On Jan. 2, United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that “we would obviously urge Kim Jong Un and his leadership team to sit back down at the negotiation table… with that said, we remain, from a military perspective, ready to fight tonight as need be.” Upon being asked whether or not it was time to resume joint military exercises with South Korea, he also said, “Well that’s something we’ll take a look at, depending on Kim Jong Un’s next move. It is true that we did scale back the exercises, and that’s because we wanted to open the door for diplomacy.” This is a warning that if provoked by North Korea, the United States will take military action.

Defense Secretary Esper’s warning is another countermeasure against North Korea as it has rushed headlong toward provoking the United States since the new year began. Since 2018, the United States and South Korea have changed the name of their joint military exercises and have either reduced them in size or suspended them altogether. However, North Korea is warning that it will not stop nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests as promised in return. Yesterday, the Rodong Shinmun reported that “a strong political and military offensive is an important security for victory,” and that “a powerful blow must be immediately dealt to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s infringements upon dignity and the right to live.” Under these circumstances, considering the resumption of joint training exercises is a very reasonable step.

Of course, there is no reason for the United States and North Korea to exacerbate current tensions by moving toward the resumption of large-scale military exercises. The act of minimizing the window of diplomatic opportunity and moving straight into open confrontation could simply end up helping North Korea plunge northeast Asia into a state of conflict. One should only resort to military action after diplomacy has failed. However, the military must always stand ready. We must be prepared to act if North Korea crosses the red line of provocation by refusing to stop nuclear and ICBM tests and pursuing them to the end.

The United States is a nation with frightening military power. If it takes military action, it will not end with a mere show of force such as large-scale joint exercises. Military action could escalate and lead to a blanket blockade of North Korea or even a most aggressive response in which tactical nuclear weapons or intermediate-range missiles are placed in South Korea, shaking up the political situation in all of northeast Asia.

In an unusual move, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a warning to North Korea on Jan. 2, saying that “it is not advisable to take actions that lead to escalated tensions rather than dialogue.” Even Kim Jong Un must certainly know why China has interfered.