US and ROK Defense Chiefs Condemn North Korean Provocations

Some strong language from the US and ROK Defense Chiefs:

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) shakes hands with his American counterpart James Mattis before a joint press conference in Seoul on Oct. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States made clear Saturday that North Korea’s provocations will never be tolerated, as the two warned any act of aggression will be met with a “massive military response.”

They also stressed it’s pipe dream for North Korea to be recognized as a nuclear power.

The allies “reaffirmed that any North Korean aggression or military provocation will not be tolerated,” read the joint communique issued after their annual defense ministerial talks.

The two sides will continue combined efforts to “make North Korea understand that it cannot achieve the ends it seeks through its provocative behavior,” it added.

South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo told reporters that he and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis condemned the North’s reckless provocations, including a series of recent ballistic missile launches and a nuclear test.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but I guess the question now becomes what is an “act of aggression”?  Does ballistic missile and nuclear tests count as an act of aggression worth a massive military response?

Defense Secretary Mattis Makes Visit to DMZ During South Korea Trip

As the below picture shows US Defense Secretary Mattis decided not to wear his old Marine uniform to the DMZ like he previously indicated he would:

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issue their statements on North Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone on Oct. 27, 2017. (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap)

Mattis arrived in South Korea earlier in the day. Shortly after landing at Camp Bonifas by Black Hawk chopper, he and Song headed to the OP Ouellette, a hilltop border post, and looked around a bunker underneath the facilities only 25 meters away from the North’s territory.

They were briefed on Panmunjom by U.S. Army Col. Steve Lee, secretary of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC). They then toured the UNCMAC’s blue-colored conference building which stands on the Military Demarcation Line.

The North’s guards closely monitored the ministers’ activities, with a group of tourists looking down from the Panmungak building in the North.

In their Clark talks, the South’s minister proposed Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, wear a combat uniform for the DMZ trip to send a highly symbolic message to the North. Mattis responded positively to the offer at that time, according to Song.

But Mattis was dressed in a suit as usual after internal consultations apparently in order to avoid possible controversy over a dress code reflecting the U.S. defense secretary’s public availability.

Asked whether President Donald Trump can travel to the DMZ when he visits South Korea early next month, Mattis was guarded.

Following the DMZ tour, he paid a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae and met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Secretary of Defense Mattis to Visit Troops in Korea Wearing His Marine Uniform

It will be interesting to see what the North Koreans have to say about this visit and messaging by US Secretary Defense James Mattis:

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) and his American counterpart James Mattis in an image provided by Yonhap News TV. (Yonhap)

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Monday he and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis plan to use military uniforms for a joint warning message to North Korea this week, when they meet in South Korea for bilateral annual talks.

Song proposed that Mattis wear a Marine Corps combat uniform, instead of a suit, in meeting with the allies’ troops on the peninsula together. The Pentagon chief is a retired Marine Corps general.

Song, a former Navy admiral and chief of staff, will be dressed in a Navy combat uniform as well.

“I offered that to Secretary of Defense Mattis and he responded positively without hesitation,” the minister told reporters during a visit to Clark, the Philippines, for a regional security forum hosted by Southeast Asian countries.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of Defense Says There Are Military Options Against North Korea that Don’t Put Seoul at Risk

Of course the United States has military options that do not threaten Seoul.  In fact one was just executed with the recent B-1 show of force bombing exercise in South Korea.  The real question is if there are military options to remove North Korea’s ICBM and nuclear facilities without endangering Seoul:

The United States has military options for North Korea that do not put Seoul at grave risk, Washington’s top defense official said Monday.

The remark by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis marks a departure from the popular argument that there is no viable military option that would not leave thousands of South Koreans and U.S. service members dead.

“Yes, there are,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon when asked whether there were military options that would not seriously endanger Seoul. “But I will not go into details.”

Mattis said he discussed with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo the issue of reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea to counter North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threats. But he declined to say whether the option is under consideration.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Article About the Korean War Recommended By Defense Secretary Mattis

During a recent interview with Defense Secretary James Mattis conducted by a high school journalism student; Secretary Mattis recommended that people read a 2013 article in the Atlantic by James Wright that discusses what was learned from the Korean War.  The main point the article makes is that the Korean War began a trend of the US becoming involved in military conflicts before settling on political objectives:

Korea established a pattern that has been unfortunately followed in American wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These are wars without declaration and without the political consensus and the resolve to meet specific and changing goals. They are improvisational wars. They are dangerous.

