Vice President Mike Pence doubled down on the fierce rhetoric aimed at North Korea Wednesday, vowing in a speech onboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in Japanese waters that the U.S. would meet any aggression from Pyongyang with an “overwhelming and effective” response.
“The United States of America will always seek peace, but under President Trump the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready,” Pence told an audience of sailors onboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka.
“We will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response,” he said. “All options are on the table. History will attest the soldier does not bear the sword in vain.”
Pence has been using the early days of his Asia Pacific tour to signal a more forceful U.S. posture toward North Korea and reassure allies South Korea and Japan that the Trump administration is committed to their defense – amid soaring hostility on the Korean Peninsula. China has also spoken of “increasing concern” over North Korea’s nuclear development.
The rhetoric from both Washington and Pyongyang has ratcheted up considerably over the past week, amid repeated declarations from senior U.S. figures that “the era of strategic patience is over” regarding the North’s nuclear ambitions, fueling speculation that the new administration could be considering a pre-emptive military strike on North Korean military sites.
North Korea conducted another banned missile test Sunday – although it reportedly failed almost immediately after launch – the same day that North Korean state TV broadcast an official concert celebrating the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, which featured graphics depicting a catastrophic missile strike on the U.S.
The country’s Vice-Foreign Minister, Han Song-ryol, told the BBC Monday that North Korea would continue to test missiles “on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis,” and warned an “all-out war” would result if the U.S. took military action.
Determined to signal a hard line on North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programs, the U.S. has issued its own warnings, both directly and indirectly. Surprise strikes – both on a Syrian airfield in the wake of a chemical attack, and on an ISIS target in Afghanistan – have demonstrated the Trump administration’s apparent preparedness to launch military action.
Pence underlined this during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday when he said that “all options are on the table” regarding North Korea. But that message may have been undercut by the revelation that an “armada” which Trump said last week was heading toward the Korean Peninsula as a show of force was in fact headed in the opposite direction at the time.
A White House official blamed the mix-up on a miscommunication, and the strike group is now expected to arrive off the Korean Peninsula at the end of the month, CNN reports.
Speaking onboard the aircraft carrier Wednesday, Pence also said that more of the U.S.’s most advanced military assets would be deployed to the region, where 47,000 American troops are stationed in Japan and 28,000 in South Korea, under decades-old mutual defense treaties underpinning regional security in East Asia.
The administration’s attempts to reassure Seoul and Tokyo come after statements by Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year that criticized those commitments as one-sided and expensive, though once in office Trump pledged his support for the alliance.