Debate Vol. 2: Korea, Germany, Japan “Don’t Pay Us” For Defense

Welcome back to WDTLAY’s ongoing debate fact checking. Donald Trump has often raged against the amount of money that the US spends abroad defending our allies, calling NATO “obsolete” for example. At the 1:23:00 mark of the above video, Trump makes the following statement.

Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune. That’s why we’re losing — we’re losing — we lose on everything. I say, who makes these — we lose on everything. All I said, that it’s very possible that if they don’t pay a fair share, because this isn’t 40 years ago where we could do what we’re doing. We can’t defend Japan, a behemoth, selling us cars by the million…

As Donald said, just to go down the list…

Japan paid the US $2 billion dollars in 2012 for defense, according to the Department of Defense, which translates to almost 4% of the total budget for that agency. That is hardly nothing. Japan also purchased $526 million worth of military equipment from the US. Additionally, Trump said Japan is “selling us cars by the million,” but it turns out that there was a net surplus of Japanese owned cars built in the US, so many built in the US were actually exported.

Germany did not make cash payments for the 38,000 troops stationed, there, but the Department of Defense says that Germany makes “in kind payments.” Presumably this would be waiving leasing fees and taxes, though the report did not elaborate. So Trump is not entirely wrong that Germany is not paying us. Germany purchased $164 million worth of military equipment from the US.

South Korea paid the US $866.6 million in 2014 for defense against North Korea. We’re still technically at war with North Korea, if you’ll remember. According to the Wall Street Journal, this is about 40% of the total US expenditure in the country. There are about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea. South Korea purchased $641 million worth of military equipment from the US.

Saudi Arabia has not had US combat troops stationed there since 2003. While there are some military bases in Saudi Arabia, many of those are concerned with intelligence and drone strikes in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has a powerful army of its own, spending more than 13% of GDP on their military. They do not make cash payments to the US, but it is not accurate for Donald Trump to say that the US defends them, as they have their own substantial army. Saudi Arabia is a huge buyer of US military hardware, purchasing $1.15 billion in tanks last month alone.

Donald Trump is definitely wrong about those four countries not paying anything for the defense that the US provides. The payments made do not cover all of the costs of our military personnel in those countries, but to say that nearly $3 billion dollars a year is “not paying us” is not accurate. Trump also neglects to mention the intangible benefits of the alliance of these countries, and the influence around the world that this show of power can buy.

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