How South Koreans and Americans Differ On North Korea

14 Apr

Kang Yong-sukAmerican and South Korean public opinion on the issue of imminent war with North Korea diverges dramatically. David Engel reiterates what several expat pundits, including this one, have argued anecdotally, that South Koreans are not afraid of the North Koreans. According to Mark Quarterman on All In with Chris Hayes, two polls in South Korea and the United States reveal, that 4.5% of South Koreans believe war is imminent, but in the United States 41% of respondents “…say that North Korea is a long-term threat to the U.S and 16% say the isolated regime is not a threat.”

According to the poll, only 46% of the public says the crisis can be successfully resolved with diplomatic or economic means alone, with 51% disagreeing.

“For the first time, Americans are pessimistic that the situation involving North Korea can be resolved using only economic and diplomatic means,” says Holland. “On previous occasions when tensions with North Korea were running high, most Americans thought that diplomacy would be enough, although that number has dropped over the years as those tensions have re-emerged time after time.”

Should the U.S. use troops to defend South Korea if that country is attacked by the north?

The survey indicates that six in ten would support a military response to an attack on South Korea, with a majority of all demographic groups approving that action.

Compare this to an Asan poll conducted in South Korea (and compare to this poll following the 02-12-13 missile test by North Korea).

The Asan Institute for Policy Studies, which conducts a daily telephone survey of about 335 people, found that the recent escalation in North Korean tensions have eaten away at South Koreans’ confidence about their near-term security. Positive perceptions of the short-term security situation have slipped to 16.1% from 29.1% in early January, just weeks before the North’s third nuclear test in mid-February.

But longer-term feelings of security have remained stable, and very high, throughout the latest scare—58.8% of respondents reported feeling upbeat about the South’s long-term security, virtually unchanged from a reading of 60% in early January.

“South Koreans see this [latest flare-up] as a very short-term thing, and they expect a clear resolution,” says Karl Friedhoff, program officer at the Asan Institute’s Public Opinion Studies Center. “Whatever the result may be, South Koreans don’t expect this to impact long-term national security.”

For the most part, South Koreans think the latest developments will quiet down and return to the status quo—mainly because it always has before. That outcome is also becoming more desirable in the South, as the country has prospered and as concerns have grown about how messy and costly the task of reunification would be.

Citizens are telling pollsters they have made virtually no practical preparations for a major escalation of hostilities. “To be honest, we don’t even know about these threats from North Korea until the rest of the world gets excited about it,” says Peter Lee, a 43-year-old math teacher who lives in the southern suburbs of Seoul. He says he has made no preparations for an attack and is convinced the North’s bluster is just that: empty threats.

The new leader also doesn’t bother Mr. Lee, who says: “Everything he is doing, he learned from his father Kim Jong Il.”

This attitude comes, in part, because there’s little that can be done. South Korea holds regular air-raid drills, but citizens are asked to freeze in their tracks and await further instructions, underscoring the limited options available to the 11 million residents living just 120 miles south of Pyongyang in the event of an attack.

South Koreans’ comfort with the North’s bellicosity can also be broken down by age, with older South Koreans being less flustered than younger ones. In a poll by Gallup Korea conducted earlier this week and released Wednesday the most upbeat views came from respondents 60 years old or above—just 18% of them expect the North to spark a war, compared with 33% of respondents in their twenties. And even fewer of the elderly, just 2%, are making any practical steps to prepare for that possibility.

Hayes spent most of the segment on North Korea knocking a recent Defense Intelligence Agency conclusion that North Korea could threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile. Hayes’ guests, Su Mi Terry and David Sanger put that report into perspective, and Hayes linked the report to a congressman, Doug Lamborn, who admitted he had not read the complete report, but without disclosing the campaign cash he receives from defense-related sources.

In a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the Pentagon’s budget, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, read from what he said was an unclassified sentence in an otherwise classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

“DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however, the reliability will be low,” Lamborn read before posing a question about its significance to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

“Well, I haven’t seen it,” Dempsey said in response, appearing caught off guard. “And you said it’s not publicly released, so I – I choose not to comment on it.”

Multiple officials told CNN after the hearing that the information read by Lamborn was “mistakenly” marked as unclassified.

“Several of us here in the Pentagon were shocked by hearing that assessment read aloud in an open hearing,” one defense official told CNN.

The line came from a seven-page report, “Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program.”

“The only thing DIA has unclassified is that one sentence and the title,” Lamborn said later Thursday in an interview with CNN. “This is not briefing reports supplied to the committee, this is simply a DIA analysis, a seven-page report in which one sentence is unclassified.”

An aide to the committee confirmed to CNN that Lamborn received the material from committee staff before the hearing.

“We were very careful and checked with DIA. to confirm that was an unclassified section before beginning any kind of conversation within an open setting about it,” the aide said. “We checked to make sure it was not something that was mistakenly declassified.”

“We double and triple-checked to make sure that what was divulged in an open forum was declassified,” Lamborn said Thursday night in an interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

The scenario that played out raised the question of how it could have even occurred in the first place.

“Classification decisions are more of an art than a science,” a government official familiar with those procedures told CNN.

On the other hand, this is how one South Korean television program, “Kang Yong-suk‘s 19″, on TVN (disclaimer: Kang is a former politician expelled from the conservative ruling party for sexually abusive remarks) discussed North Korea, with practical information ranging from food to finding a shelter, presented with humor, digital skill, and historical perspective.

Scare-mongering for political gain fueled by leaks, or practical tips? I leave it to you to decide which is the more prudent approach to North Korea.

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