September 9, 2016 | By Karl Friedhoff

American Public Supports Carrots and Sticks in Dealing with North Korea


Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake and tsunami observations division director Gen Aoki speaks next to screens showing the seismic event was indicated on North Korea and observed in Japan during a news conference at the Japan Meteorological Agency in Tokyo, Japan, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

On Thursday, September 8, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, and for the first time has conducted two tests in the same year. While best estimates of the yield will take some time to determine, the earthquake that resulted from the detonation was measured at 5.3 by the United States Geological Survey suggesting that this may have been North Korea’s most powerful test yet.

In the 2016 Chicago Council Survey—conducted in June—a majority of the American public (60%) continue to cite North Korea’s nuclear program as a critical threat. This is an increase of five percentage points from 2015, and ranks it second on the list trailing only international terrorism (75% critical).

The test will re-ignite the long simmering debate about what to do about a problem like North Korea. While some experts call for stronger, more strictly enforced sanctions, others call for a repeal of those sanctions and increased engagement. For the American public, both of those options are on the table. While 81 percent support continuing diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to suspend its nuclear program, 80 percent also support imposing tighter sanctions. There is also majority support (53%) for conducting cyberattacks against North Korea. Kinetic options remain less favored, as they did in 2015. While 35 percent support airstrikes against North Korea’s nuclear production facilities, 25 percent support sending US troops to destroy those facilities.

And what about allowing North Korea to continue to produce nuclear weapons? That is the least supported option of all—with just 11 percent in favor.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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