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JANUARY 18, 2019

Discussions about the Korean peninsula’s potential denuclearization continue this week as North Korean officials meet in Washington with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a plurality of South Koreans say their country’s national security situation has improved compared to four years ago.

The report, “South Koreans See Improved Security, Confident in U.S. Security Guarantee,” finds that despite an improved sense of security from the last 12 months of increased talks between U.S., South and North Korean officials, the South Korean public remains skeptical that Pyongyang will ever denuclearize. A narrow majority of South Koreans still favor developing their own nuclear weapons, though that support has decreased in recent years and the public agrees it could trigger an arms race in the region.

Key findings from the survey report include:

  • A plurality of South Koreans (42 percent) say that their country’s national security situation has improved compared to four years ago.
  • A majority of South Koreans (57 percent) say President Moon had a greater influence on North Korea’s decision to hold denuclearization talks than did President Trump (31 percent).
  • But slim majorities have little or no confidence that either President Moon’s (52 percent) or President Trump’s (53 percent) negotiating abilities will result in the denuclearization of North Korea.
  • The U.S.-South Korea alliance (36 percent) and U.S. forces in Korea (20 percent) are the two most highly-cited factors in preventing a wide scale North Korean attack.
  • A narrow majority (54 percent) favor South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons, down from similar readings in recent years.
  • A larger majority agree that obtaining these weapons would trigger an arms race in the region (69 percent), especially with Japan (79 percent).

For more findings, graphics, and methodology, download the full report.


This survey was conducted in South Korea from December 26 – 27, 2018 by Hankook Research. The sample size was 1,000 aged 19 and older and it employed RDD for mobile and landline phones. The margin of error is ±3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Chicago Council Public Opinion research is a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy, and is made possible by the generous support of the Crown family and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.