More than a third of Americans would support a preemptive nuclear strike on North Korea if that country tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States, new research has found, even if that preemptive strike killed a million civilians.
The survey of 3,000 Americans was conducted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and British research firm YouGov, and asked people to consider a scenario in which North Korea had tested a long-range missile and the U.S. government was considering how to respond.
Most did not want their government to launch a preemptive strike, but a large minority supported such a strike, whether by conventional or nuclear weapons.
“For many of these hawks, support for an attack, even in a preventive war, does not significantly decrease when the story says that the United States would use nuclear weapons that are expected to kill 1 million North Korean civilians,” the report found.
“As we have previously found, the U.S. public exhibits only limited aversion to nuclear weapons use and a shocking willingness to support the killing of enemy civilians.”
The United States is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in warfare, dropping bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and killing around 200,000 people.
The report was conducted in February, presumably before the breakdown of a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi at the end of that month. Since then, North Korea has tested short-range ballistic missiles, but Trump and Kim have also exchanged letters and mutual praise.
The survey presented people with a fictional news story about a North Korean long-range missile test and asked people whether they would “prefer” a U.S. military response across a range of different scenarios, including conventional and nuclear strikes with varying probabilities of the attack destroying North Korea’s ability to retaliate.