William Cohen, who served as secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton, proposed a three-prong approach to handling escalating tensions with North Korea.
Speaking with msnbc's Alex Witt on Saturday, Secretary Cohen said the United States should (1) aim to lower the rhetoric; (2) increase the training and readiness of American and South Korean troops in the region; and (3) intensify the sanctions against the North Korean regime.
Last week North Korea said it will defy the sanctions passed by the United Nations Security Council and continue to develop a nuclear arsenal. The Friday pronouncement followed a week in which the country's young leader, Kim Jong-un, scrapped his country's 60-year non-aggression pact with South Korea and threatened the United States with a preemptive nuclear attack.
Cohen spoke in no uncertain terms about what he thinks would happen if Kim were to launch an attack against America.
"Any threat to the United States that he seeks to carry out would be met with a response that certainly would alter the geography in that region of the world," he said.
He also called for China to exert more influence over Pyongyang.
"They have been providing food and fuel and subsistence to North Korea," Cohen said. "They have to convey the message that this kind of rhetoric and this kind of threat is really adverse to the international interests. The fact that they backed the sanctions is a very strong signal. They're very upset with North Korea for launching the last missile and also for the underground nuclear tests. This is going to continue to be a destabilizing factor throughout the region."
Secretary Cohen went on to tell Witt that he believes North Korea is a greater threat than Iran.
"They're [Iran] pursuing a dangerous path now," said Secretary Cohen, "but I think at least they're open to persuasion."