Ambivalent Allies?

A Study of South Korean Attitudes Toward the U.S.

by Eric V. Larson, Norman D. Levin, Seonhae Baik, Bogdan Savych

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Abstract

An increase in expressions of anti-American sentiment among South Koreans has led to heightened concern that a pillar of the U.S.-South Korean alliance — a strong belief among South Koreans in the continued importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and an equally strong commitment to its continuation — might be in jeopardy. To answer the question of whether South Koreans’ attitudes toward the United States have deteriorated, RAND researchers compiled and analyzed public opinion data on South Korean attitudes toward the United States and examined selected periods in U.S.-South Korean relations during the past decade to identify the sources of anti-U.S. attitudes. South Koreans’ attitudes toward the United States are a mix of gratitude, fondness, and respect--along with feelings of resentment, distrust, and annoyance at their continuing dependence on the United States. The authors’ research demonstrates that, although many measures of sentiment toward the U.S. — attitudes toward the alliance and toward Americans — have remained strongly positive, there is strong evidence of a recent downturn in favorable sentiment toward the U.S. among South Koreans but also evidence of a more recent recovery. The authors make a number of recommendations to U.S. policymakers on how to improve South Koreans’ perceptions of the U.S. and ways to address Koreans’ long-standing grievances.

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This research in the public interest was supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation and by the RAND Corporation, using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of RAND’s donors, the fees earned on client-funded research, and independent research and development (IR&D) funds provided by the Department of Defense.

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