Defense Secretary James Mattis took his first official trip abroad this month to visit two American allies, South Korea and Japan, where he reiterated the United States’ firm commitment to the security of our long-time Asia-Pacific partners.
In Seoul, Secretary Mattis called the U.S.-South Korea alliance “a linchpin” of regional peace and stability. He noted the dangers posed by North Korea’s missile launches, nuclear weapons program, and threatening rhetoric and behavior. “America’s commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad,” he said.
“Any attack on the United States or on our allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with the response that would be effective and overwhelming.”
In the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile threat, the United States is taking defensive steps to help protect the South Korean people, as well as the thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the country. Secretary Mattis pointed to the deployment to South Korea of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, capable of intercepting and destroying North Korean ballistic missiles potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction. He also spoke of the need to continue expanding trilateral cooperation with Japan.
In Tokyo, Secretary Mattis referred to the alliance between the US and Japan as enduring and “a cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia Pacific region.” He reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Security and praised Japan for its “noteworthy contributions” to regional stability.
Secretary Mattis stressed, however, that both the United States and Japan “must not be found complacent in the face of the emerging challenges.” He pointed to “the threat of nuclear and missile provocations by North Korea [and] to increasingly confrontational behavior by China in the East and South China Seas.”
Secretary Mattis emphasized the necessity of maintaining a rules-based international order, in which countries resolve issues like land disputes through arbitration or diplomacy, not through military force or occupation. He also insisted that “freedom of navigation is absolute.”
Faced with the current grave security situation, Secretary Mattis said it is important for the United States and Japan “to continue investing in our defense personnel and capabilities. In this manner, we will ensure that we are true partners today and in the years to come. The United States,” he added, ”stands with our friends and allies.”