Foreign Policy noted that even without a full-blown press corps present, President Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, managed to make headlines during his stopover on the Korean peninsula.
Standing a few feet from what is technically North Korean territory, Tillerson refused to rule out the nuclearization of America’s Asian allies to counter aggression from North Korea. In a videotaped conversation at the border village of Panmunjom with a reporter from Fox News the US Secretary of State said that “Nothing has been taken off the table” when asked if he would rule out nuclearization of the peninsula.
At a later “press opportunity” in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Friday, Tillerson expanded on his view, saying: “I think it’s important to recognize that the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearization have failed.”
He continued, saying “Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict. But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response.” He added: “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe that requires action, that option is on the table.”
But in a way, the information is nothing new. Trump had telegraphed his intentions a year ago, while still just a candidate for the presidency. He told the New York Times during a March 2016 interview in which the subject of nuclear weapons came up: “Would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case.”
Shocking as this potential reversal of decades of US policy is, it should not come as a complete surprise. As the New Yorker pointed out in a prescient, 10-page feature—titled President Trump’s First Term—back in September 2016, most campaign pledges do eventually become some form of established policy. As New Yorker author Evan Osnos put it, we should not expect “that his presidency would be something other than the campaign that created it.”