U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the threat of a nuclear attack by North Korea is increasing.
In Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo next to him, Mattis said North Korea is engaging in "outlaw" behavior and pledged to resist any strike.
“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” he said
Mattis emphasized diplomacy is still the U.S.'s preferred way to deal with North Korea, but said, “make no mistake — any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response that is effective and overwhelming.”
Last month, Mattis told reporters that the U.S. has military action options that do not put Seoul at risk, but did not expand on what that could mean.
“Our military options as I mentioned are designed to buttress the diplomats’ efforts to maintain a deterrence stance and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
North Korea has said one reason it needs nuclear weapons is because the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government.
Mattis is on a week-long trip around Asia, which included stops in Thailand and the Philippines, and has now visited South Korea twice since taking office in January.
As the continuing threat posed by the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) nuclear-weapons development has become the central focus of Trump administration foreign policy, lawmakers and military brass have tightened protocols, focused resources and continuously issued warnings of US readiness to engage in nuclear war, if Washington feels that it is threatened militarily.
During a recent visit to Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base — home of the 2nd Bomb Wing and the Air Force Global Strike Command — USAF chief of staff, General David Goldfein, asserted that moves had been made to upgrade the nuclear-equipped B-52 Cold War-era bomber, going so far as to allude that a 24-hour state of readiness would soon be ordered — a move not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"The world is a dangerous place and we've got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons," Goldfein stated, adding that, "It's never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right," cited by Defense One.
His remarks were quickly discounted in a subsequent statement by the Barksdale-based bomber wing's public affairs office, but the threat implied by the top USAF general's comments have only been seen to add fuel to the fire of incipient nuclear war.
Chinese geologists have warned North Korea that the consequences could be catastrophic if it conducts another test at the mountainous Punggye-ri nuclear facility, the South China Morning Post reports.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test at the facility, situated roughly 50 miles from China's border, in early September. After the test, a senior Chinese nuclear scientist warned that another test could blow off the top of the mountain and lead to a massive collapse, which could allow radioactive waste to be blown across the border into China. This warning came as a North Korean delegation met with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology in Beijing on September 20.
Pyongyang's September nuclear test was its most powerful yet. It was estimated to have a yield of 100 kilotons, which would make it roughly seven times as strong as the U.S. atomic bomb that decimated the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II in 1945.
Since the test, North Korea has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, which could pose a huge risk to aircraft and shipping. During an interview that aired on CNN Wednesday, an official representing North Korea's government, Ri Yong Pil, told the U.S. it must take the North Korean test threat "literally."
As U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited the Demilitarized Zone that divides South Korea from North Korea on Friday, he decried Pyongyang's recent actions. But he also emphasized that the U.S. desires a "diplomatic solution" to the two nation's differences.
"North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations’ Security Council, they still proceed," Mattis said. "As Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
The U.S. and North Korea have been enemies for over half a century, but tensions have been particularly high in recent months as Pyongyang has ramped up its long-range missile tests and refused to give into global pressure to end its nuclear program.