There is no shortage of analysis about the evolving threat posed by the insufferable regime in North Korea; however, our understanding of the morphology of South Korean public attitudes on this subject still needs improvement. Most accounts of public opinion on the growing North Korean threat are episodic and limited in scope when the reality is more complex. Our review of the latest data on South Korean public opinion suggests many layers to the on-the-ground perspectives about North Korea.1
Some South Koreans support closer relations with Pyongyang while others see it as a growing threat. On some issues, South Korean public opinion looks quite robust and not prone to much change. Still, on other issues, we see wide swings and variations across time and demographic characteristics. In short, our findings show South Korean public opinion on North Korea is both sophisticated and complex. This report attempts to clarify and explain the intricacies of this reality.
While public opinion need not necessarily drive policy, established literature suggests political exigency influenced by popular sentiments can shape policy.2 To gather the most current South Korean public opinion on North Korea and deterrence, we conducted a survey in November 2022. Some questions in our survey are novel, but most of them are similar to the ones we have asked in the past. While the former will shed light on recent developments, the latter will prove helpful in tracking changes in sentiments over time.
Table of Contents
II. Context Matters
III. Views on North Korea
1. Image of North Korea
2. North Korea as a Security Risk
IV. Threat Perception
1. Perceptions about the North Korean Nuclear Threat
V. Responding to the North Korean Nuclear Threat
1. U.S. Extended Deterrence
2. Addressing the North Korea Security Challenge
3. Nuclear Options and THAAD
Appendix I: Asan Poll Questionnaire (November 2022)
Appendix II: Survey on Indigenous Nuclear Weapons Development
The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
- 1. J. James Kim, Kang Chungku, and Ham Geon Hee. Fundamentals of South Korean Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and National Security. Asan Report. The Asan Institute for Policy Studies. September 13, 2021; South Koreans and Their Neighbors 2022. Asan Poll. The Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
- 2. James A. Stimson, Michael B. MacKuen, and Robert S. Erikson. 1995. “Dynamic Representation.” American Political Science Review, 89: 543-65; Paul Burstein. 2003. “The Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy: A Review and an Agenda.” Political Research Quarterly. 56(1): 29-40; Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1993. “Effects of Public Opinion on Policy.” American Political Science Review. 77: 175-90.