump wants South Korea to pay more for the defense. He should not stop there

Defense Minister Mark Esper speaks at a joint press conference after the 51st Security Advisors (SCM) meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the Ministry of Defense in Seoul on November 15, 2019.

Jung Yeon-je | Reuters

It turns out that President Donald Trump's call for NATO countries to pay more for their own defense is not just about Europe. Now, the government is stepping up its efforts to get Asian countries to cough more.

The special Asian country in the spotlight is South Korea. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper took advantage of his current trip to pressure Seoul to pay more for the massive US military presence. According to a South Korean lawmaker, Esper wants much more, about five times more or $ 5 billion a year.

That sounds like a big serve. But let's face it, the defense of the free world is not cheap. One important reason for this is that those countries that do not belong to the free world, such as China, also spend record amounts on defense.

The demand for higher pay in Seoul is basically the only option the US currently has. That's because the idea of ​​closing American bases in South Korea or withdrawing its 28,500 US troops is unthinkable given the constant nuclear and conventional military threats from North Korea.

or should not be such a controversial idea in many other parts of the world. The US currently has about 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. This figure includes 1

74 bases and other military installations in Germany alone. We even have one in Aruba.

Each of these foreign bases not only costs taxpayers maintenance costs, but also payments that we often have to make to those foreign countries to use their land or coasts. Maintaining diplomatic relations with these nations is costly to ensure that they do not suddenly eject our troops and bases. Ultimately, the cost of maintaining these bases is $ 156 billion a year.

The US currently has about 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. This figure includes 174 bases and other military installations in Germany alone.

It is unrealistic to believe that most of the cost of basic maintenance can be saved. But a lot of it certainly can, especially if some of the politicians who normally protect certain bases from closure are avoided.

While the Trump administration has seen some success in getting NATO countries to increase their share of defense spending, closing down the base and removing the US troops does not matter. The ongoing controversy over the withdrawal of only a small number of US troops from northern Syria is the best example of this.

There are other more inventive ways to lower the cost of America's defense of the free world, which are not just proposals. A good example is the agreement with Israel to use the $ 3.8 billion in military aid that the US sends annually to Israel.

Israel must spend at least 74 percent of that money on US-made defense products, and by 2028 this requirement will rise to 100 percent. Often, these products are developed in collaboration with Israeli defense companies, such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, which was heavily used during a rocket fire from Gaza in Israeli civilian areas last week.

These demands are not just a form of American economic protectionism; They are also an important safety measure. Mixing US weapons systems with other defenses made by American enemies and allies can lead to weaknesses in these American systems Ankara decided to buy Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

This decision was based on the fear that the proximity of the F-35 and S-400 could make it easier for Turkish or Russian engineers to detect any errors in the F-35 that the S-400 could exploit. The same form of economic and military caution drives a new US threat to sanction Egypt if the plan to buy at least 20 more Su-35 fighters from Russia continues.

Not All of These Plans Run Smoothly However, we see that the three key elements to achieving something many have long thought are that it's impossible to lower US defense spending without jeopardizing security. The working formula stipulates that our allies pay more, close bases and remove troops when they are not needed, and that countries we protect have to do their arms purchases exclusively in the US.

Jake Novak political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny .

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