On a trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone on Sunday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had a message for North Korea: “They should be on the path to doing less and ultimately zero in the nuclear field, not to doing more.”
Carter spoke to reporters with North Korea in the background to highlight “up close just how dangerous this part of the world is.”
“And that’s why our alliance with South Korea is ironclad and strong. And you see that by the strength of our soldiers here and their South Korean counterparts,” he said.
“And the ever-present danger is the reason why we speak of the ability to fight tonight. That’s the slogan up here. No one ever wants to have to do that. But deterrence is guaranteed through strength, and that’s what the alliance is all about.”
Carter was taking the time to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Han Min-koo.
Asked about Pyongyang’s three nuclear tests and imminent fourth, Carter called for resumption of the six-party talks.
“That remains our policy,” he said. “We remain committed to achieving that negotiated outcome with North Korea.”
But is the Defense secretary more or less optimistic about those chances as opposed to a year ago?
“North Korea remains a closed society, one that we do not have full insight into, do not have normal and regular, but only occasion direct contacts with. And so we don’t have a lot of insight into the North Korean government or the plans there,” Carter replied. “We continue to call on North Korea to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula, avoid provocations, avoid adding to tensions on the peninsula, and to take the steps that are called for in the six-party talks to denuclearize the peninsula and ultimately create a situation that is peaceful and prosperous for everyone on the peninsula.”
“But for now, that’s not what we have. For now, what we have is what you see behind us, which is a very starkly divided and heavily defended border area. And that is the necessity that we see at this time, given that we have incomplete visibility into North Korea. That much we can see, the need for the alliance and the need for strength and the need for the soldiers you see around us.”
Carter told troops at Fort Wainwright in Alaska on Saturday that “we have to be ready, as we say, to fight tonight every night on the Korean Peninsula.”
“And it has been like that for, what, 60 years, right? So a long time, but there it is,” he said. “And we have got to do that. So that’s an oldie. ISIL is a new one. Korea is an oldie.”