Tensions with North Korea reached a high point after the regime threatened the United States with nuclear weapons and conducted a new underground nuclear test last month.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army on Monday, Mattis said that the issue of North Korea is currently a diplomatic and economic one.
“It is right now a diplomatically led, economic-sanction-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path,” Mattis said in response to a question from the audience on what the U.S. military can do to prevent the likelihood of an armed conflict with the North.
However, Mattis stressed the importance of the U.S. military being ready for such a conflict if it arises.
“There’s one thing that the U.S. army can do, and that is you’ve got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our President can employ if needed,” Mattis said.
“What does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say,” he said. Mattis urged soldiers to read T. R. Fehrenback’s book on the Korean War. In the book, named “This Kind of War,” Fehrenback provides analysis and lessons learned from the war.
Mattis pointed to the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of new sanctions on North Korea last month. The vote, which came in response to North Korea’s sixth underground nuclear test, resulted in sanctions prohibiting all sales of gas to the North, and limitations on the amount of oil that can be sent.
“The international community has spoken, but that means the U.S. army must stand ready. And so if you’re ready, that’s your duty at this point in time. And I know the army will always do its duty,” Mattis said.
Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump tweeted that policies of previous U.S. administrations on North Korea have failed.
Despite nearly 25 years of talks with North Korea, it has been able to develop nuclear bombs and the missiles needed to deliver them. Last week, North Korean officials presented a visiting Russian delegation with calculations showing that its missiles can now reach the U.S. mainland.
Trump has vowed to protect America against such a threat and has called for a denuclearized North Korea.
Last week the president said that there is “only one option” when it comes to North Korea.
Asked what the president meant by the statement on NBC’s Meet The Press, Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said it referred to the fact that military options are on the table.
“What the president is clearly telegraphing, and this should not be news to anybody, is that military options are on the table with North Korea. They absolutely are,” Mulvaney said
Mattis has previously said that while the United States does not seek to attack North Korea, it has options for the “total annihilation” of the communist state, and that he had briefed the president on all military options available to him.
South Korea said on Monday that its military as well as the U.S. military have been closely monitoring North Korea for a potential new ballistic missile launch.
Military officials said no such launch has been detected yet.