American Attitudes Reflect A Complicated World

18 Dec

Global System FailureAmericans’ attitudes to various foreign policy issues, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are, in a word, complicated (via Witness to Transformation). Marcus Noland takes the easy issue, North Korea.

Concern about North Korea is the number one issue in terms of America’s relations with both Japan and South Korea. On a question in which respondents were presented six possible strategic priorities in American relationships with Japan and South Korea, “preventing North Korea from building its nuclear capability” came out highest of the six possible priorities for both countries. Trying to bring about regime change in North Korea, however, is a much lower priority, with only 17 percent considering it a “very high” priority in America’s relationship with either Japan or South Korea.

Concern over North Korea is also reflected in continuing majority support for U.S. military bases in South Korea—considerably higher than for any other country on which respondents were polled.

And what happens if the North Koreans attack South Korea? How questions are framed matters: as in past Chicago Council Surveys, in response to questions that imply unilateral rather than multilateral action, a majority opposes using U.S. troops to defend South Korea if North Korea invaded (56%). A slight majority of Republicans (51%) would support such an action; intriguingly, self-identified independents (36%) were more dovish than Democrats (40%). However, if this question is rephrased in terms of a multilateral effort under the banner of the United Nations, a majority (64%) supports using American troops, with the political breakdown yielding majorities of Democrats (64%), Republicans (70%), and Independents (60%).

So, what we have is the status quo – no big change. However, lukewarm support for regime change is a relief. What’s complicated, beyond the narrow shift from Europe to Asia amongst millennials, is the way opinion tends to split for baby boomers and millennials. On Japan and South Korea, there’s an encouraging trend, to not see Japan as a trade threat, and South Korea as a little less threateningly. China is a muddle. The problem with these surveys is, that they often seem to reflect, not what respondents have considered, but what little they know or care about.


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