The cost of having U.S. troops in other countries may be going up

The Trump administration is in the midst of rolling out a plan that would significantly increase what allied nations need to pay in exchange for hosting a United States military presence in their nations. President Trump refers to it as “Cost Plus 50,” and that’s a quite descriptive name. He’d like to see all of the host nations pay the full cost of keeping our troops in their country, plus another 50% above and beyond that. Our allies clearly aren’t thrilled about the idea, but if you’ve been paying attention to what the President has been saying about other nations paying more of their share of defense costs, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. (Bloomberg)

Under White House direction, the administration is drawing up demands that Germany, Japan and eventually any other country hosting U.S. troops pay the full price of American soldiers deployed on their soil — plus 50 percent or more for the privilege of hosting them, according to a dozen administration officials and people briefed on the matter.

In some cases, nations hosting American forces could be asked to pay five to six times as much as they do now under the “Cost Plus 50” formula.

Trump has championed the idea for months. His insistence on it almost derailed recent talks with South Korea over the status of 28,000 U.S. troops in the country when he overruled his negotiators with a note to National Security Adviser John Bolton saying, “We want cost plus 50.”

A couple of points on this announcement. In terms of foreign policy, the idea that our allies around the globe, but particularly in NATO, needed to be paying more of their own defense costs was going to come to a boil eventually, even if it wasn’t Donald Trump making it happen. Now that the issue has been pushed out onto center stage, if those increases aren’t happening at a pace the President can tolerate, this is one way to make up some of the costs. It’s not a particularly polite solution, but there you go.

On the domestic front, keep in mind that we’re in the midst of figuring out how to continue to pay for beefing up our military through normal funding methods and some outside the box spending for portions of the planned wall construction. Any money we can free up from overseas can be reapplied to these domestic needs, along with overdue modernization efforts as the landscape of warfighting evolves to keep up with new technology.

One thing to watch out for, however, is the possibility that some countries may see this increase in costs as an excuse to end the U.S. military presence in their own nations. Some allies like South Korea very much rely on our keeping a massive force in place, while others like Poland are hoping we install more personnel and resources. But in other places, specifically Japan and Germany, there has long been resentment of the American military presence. Friction with the locals has led to calls for us to leave in some cases.

Might they use these demands for bigger payments as an excuse to end our military presence there? And would that really be so bad? A lot of these troop placements date back to a World War II mindset and the idea that we might need to move huge numbers of troops into a foreign battle on short notice. With modern technology and the ability to deploy significant numbers of troops nearly anywhere relatively quickly, I’m not sure we need that wide of a net. We have a massive, ongoing investment of military resources predicated on the idea that we need to be able to engage in a shooting war with the Russians in a matter of days. That may not be the smartest way to structure a defense strategy in the 21st century.