Pentagon chief says North Korea engages in ‘outlaw’ behaviour


The threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said, accusing the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs and pledging to repel any strike.

In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis said North Korea engages in “outlaw” behaviour and that the US will never accept a nuclear North.

The Pentagon chief added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old US-South Korean alliance.

“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbours and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” he said, adding that US-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration thus has taken on “a new urgency.”

“I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” Mattis said.

As he emphasised throughout his weeklong Asia trip, which included stops in Thailand and the Philippines, Mattis said diplomacy remains the preferred way to deal with the North.

“With that said,” he added, “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.”

Mattis’ comments did not go beyond his recent statements of concern about North Korea, although he appeared to inject a stronger note about the urgency of resolving the crisis.

While he accused the North of “outlaw” behaviour, he did not mention that President Donald Trump has ratcheted up his own rhetoric.

In August, Trump warned the North not to make any more threats against the United States, and said that if it did, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Song, the South Korean minister, told the news conference that he and Mattis agreed to further cooperation on strengthening Seoul’s defence capabilities, including lifting warhead payload limits on South Korean conventional missiles and supporting the country’s acquisition of “most advanced military assets.”

He offered no specifics and refused to answer when asked whether the discussions included nuclear-powered submarines.

Some South Korean government officials have endorsed the nation getting nuclear-powered submarines amid calls for more military strength. There’s a growing concern among the South Korean public that North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons arsenal, which may soon include an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the US mainland, would undermine Seoul’s long alliance with Washington.

South Korea’s conservative politicians have also called for the United States to bring back tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula in the 1990s. But Mattis and Song were strongly dismissive of the idea.

“When considering national interest, it’s much better not to deploy them,” said Song, adding that the allies would have “sufficient means” to respond to a North Korean nuclear attack even without placing tactical nuclear weapons in the South.

Mattis said current US strategic assets are already providing nuclear deterrence and that the South Korean government has never approached him with the subject of tactical nuclear weapons.