Pentagon chief Ashton Carter on Thursday again threatened an “overwhelming” response if North Korea uses a nuclear weapon, reflecting heightened tensions after Pyongyang conducted another missile test.
Earlier in the day, North Korea had conducted a failed test -- its second in a week -- of a powerful medium-range missile that experts warn could be deployed as early as next year.
South Korean and US military monitors said the missile -- believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan -- exploded shortly after take-off at around 6:30 am Pyongyang time (2200 GMT Wednesday).
The attempted launch came just hours before the start of the third US presidential debate -- a timely reminder of the challenge North Korea’s fast-moving nuclear weapons program will pose to the next occupant of the White House.
“We strongly condemn last night’s attempt, which even in failing, violated several UN Security Council resolutions,” Carter said at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Han Min-Koo.
Carter went on to repeat a pledge he made alongside Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, ahead of the most recent missile test.
“Make no mistake: Any attack on America or our allies will not only be defeated, but any use of nuclear weapons will be met with an overwhelming and effective response.”
The launches highlight the shortcomings of the Musudan, Han suggested, noting there was a “high possibility” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was at the site of the most recent launch.
“For political purposes, they’re conducting these Musudan launches and through these failed tests, they’ve shown their limits,” Han said according to translated remarks.
It was the second failed launch in less than a week of the Musudan, which has a theoretical range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers (1,500 and 2,500 miles).
The lower estimate covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.