Skip to main content

Americans Remain Committed to South Korea, View North Korea as an Adversary

North Korean missile test from September 2021.

2021 Chicago Council Survey data show that a majority of Americans hold favorable views of South Korea and would support defending the country from a North Korean attack.

Under the Biden administration, US relations with South Korea have returned to more solid ground. The May summit between President Joseph Biden and President Moon Jae-in was seen as a success, and negotiations over costs for stationing US troops in Korea were resolved. However, North Korea’s launch of a long-range cruise missile and subsequent ballistic missile test might signal a new phase of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The 2021 Chicago Council Survey finds the American public continues to hold positive views of South Korea, while majorities of Americans identify North Korea as an adversary. But while Americans support using US troops to defend South Korea, there is little support for taking military action to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program.

Key Findings

  • Two-thirds of Americans (67%) identify South Korea as either an ally (41%) or a partner (26%). Only four countries in the survey are identified as an ally by more Americans—France (52%), Germany (45%), and Japan (44%).
  • Six in ten (62%) identify North Korea as an adversary—the highest of any country included in the survey. A further 10 percent say North Korea is a rival.
  • A majority of Americans (63%) hold favorable views of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Just 5 percent hold favorable views of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, with 93 percent viewing him unfavorably.
  • In 2021, 63 percent of Americans support defending South Korea if North Korea invades. This is in line with the record high of 64 percent in 2018.
  • In dealing with North Korea, there is strong support to negotiate a formal peace agreement but only if North Korea agrees to suspend its nuclear weapons program (76%). If North Korea keeps it nuclear weapons, support for a formal peace agreement drops to 24 percent.
  • One-third (35%) of Americans support taking military action to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

The 2021 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the Crown family and the Korea Foundation.

About the Author
Marshall M. Bouton Fellow for Asia Studies
Council expert Karl Friedhoff
Karl Friedhoff was a Korea Foundation-Mansfield Foundation US-Korea Nexus Scholar and a member of the Mansfield Foundation’s Trilateral Working Group prior to joining the Council. Previously, he was a program officer in the Public Opinion Studies Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies based in Seoul, South Korea.
Council expert Karl Friedhoff