Ambivalent Allies? A Study of South Korean Attitudes toward the U.S

Ambivalent Allies? A Study of South Korean Attitudes toward the U.S

Ambivalent Allies? A Study of South Korean Attitudes toward the U.S

Ambivalent Allies? A Study of South Korean Attitudes toward the U.S

Synopsis

Have South Korean attitudes toward the United States deteriorated? To answer this question RAND researchers compiled and analyzed SOuth Korean public opinion data from the past decade.

Excerpt

The public opinion data suggest that we may have weathered the most recent downturn in U.S. -South Korean relations, a downturn that came during a generally favorable period in which positive sentiment toward the U.S. had, for the most part, been strong and on the rise. This downturn appears to have been relatively short-lived, and, as of the fall of 2003, a recovery appears to be in progress. Whether a full recovery in favorable sentiment toward the U.S. actually will result remains uncertain: There are many easily imaginable developments that could reverse the trend, but there are ample reasons for cautious optimism.

In the short term, Korean attitudes could well improve further, for a number of reasons. President Roh's favorable treatment of the U.S. and the alliance since the spring of 2003 may diminish the propensity of some of his constituency to engage in expressions of anti-American sentiment. rok involvement as a full partner in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program could help to diminish sensitivities about the subordination of Korean interests, and improve perceptions of U.S. -ROK relations as being balanced and equitable. North Korean saber-rattling over its nuclear weapons program would be expected to raise concerns about the threat from the north, enhance the perceived importance of the U.S. 's historical role in helping to secure South Korea's security, and buoy favorable sentiment toward the U.S. Finally, the restructuring and relocation of U.S. forces could help to alleviate many of the base-related strains that constitute a recurring source of friction in U.S. -South Korean relations.

Still, this is no time for complacency about South Korean views of the U.S. and the bilateral relationship. Despite the efforts of U.S. and South Korean policymakers to put bilateral relations back on track, there has as yet been only a partial recovery in favorable sentiment toward the U.S. This seems to be attributable to the continued, widespread belief that the bilateral relationship is in poor shape, which appears to be placing drag on a full recovery. Whether a recovery in favorable sentiment has temporarily stalled, we are at some sort of “tipping point,” or attitudes have stabilized at a new, lower level cannot be.

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