In the aftermath of Monday’s long-range ballistic missile test conducted by North Korea, all eyes have been on President Donald Trump’s administration, with many fearing that Kim’s latest launch and accompanying bluster could be a significant step toward the onset of war. China and Russia have publicly called for restraint while criticizing American defensive emplacements in South Korea as “provocations,” prompting further concern that a conflict with North Korea could rapidly escalate into a world war.
While the long-term potential for such a global conflict exists, James Mattis, Secretary of Defense under President Trump, made it clear on Thursday that the diplomatic effort with North Korea remains ongoing, and the United States is in no hurry to conduct military operations against Kim’s North Korean regime.
“The United States military stands ready to provide options to President Donald J. Trump, but diplomatic and economic efforts remain the tools of choice to convince North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile programs,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
President Trump has also clearly stated that there is no current plan to execute military strikes against targets within North Korea’s borders, but made a point to clarify that the United States has a number of options he’s actively considering.
“I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about,” President Trump told reporters during a speech he delivered in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday. “They are behaving in a very, very dangerous manner and something will have to be done.”
President Trump added, however, that he does not “draw red lines,” a reference to President Obama’s decision to “draw,” but not enforce, red lines regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Mattis, the man who would likely be tasked with developing and executing the strategy for military action in North Korea, made clear that even within the Pentagon, the weapon of choice remains economic sanctions. Those weapons, he said, are only “buttressed by military capabilities.”
Mattis went on to state clearly that, “diplomacy in regard to North Korea has not failed,” citing Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, in his claim that the United States and South Korea have avoided war thus far by “exercising extreme self-restraint.”
He pointed to “the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the sinking of a South Korean ship earlier that year and other provocations at sea, on land and in cyberspace,” as examples of similar peaks in tension with North Korea that were met with disciplined American and South Korean responses.
When asked whether or not the U.S. Defense apparatus was surprised by Kim Jong-un’s decision to launch yet another ballistic missile test, which Kim himself claims was a “gift” for the “American bastards,” Mattis dismissed the idea.
“We assume these sorts of things from him,” the secretary said. “Right now that’s why we’re called … the sentinels for this country. We were on duty. … The radars were up and operating. We knew it as soon as he fired it that it had been fired — literally.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense
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