President Mike Pence with US service members in Tokyo on April
Vice President Mike Pence stood on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in
Yokosuka, Japan, on Wednesday and reassured thousands of US Navy
sailors and regional allies that “the sword stands ready” to
strike at North Korea’s Kim regime.
The four most important words Pence has said on his Asia trip so
far were in response to a key question: Will the US talk to North
Pence has repeated nearly verbatim statements from
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the US’s strategic patience
ending with North Korea, and other military threats by other
But his words aboard the Reagan about an “overwhelming and
effective” response to any use of conventional or nuclear weapons
by North Korea rang hollow.
The US Navy has told Business Insider that the forward-based
Reagan will be tied up for months with refittings and training
exercises. In a perplexing mix-up, the USS Carl Vinson, which the
US Navy said on April 8 would head to North Korea, was photographed 3,500 miles away in Indonesia on
South Korea’s conservative candidate for its May presidential
election, Hong Joon-pyo,
told The Wall Street Journal of the carrier mix-up: “What Mr.
Trump said was very important for the national security of South
Korea. If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea
will not trust whatever Trump says.”
The aircraft carrier USS
Carl Vinson.US Navy photo by
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M.
On both the North Korean and US sides of the conflict, all talk
of military action can likely be dismissed as bluster.
North Korea has promised “nuclear thunderbolts” and “all-out war,” but
any conflict between the US and Kim Jong Un’s regime would likely
be bloody and result in the near destruction of North Korea,
unacceptable civilian losses in South Korea and possibly Japan,
and the devastation of US military bases in the region by missile
and artillery fire.
None of the dozen or so North Korea experts contacted by Business
said large-scale military action against the regime was
credible. China must know this. North Korea, on some level,
must know this.
North Korea has repeatedly offered to scale back its nuclear
program if the US stops its annual military drills with South
Korea. The US has dismissed this, saying that planned, regularly
occurring military exercises that have gone on for 40 years
without leading to war can’t be equated to a state that often
threatens to nuke its neighbors.
Korean soldiers at a military training in March
Trump has brought two ideas to the North Korean stalemate:
threaten military force, and leverage the US’s trade relationship
with China to force its hand against the Kim regime.
But military force wouldn’t work, and there’s not much China can
In light of the failure of military and economic measures,
diplomatic engagement looks like the only option left, but Pence
has made the US’s stance on this clear: “Not at this time.”