(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in last 3 paras; ADDS photo)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- More than half of South Koreans support the acquisition of nuclear weapons either through indigenous development or the deployment of U.S. assets, a survey showed Tuesday.
When asked to choose between the two options, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed favored South Korea developing its own weapons, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
"There are two primary policy options when it comes to nuclear weapons in South Korea: U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons or an independent South Korean nuclear weapons program," the Chicago-based think tank said in a released report.
"Past polling has not differentiated between these options, but as our research finds, South Koreans have a clear preference between the two," it added.
The report said 71 percent of those surveyed favored South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons, while 56 percent said they support deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea.
The survey was conducted from Dec. 1 through Dec. 4, involving 1,500 people in South Korea aged 18 years or older.
When asked to choose between the two options, 67 percent of respondents said they would prefer South Korea's own nuclear arsenal over U.S. weapons. Only nine percent chose U.S. nuclear weapons over an independent South Korean arsenal, according to the report.
The U.S. removed all its nuclear assets from South Korea in 1991, but Seoul continues to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which is the ultimate guarantor for a non-nuclear allied country.
"As North Korea's nuclear arsenal expanded and improved in recent decades, the U.S. nuclear guarantee grew in perceived importance in discussions on South Korea's security," the report noted.
North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since its sixth and last nuclear test took place in late 2017.
However, Pyongyang in January threatened to consider restarting all its "temporarily suspended activities," soon after firing an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Jan. 30 (Seoul time), the longest-range ballistic missile it launched since November 2017.
Such vast public support for South Korea's possession of nuclear weapons is apparently driven by the threat posed by North Korea, at least for now, the report showed.
When asked which country currently poses the biggest threat to South Korea's national security, 46 percent of the respondents said North Korea, while 33 percent answered China.
However, when asked which country they think will pose the biggest threat to South Korea 10 years from now, 56 percent said China, with only 22 percent citing North Korea.