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International poll backs talks with North Korea

October 8, 2017

Diplomacy not bombs, negotiations not sanctions: Those were the findings of a new opinion poll on the North Korean crisis. It was published as the anti-nuclear ICAN group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Peace Prize winners ICAN protest at a North Korean embassy
Image: IPPNW/Regine Ratke

"The message to politicians, including those in America, is: Take more time to pursue diplomacy and find a peaceful solution to the crisis in North Korea," said Kancho Stoychev, chairman of the Zurich-based Gallup International Association (GIA), a global network of opinion polling institutions.

Stoychev says the fact that results from the Gallup snap poll were published on the same day the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was simply a coincidence. "It was not our intention. But perhaps that will help foster a more cautious approach to dealing with the crisis," said Stoychev in a DW interview.

In all, some 17,107 people from 14 countries — the USA and Russia among them — participated in the Gallup poll, which was carried out between September 20 and October 1. Chinese citizens, however, did not take part. Why? Stoychev says that pollsters are prohibited from conducting snap polls in China for political reasons. 

Infografik Haltung zu Nordkorea ENG

Fear of a nuclear catastrophe

The poll consisted of two questions: How likely do you think it is that North Korea will use nuclear weapons? And: Do you favor continued diplomatic efforts to find a solution, or do you think a military solution is necessary? The poll did not ask whether respondents thought that the White House also posed a threat.

The result of the poll was clear: Despite sustained provocations from Pyongyang, the vast majority of those questioned were in favor of continued diplomatic negotiations (see chart). Johnny Heald, GIA's scientific director, is convinced that the unpredictable personality of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un greatly influenced the result. "A military approach to dealing with a leader possessing nuclear warheads and who has tested long-range missiles seems far too risky to most people," said Heald.

US President Donald Trump und North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
TV screens in South Korea showing the US and North Korean leadersImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/A. Young-joon

Black box North Korea

Fear of Pyongyang is indeed deep-seated. In the USA, 46 percent of respondents said that they thought the use of nuclear weapons was likely. In Germany that number was 48 percent, and it was 51 percent in Pakistan. The greatest fear of nuclear war was registered in Vietnam, at 54 percent.

Tellingly, those who feared such a scenario least were North Korea's closest neighbors. Only 35 percent of South Korean respondents said they feared an attack, and only 23 percent of Russians voiced such concerns.

Gallup director Stoychev said: "Russia could definitely be hit by a North Korean missile, but so far Pyongyang has shown no aggression toward Russia." He also offered an answer to the mystery of South Korean calm, explaining that the country has been living under threat of attack for decades and has simply gotten used to the situation.

Major US military bases near North Korea
Major US military bases near North Korea

Japan wants a tougher approach

In Japan, however, 45 percent of those polled thought that a North Korean nuclear attack was possible. "The Japanese people have been in a state of alarm since a medium-range missile flew over the country in September," says Stoychev.

That is also the reason that a large number of Japanese citizens support a military solution to the conflict (see chart). Some 49 percent of Japanese and Pakistani respondents say they support military action against North Korea.

Kancho Stoychev says he understands the sentiment, but adds that he does not think such a move would have much chance of success. Instead, he points to the tedious yet eventually successful nuclear deal that was completed with Iran in 2015.

"For me, the Iran nuclear deal is a good example. Negotiations with the international community took a long time, but in the end there was a deal. And ultimately, Iran ended it nuclear weapons program."