Defense Secretary James Mattis sent a strong message to the North Korean regime on Friday when he visited the Demilitarized Zone.
Speaking only meters away from North Korea, the defense secretary announced that the United States does not desire war with Pyongyang, but it is necessary that they dismantle their nuclear program, according to The Los Angeles Times. “As Secretary of State Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
During his visit, the defense secretary stressed the importance of finding a “diplomatic solution” to the tensions between the United States and North Korea. However, he also highlighted Pyongyang’s increasingly aggressive behavior toward the west, stating, “North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations’ Security Council, they still proceed.”
Relations between the US and Pyongyang have intensified, especially after President Donald Trump took office. The president has repeatedly sent ominous warnings to Kim Jong-un’s regime as Pyongyang continues to test intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, a senior North Korean official stated that the US should take Pyongyang’s threats to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test “literally.”
If Kim Jong-un decides to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test, it would be a huge escalation — one that goes beyond simple sabre-rattling. It would be the first nation to conduct such a test since 1980, when China tested a nuclear weapon. Up until now, North Korea’s tests have been underground.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, who joined Mattis during his speech, spoke in harsher terms when referring to North Korea’s nuclear weapons. “Should they ever use it, they will be faced with the strong might” of South Korean and US forces, he said. “They will be met with a proportional and firm response.”
Song also urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. He wishes the regime to resume dialogue between the two nations.
Mattis also discussed the differences between the North and the South. “The North is ridden with an ‘oppressive regime’ that shackles its people, while the South boasts a vibrant, thriving democracy and free society,” he said.
The defense secretary’s visit to the Demilitarization Zone shows the seriousness of the situation with North Korea. Kim Jong Un is motivated by a desire to become relevant on the world stage. He is also hoping to avoid the same fates as Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein — both dictators toppled by the United States.
It is unlikely that the Kim regime will give up its nuclear ambitions — they believe they have too much to lose if they do. The nuclear threat posed by the regime has prevented the west from taking more aggressive action against the totalitarian government. If we were to launch an attack on Pyongyang, they would instantly retaliate by striking South Korea — which would cause thousands of casualties.
There are no positive solutions to the North Korean issue. China has finally started to show some interest in applying more pressure to the regime, but it is not yet clear whether or not these actions will be effective. While it is important that the Trump administration finds a peaceful solution to this conflict, it may not be possible.