Almost 75% of South Korean citizens believe their country should develop its own nuclear weapons in the face of growing threats from North Korea, a new survey by Gallup Korea and the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Roughly three out of four South Koreans think their country should develop its own nuclear weapons amid concerns about the growing threat from neighboring North Korea, according to a new survey conducted by Gallup Korea.
The poll results, which were released Monday, found that 72.8% of respondents favored South Korea having its own nuclear arsenal. The survey was commissioned by the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies, a Seoul-based thinktank.
Locals also showed extreme pessimism about the prospect of North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, with 91.1% calling it impossible -- a jump from 77.6% in the same poll last year.
Park In-kook, president of Chey Institute, said at a press conference Monday the result reflected North Korea's military advances and its constitutional change in September that declared the right to use preemptive nuclear strikes.
Tensions remain at their highest in years on the Korean Peninsula, amid a flurry of weapons tests and bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang.
In recent weeks, the North has conducted four cruise missile launches and test-fired a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic warhead.
North Korea also unveiled an underwater drone it claims is capable of detonating a nuclear weapon and fired artillery rounds near the de facto maritime border with the South, prompting evacuation orders on a pair of islands.
In a policy address in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the maritime border, known as the Northern Limit Line, "illegal" and warned the South that any violation of its territory would be considered a "war provocation." He also rejected the long-held goal of reunification with South Korea, labeling it the "primary enemy state."
Respondents to the Chey/Gallup survey, which was conducted from Dec. 15 to Jan. 10, showed a diminished faith in the United States to use its nuclear umbrella to protect the South from a North Korean attack.
Some 60.8% said that they didn't believe the United States would exercise nuclear deterrence if it involved the risk of potential nuclear attacks from North Korea against the U.S. mainland.
That negative result was 12% higher than last year, but it doesn't signal a lack of confidence in Washington as much as the evolving threat from North Korea, Park said.
"Rather than indicating a decline in trust in the U.S., this trend appears to reflect the sophistication of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and its increasingly provocative posture," he said.