The wars of the last 63 years, ranging from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq (but excepting Operation Desert Storm, which is an outlier from this pattern) have been marked by:

  • Inconsistent or unclear military goals with no congressional declaration of war.

  • Early presumptions on the part of the civilian leadership and some top military officials that this would be an easy operation. An exaggerated view of American military strength, a dismissal of the ability of the opposing forces, and little recognition of the need for innovation.

  • Military action that, except during the first year in Korea, largely lacked geographical objectives of seize and hold.

  • Military action with restricted rules of engagement and political constraints on the use of a full arsenal of firepower.

  • Military action against enemy forces that have sanctuaries which are largely off-limits.

  • Military action that is rhetorically in defense of democracy–ignoring the reality of the undemocratic nature of regimes in Seoul, Saigon, Baghdad, and Kabul.

  • With the exception of some of the South Korean and South Vietnamese military units, these have been wars with in-country allies that were not dependable.

  • Military action that civilian leaders modulate, often clumsily, between domestic political reassurance and international muscle-flexing. Downplaying the scale of deployment and length of commitment for the domestic audience and threatening expansion of these for the international community.

  • Wars fought by increasingly less representative sectors of American society, which further encourages most Americans to pay little attention to the details of these encounters.

  • Military action that is costly in lives and treasure and yet does not enjoy the support that wars require in a democracy.  [The Atlantic]

You can read the rest at the link.

High School Journalism Student Lands Interview with US Secretary of Defense Mattis

I think this high school student probably just scored himself an A in his journalism class after landing an interview with Defense Secretary Mattis:

A US high school student has scored an exclusive interview with Pentagon chief Jim Mattis after an aide of President Donald Trump inadvertently exposed the defense secretary’s cell phone number.

The Washington Post in May ran a photo of Trump and his bodyguard Keith Schiller walking outside the White House, with Schiller clutching a bunch of papers.

Sharp-eyed readers noticed that atop the papers was a yellow sticky note that said “Jim, Mad Dog, Mattis” along with a phone number.

Retired four-star Marine general Mattis has been nicknamed “Mad Dog” by some in the media and by troops that served under him.

The newspaper quickly took the photo down but not before Teddy Fischer, a sophomore (about 16 years old) from Mercer Island High School saw the number and called Mattis with an interview request.

“I called it to see if it was him, because I was pretty curious if this is actually his number or is it kind of a joke,” Fischer told the King 5 local news channel in his home state of Washington.

He didn’t leave a message but went on to text an interview request.

To his surprise, Mattis called back and agreed to schedule an interview, which ultimately would last for about 45 minutes.  [AFP]

For those that think war with North Korea is imminent I think this passage from Secretary Mattis during the interview is quite telling:

“The most important thing is, if you have to go to war, then do everything you can not to go to war if at all possible,” the defense secretary added. “Then you’ve got to get the political end state right or you’ll never figure out how to end it successfully.”

Mattis cited the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Iraq as an exception to the US’s half-century pattern of entering conflicts without a planned political end state. In that conflict, Mattis says, President George H.W. Bush formed a coalition and pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, stopping short of invading Iraq, despite calls to do so.

“We went in with more troops than we needed and we ended it quickly, because he had the political end state right,” Mattis said.  [Business Insider]

I don’t think anyone can make the case yet that all options to deal with the North Korean threat have been exhausted.  Based on Secretary Mattis’ statement I don’t think he is going to be an advocate of launching any strike on North Korea until all options are exhausted.

The full interview with Mattis can be read at the high school newspaper’s website. The student I thought did a really good job because the interview was actually quite interesting and worth taking the time to read.

Defense Secretary Mattis Calls North Korea America’s Most Serious Threat

North Korea has jumped above Iran on America’s enemies list according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis:

Defense Secretary James Mattis, when he led the U.S. Central Command that oversees operations in the Middle East, repeatedly said that the three gravest threats to the United States were “Iran, Iran, Iran.”

But at a press conference in London on Friday, the retired Marine general suggested that North Korea, with its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, now holds the top spot.

Asked about his previous focus on Iran as the most serious threat, Mattis called Iran “the primary state sponsor of terrorism” but pivoted quickly to the secretive Stalinist regime in Pyongyang.

“In the larger scheme of things, obviously, in a global situation that’s dynamic, you’ve highlighted appropriately I think the North Korean threat,” Mattis said (the reporter had not mentioned North Korea).  [Yahoo News]

You can read more at the link.