US Vice President was in Japan Wednesday as part of an Asian tour
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula has intensified in recent weeks
US Vice President Mike Pence doubled down on the US commitment to Asia Pacific with a stern warning for North Korea, which he called the “most dangerous and urgent threat” to the region.
Speaking aboard the USS Ronald Reagan at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan Wednesday, Pence reiterated the US and its allies were prepared to respond to potential North Korean attack with “overwhelming” force.
“We will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response,” the Vice President said, to applause from the hundreds of US and Japanese troops gathered on the deck.
“All options are on the table. History will attest the soldier does not bear the sword in vain,” he said.
Pence has used the first stops on his 10-day visit to Asia Pacific to stress the Trump administration’s strong commitment to US allies in the face of hostile rhetoric from Pyongyang.
On Sunday, as part of celebrations to mark the birthday of late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, state television aired a concert which included a video showing the US engulfed in flames.
The audience can be seen applauding as a band plays against the backdrop of a big screen showing tanks and missiles being fired.
The previous day, Pyongyang paraded its military hardware, including what could have been two intercontinental ballistic missile canisters.
Tension has been building on the peninsula in recent days, amid warnings that the country’s nuclear site is “primed and ready” for another test. Many analysts expected that to occur during Kim Il Sung celebrations.
North Korea did test a missile on Sunday, but by US and South Korean accounts it failed “within seconds.”
The US played its own part in the tensions with surprise bombing action in Syria and Afghanistan, which Pence held up Wednesday as proof of US resolve.
“The enemies of our freedom and this alliance would do well not to test the resolve of this president or the capabilities of the armed forces of the United States of America and our allies,” Pence said.
The trip so far has been something of a “reassurance shuffle” – going from ally to ally to let them know America has their backs – according to John Delury, a professor at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul.
The Trump team has signaled it intends to chart a new path when it comes to dealing with North Korea, though analysts say there aren’t too many new options to try.
The Bush administration tried to get them to the negotiating table during the Six Party talks, and the punishing sanctions levied under the Obama administration haven’t deterred Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
“Short of launching a shock and awe campaign which would be overwhelming in its breadth and scale there’s not a lot else the US and its allies can do other than tighten the constrictor grip on the North,” said Alex Neill, a senior fellow at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
One of the most common refrains from Trump, Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been “the era of strategic patience is over,” referring to what was essentially a wait-and-see tactic to dealing with Pyongyang but is notoriously vague, says Neill.
Pence repeated the phrase in South Korea, the first stop on his tour, and again during his speech aboard the Ronald Reagan.
He told CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday he believes North Korea is getting the message.
“My hope is that they’ll continue to get the message not just from the United States, here in Japan, and in South Korea, but on an increasing basis from China and countries all over the world committing to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Recent developments, however, have may have confused that message.
Last week, President Trump said he was sending an “armada” to the Korean Peninsula as a show of force.
It later emerged that the Navy strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, which was thought to be on its way was actually headed in the opposite direction. A senior official at the White House blamed the error on miscommunication.
But the revelation could be damaging to the US position in Asia, experts say, as it feeds the idea that President Trump cannot always be taken at his word.
“America has played a certain role in Asia since 1945 … that role has in the end of the day been a stabilizer,” Delury said. “That’s what being undermined here with a president who thrives on unpredictability … it’s going to eat away at the fundamental credibility of the US role in Asia.”