U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrived in Mountain View on Thursday intending to highlight the development of new military technology for the digital age. But the weaponry that stole the show was a throwback to the Cold War -- nuclear arms and their destructive power that still remains essentially unchecked.
The possibility of nuclear warfare gained new urgency after North Korea demonstrated last month that it has missile technology sophisticated enough to strike the U.S. mainland.
Tensions further escalated in recent days as President Donald Trump promised "fire and fury" against North Korea if it persisted in making threats. On Thursday -- just hours before Mattis spoke in Mountain View -- North Korea announced it was preparing plans to fire four missiles near Guam.
Asked repeatedly by reporters about the situation, Mattis gave assurances that U.S. efforts right now were "diplomatically led." He pointed to the recent unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea as evidence that route was showing success.
"You can see the American effort is diplomatically led, and it has diplomatic traction and it's gaining diplomatic results," he said. "My portfolio and responsibility is to have military options should they be needed."
What "options" could those be? Mattis declined to give specifics, explaining that he wasn't going to tip his hand to the enemy. But the U.S. military is ready, he said.
The trip was officially organized so Mattis could visit the headquarters for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), a relatively new arm of the Pentagon meant to nurture startups that develop technology useful to the military.
DIUx was launched in 2015 by Mattis' predecessor under President Obama, Ash Carter. While the Trump administration has pledged to undo many programs from the Obama years, DIUx will remain in place and will likely grow its role in the near future, Mattis said.
During his West Coast visit, the defense secretary also toured the headquarters of Amazon and Google.
At the press conference, DIUx team members highlighted the new technology they were helping fund, such as autonomous sailboats for scouting, and Bluetooth communications devices that fit discreetly along your jaw.
But the new gadgetry was mostly ignored as Mattis fielded questions from the press scrum. He was asked repeatedly about the threat of nuclear war.
"If you're going to an objective down the track ... you need two rails," Mattis said. "We have two rails that are mutually supportive, and we have the diplomatic track out in front."
And the other track? Mattis didn't say.