It costs America more than $8 billion a year to keep troops in Japan and South Korea, but a government watchdog recently reached a surprising conclusion: It appears to be worth every penny.
The Government Accountability Office examined the benefits America derives from having troops in the eastern Asian nations, and reached two clear conclusions.
First, having troops nearby curtails aggressive moves by North Korean dictators Kim Jong Un. Second, having a strong military force in the region lessens the likelihood that America will have to use it in a war with rivals including China.
"Officials at Embassies Tokyo and Seoul said that the U.S. military presence has enabled the United States to project power throughout the region and to deter adversaries such as China, Russia, and North Korea," the report found. "(Pentagon) officials added that this military presence has also preserved a favorable balance of power in the region.
The review contradicts a push by the Trump administration that America gains little from the high cost of stationing troops overseas. Trump pushed Japan and South Korea to pay up, threatening to cut forces in those nations unless big financial concessions were made.
Trump did pry some cash loose from Tokyo and Seoul, nations that already helped underwrite the U.S. presence. The U.S. has gotten back about half of what it spends in recent years in direct payments and other considerations from the allies.
But the report found that to some degree, the presence in both nations since World War II has saved money in unexpected ways.
One is obvious: When the U.S. has to ship troops to a conflict in a hurry, the travel gets expensive. Just getting a single 72-ton tank to Asia by air requires the full lifting capacity of a C-17 transport and several refueling planes to top off its fuel. One tank company, hardly enough to hold off an invading army, would mean 14 flights for the tanks alone. Add in Humvees, tents, food, fuel ammunition and troops and you're using the full resources of an Air Force wing to move about 150 soldiers and their gear.
In Asia and Japan we have warehouses full of gear in addition to well-trained units on the ground. That means we can respond immediately in a crisis and fly in reinforcements to meet up with equipment already in place.
That also makes it cheaper to train with our allies in Japan in South Korea, where we would head into battle with a seamless team of troops long experienced in working together. Having troops from those nations work together for the first time in battle would cost lives, something you can't put a price on.
A second consideration is also evident. Japan and South Korea are crowded places with real estate prices that would make Californians blanche. A modest apartment for a small military family in Tokyo would easily run more than $4,000 a month. Seoul, one of the fastest-growing cities in Asia, has even higher rents.
But by sticking around for 75 years, the U.S. has built up bases and housing for troops. The military also has training ranges, headquarters complexes and other military facilities sitting on acreage that would bankrupt the treasury to acquire today.
And having that land comes with benefits touted by every home-seller in Colorado Springs: Location, location and location.
Japan and South Korea are places that allow America to project power across the coast of Asia, making North Korea and China think twice before starting aggression.
And having our troops near Russia's backdoor keeps Moscow nervous. Under Putin, Russia has aimed its military might toward its European neighbors, drawing strength from forces that once patrolled Siberia. While Russia has stepped up aerial exercises in its far east, Moscow knows that aggression in Europe could result in U.S. Marines marching in Vladivostok.
The bottom line, the report found, is that Americans are safer at home because we have troops in South Korea and Japan.
"According to officials ... the U.S. military presence in those countries is key to maintaining peace in the region and protecting U.S. national security," the report found.