Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said today it may be necessary to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the threat from their weapons program reaches a level “that we believe requires action.”
Tillerson outlined a tougher strategy to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat after visiting the world’s most heavily armed border near the tense buffer zone between rivals North and South Korea.
Asked about the possibility of using military force against the North, Tillerson told a news conference in the South Korean capital, “all of the options are on the table.”
He said the U.S. does not want a military conflict, “but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that would be met with [an] appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table.”
But he said that by taking other steps, including sanctions, the U.S. is hopeful that North Korea could be persuaded to take a different course before it reaches that point.
Past U.S. administrations have considered military force because North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile to deliver them, but rarely has that option been expressed so explicitly.
North Korea has accelerated its weapons development, violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and appearing undeterred by tough international sanctions. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. within a few years.
Tillerson is mid-way through a three-nation swing through Northeast Asia, which began in Japan and will end in China. State Department officials have described it as a “listening tour” as the administration seeks a coherent North Korea policy, well-coordinated with its Asian partners.
Earlier today, Tillerson touched down by helicopter Friday at Camp Bonifas, U.S.-led U.N. base about 400 meters from the Demilitarized Zone, a Cold War vestige created after the Korean War ended in 1953. He then moved to the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, a cluster of blue huts where the Korean War armistice was signed.
More than a million mines are believed to be buried inside the DMZ. Land mine explosions in 2015 that Seoul blamed on Pyongyang maimed two South Korean soldiers and led the rivals to threaten each other with attacks.