Donald Trump’s defence secretary warns North Korea of overwhelming response to nuclear attack

US President Donald Trump’s defence secretary warned North Korea on Friday of an “effective and overwhelming” response if Pyongyang chose to use nuclear weapons, as he reassured Seoul of steadfast US support at the end of a two-day visit.

Defence secretaries have long offered assurances to South Korea and Japan that its nuclear “umbrella” will protect them, but Jim Mattis’s statement was perhaps more pointed than most. He made the remarks during an appearance with his South Korean counterpart, Defence Minister Han Min Koo.

“North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons programme, and engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior,” Mr Mattis said.

“We stand with our peace-loving Republic of Korea ally to maintain stability on the peninsula and in the region,” he added.

“America’s commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad: Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”

Mr Mattis’ two-day visit comes amid concern that the North may be readying to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Trump’s administration.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the United States, conducted more than 20 missile tests last year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions.

The North appears to have also restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility that produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons program, according to a US think-tank, 38 North.

Profile | General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

United States Secretary of Defense
Born:
8 September 1950 (age 66)

From:Pullman, Washington

Education:BA history from Central Washington University

Military career

Enlisted in Marine Corps Reserve in 1969 and was commissioned second lieutenant through Reserve Officers Training Corps

  • Afghanistan – As a colonel, Mattis commanded 7th Marine regiment before being promoted to general and commanding 1st Marine Expeditionary Force
  • Iraq – Major general in command of 1st Marine Division, where he popularized the motto “no better friend, no worse enemy”
  • Commander of US Joint Forces Command , then nominated by President Barack Obama as commander of United States Central Command – the theatre-level military command that oversees countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia; notably Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Retired in 2013. His appointment by Donald Trump required a special waiver, as generally a Secretary of Defense cannot have served in the military within the last seven years

Global political views

General Mattis has gone on record as supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He believes Iran represents a greater threat to Middle East peace than ISIL, but is reluctantly supportive of the “imperfect” Iran nuclear deal. he has spoken out against Russian expansionism in Ukraine, Syria and the Baltic states.

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