WASHINGTON, March 17, 2017 — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged in a press conference this week that military action is on the table against North Korea (DPRK). If North Korea’s weapons program poses a sufficient threat, the U.S. will respond as necessary.
During the press conference in South Korea, Tillerson said that the Trump administration is considering a range of diplomatic and economic measures, but it might be forced to take pre-emptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level. Tillerson’s comments come against the backdrop of North Korean work on an ICBM capable of striking the U.S.
During Tillerson’s visit to South Korea, he visited the heavily fortified, militarized border between North and South Korea.
The White House confirms it is reviewing its North Korea policy. Tillerson reiterated that the U.S. does not want a military conflict, “but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten 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.”
President Donald Trump tweeted:
North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2017
The Obama administration also did not rule out military force against North Korea, but for now, Tillerson and the administration believe that sanctions may help. During his comments in South Korea, Tillerson called upon China to implement sanctions imposed by the United Nations in response to North Korea’s missile tests.
North Korea is a failing country; a 2010 report by Amnesty International, ‘The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea,’ claims that “Chronic malnutrition has left many North Koreans with a compromised immune system and heightened their susceptibility to infections and diseases. Malnutrition increases risk of infection and is generally regarded as a major risk factor in the onset of active TB.”
North Korea has long taken an aggressive anti-America stance in its propaganda and political programs based on the official state philosophy of Juche, the theory that through self-reliance and a strong independent state, true socialism can be achieved.
North Korea’s leadership believes that criticism of its human rights record is for the purpose of overturning its Juche socialist system.
The U.S. is prohibited from providing anything other than humanitarian assistance to North Korea. It has provided food and emergency aid to alleviate famine and aid during natural disasters. The U.S. has also provided aid to non-government organizations (NGOs) to assist in fighting infectious diseases and to help improve farming practices in order to increase agricultural output.
President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA) on October 18, 2004. It was extended in 2012 until 2017 with the purpose of increasing U.S. assistance of North Korean refugees in China and the United States.
There is little reason to believe that North Korea’s human rights record has improved. In 2013, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea found evidence of “systematic, gross and widespread human rights violations.”
Tillerson voiced his opposition to halting the U.S.-South Korea military drills in exchange for a nuclear freeze by North Korea. Tillerson appears to be against restarting negotiations with North Korea, saying, “20 years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today.”
Part of that conversation was the six-party talks, held in China after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003. The talks brought South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to the table five times between 2003 and 2007.
The DPRK pulled out of the talks in 2009 and resumed its uranium enrichment program. The Obama administration refused to resume the talks unless the North recommitted to denuclearization. North Korea’s recent missile launches show that its nuclear programs are active, and Tillerson says that if they reach a “certain point,” military action may be warranted.
China is encouraging the U.S. to maintain a “cool head” toward North Korea. Tillerson is actively discussing trade, militarization, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs with China.
This is the first trip by Secretary Tillerson. He previously had talks with both South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also the acting president.