(National Sentinel) Defense: A war of words has most definitely been launched by the United States against North Korea, with unusually bellicose rhetoric coming from U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at an Asian conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue, on Friday.
Calling the North a “clear and present danger” to the U.S. and the region, Mattis added it was an “urgent military threat” while offering measured praise of China in its efforts to assist the U.S. in further isolating the Stalinist regime as it continues to develop its nuclear weapons program and the ICBM’s with which to deliver them.
During a question-and-answer segment with national security experts from around the globe, Mattis laid out the U.S. vision of working diplomatically to resolve its issues with Pyongyang. But hidden in the message is the fact that the Trump administration a) considers dealing with North Korea a foreign policy priority; and b) no options have been taken off the table.
“We’re working diplomatically, economically, we’re trying to exhaust all possible alternatives to avert this race for a nuclear weapon in violation of … the United Nations’ restrictions on North Korea’s activities,” he said.
“We want to stop this. We consider it urgent,” he added.
He also added the U.S. would stick to its treaty commitments to ally South Korea.
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is not new, but the regime has increased the pace and scope of its efforts,” he noted, referencing Pyongyang’s more frequent testing of missiles in recent months, especially.
“While the North Korean regime has a long record of murder of diplomats, of kidnapping, killing of sailors, and criminal activity, its nuclear weapons program is maturing as a threat to all,” Mattis said, adding, “As a matter of national security, the United States regards the threat from North Korea as a clear and present danger.”
Such language – “clear and present danger” – is the diplomatic equivalent of letting an adversary know the United States has identified it as a top threat worthy of pre-emptive action. Under international law, pre-emption versus prevention in the form of a military strike is permissible; the former defined as “taking military action against a state that was about to launch an attack.”
“…[I]nternational law has permitted this in order to forestall clear and immediately present dangers, while prevention is defined as ‘starting a war against a state that might, in some future point, pose such risks,'” Foreign Policy magazine noted in a 2005 think piece.
This language has been used prior to U.S. military action for decades. It was used by the George H. W. Bush administration before the Gulf War, and after; used to justify the subsequent Iraq in invasion in 2003; used to define the immediate post-9/11 threat the Taliban in Afghanistan posed.
Now it’s being used again.
North Korea is being put on notice by the Trump administration. What happens from this point on is up to Pyongyang.