Thursday, April 4, 2013

US Public Opinion on Iran and North Korea

Posted by Associate Professor Brian Lai

                North Korea has recently made military threats against the US and South Korea and has claimed that it may restart a nuclear reactor, which would allow them to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The Permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are meeting with Iran this first weekend of April to discuss its nuclear program and the current impasse over Iran’s desire to enrich uranium.

                The US is currently dealing with two states that either have or are thought to be developing nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran have also had a history of poor relations with the United States. Given the importance of addressing the issues presented by North Korea and Iran, how does the US public feel about both of these crises?

                The Chicago Council on Global Affairs does a survey of American foreign policy attitudes every two years. Looking at the results from the 2012 survey, can shed some light on how Americans would like to proceed with both countries.

                First, as displayed in the graph below, most Americans in this survey (64%) identify Iran’s nuclear program as a Critical Threat.

                Borrowing a Figure from the CCGA report, most Americans favor the UN using economic sanctions or diplomacy as opposed to the use of force, though force through the UN Security Council still receives about 45% support.

                Military action receives more support when asked “In your opinion, which is more important: to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action, OR to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means they may develop nuclear weapons?” This question was asked by the Pew Research Center during March 13-17,2013. 64% choose Prevent Iran from Developing a nuclear weapon while only 25% said Avoid Military Conflict.

                Turning back to the CCGA study, it looks like force has more support if it is authorized by the UN. 70% of Americans in this survey responded that the US should not use a military strike if it is not authorized by the UN Security Council.    

                Finally, a slim majority of Americans in this survey (52% to 45%) indicated that they would allow Iran to produce nuclear fuel for electricity if UN inspectors were allowed permanent and full access throughout Iran.

                In terms of Iran’s nuclear policy, it is clear that most Americans  view this as an important issue and would prefer a non-military solution, but depending on how the question is presented, slightly under 50% to a solid majority would support military force if it prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

North Korea

                In a recent CNN/ORC poll (March 15-17, 2013), 28% of respondents identified North Korea as an immediate threat, while 53% indicated it was a long term threat and 17% said no threat at all.

                In the 2012 CCGA survey, respondents were asked, “In America’s relations with South Korea, how high a priority should the US place on each of the following:” The graph below shows the responses for “Preventing North Korea from building its nuclear capability”

In terms of how to deal with a nuclear North Korea, most Americans favor a diplomatic approach with military options receiving no more than 37% support (This Figure again is from the CCGA report)

Americans are concerned about Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs though it appears that more Americans are willing to use force in Iran than in North Korea.

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