Defense Secretary James Mattis explains what war with North Korea would look like

Asked by Rep. Tim Ryan of the House Appropriations Committee to explain why the US doesn't just go to war to stop North Korea from developing the capability to hit the US, Secretary of Defense James Mattis painted a grim scenario.

"I would suggest that we will win," said Mattis of a possible war with North Korea. "It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we've seen since 1953. It will involve the massive shelling of an ally's capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth," Mattis said of Seoul, which boasts a metro area population of 25 million.

RELATED: North Korea's Missiles

"It would be a war that fundamentally we don't want," said Mattis, but "we would win at great cost."

Mattis explained that because the threat from North Korea looms so large, and a military confrontation would destroy so much, he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all made a peaceful solution a top priority.

Mattis said the topic of North Korea dominated Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korea's only ally, and that the US intended to make China understand that "North Korea today is a strategic burden, not a strategic asset."

China argues it has limited influence with Pyongyang, but as one expert explained, Beijing could cripple the North Korean nation through trade means at any moment, forcing them to come to the negotiating table.

North Korea artillery
North Korea artillery


Mattis made it clear that the US was nearing the end of its rope in dealing with North Korea, saying "we're exhausting all possible diplomatic efforts in this regard."

North Korea recently taunted Trump that they were capable of hitting New York with a nuclear missile, but Mattis made it clear that a war today would mostly hurt our Asian allies.

"It would be a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely," said Mattis.

NOW WATCH: This is the inside account of the secret battle US Marines have been fighting against ISIS

More from Business Insider: