In his first televised interview since becoming the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis discussed the potential for war with North Korea, as well as the repercussions of such a conflict, with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” over the weekend.

The Defense Secretary addressed the potential for war with burgeoning nuclear power North Korea as potentially “catastrophic” when asked by “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson.  The nation has been in the headlines consistently throughout President Trump’s time in office, as Kim Jong Un continues his pursuit of nuclear weapons and reliable missile platforms that can deliver them to targets all over the world.  Depictions of nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, Kim’s ultimate goal, raining down on U.S. cities pervade official North Korean media and have even been included in state celebrations.

Although President Trump has made it clear that his intent is to pursue a diplomatic solution to the simmering tensions on the Korean peninsula brought about by Kim’s nuclear pursuits and rampant threats levied at America and its allies, he has also made statements in the past indicating that he would be willing to authorize a unilateral military strike against the small Asian nation if it came to it.

“A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes,” Mattis told CBS News.  Although North Korea currently lacks the strike capability to reach the Mainland United States, they have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to target local allies in South Korea and even Japan with traditional and potentially nuclear ordinance.

Aside from the Kim regime’s ballistic missile capabilities, Mattis also emphasized the damage North Korea could do with “hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth — Seoul, the capital of South Korea.”

Mattis added that North Korea is an active and serious threat for the entire surrounding region, including to nations like Japan and even Russia and China, who have demonstrated a weary public support for Kim despite calling on him to denuclearize the peninsula.

“But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means,” Mattis said.

When asked whether or not the United States perceives North Korea as an active threat, or if the primary concern is the threat they could levy once in possession of a global-strike capable nuclear delivery system, Mattis did not mince words: North Korea is already a threat, and must be treated as such.

“They have been very clear in their rhetoric we don’t have to wait until they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon on it to say that now it’s manifested completely,” Mattis said.

“We always assume that with a testing program they get better with each test,” Mattis added.

Mattis was reluctant to suggest that there was a “red line” the North Koreans could cross that would immediately result in American military action taken against Kim’s regime, instead choosing his words carefully and suggesting the U.S. might even have a few secrets up its proverbial sleeve.

We consider it a direct threat even today, the North Korean threat,” Mattis said. “As far as that specific threat, I don’t want to put a timeline on it. At this time, what we know, I’d prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don’t even know.”

The United States is planning to attempt an ICBM intercept, the first of its kind, on Tuesday morning.  Successfully shooting down a custom built ICBM with a mock nuclear warhead using America’s questionable missile defense system could diffuse some of Kim’s motivation, as it would mean the United States could potentially thwart an attempted attack and reduce the leverage the threat of nuclear strike offers.


Image courtesy of CBS