Research Interests

Substantive: International Security, Nuclear and Alliance Politics, Public and Elite Opinion on Global Affairs

Method: Quantitative Research Methods, Experimental Methods


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Daekwon Son and Kyung Suk Lee. 2024. "The Impacts of U.S. Foreign Policy on Taiwanese Public Support for Independence: Evidence from Experimental Analysis," forthcoming, Journal of Chinese Political Science [Link] 

It is often argued that the United States should abandon its longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan—an equivocal position concerning whether the United States would militarily intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion by mainland China. Against this background, we tested the validity of this strategic ambiguity and the putative impact of Washington’s departure from it by conducting a novel survey experiment in Taiwan. Ultimately, we found that Washington’s departure would significantly influence Taiwanese support for independence only if Beijing were to rely on coercion falling short of the direct use of force. However, if China were to launch direct assaults on Taiwan, only a limited number of Taiwanese respondents reported that they would support de jure independence, regardless of Washington’s position. Based on these findings, we argue that Taiwanese aspirations for independence are fairly conditional and pragmatic. Further, while Washington’s shift toward strategic clarity might heighten the prospect of a cross-strait crisis, a shift toward strategic abandonment might engender the “Finlandization” of Taiwan. Based on these findings, we conclude that China is highly unlikely to relinquish the option of employing force against Taiwan for the foreseeable future.

Kyung Suk Lee. 2024. "South Korean Cost Sensitivity and Support for Nuclear Weapons," forthcoming, International Interactions [Link]

How do the costs of proliferation shape the public support for building nuclear weapons? Public opinion matters, especially in a democracy, because the masses can affect the nuclear policy choices that political elites make. yet the existing literature on nuclear proliferation has not incorporated the public's cost sensitivity in the analysis. We therefore do not fully understand the sources of public attitudes toward nuclearization. By fielding a novel survey experiment in South Korea, I found that the economic and human costs of economic sanctions and preventive strikes dampen South Koreans' preferences for nuclear armament. Relative to the no-cost condition, economic and human costs reduce the support levels by 25.1 percentage points and 19.4 percentage points, respectively and in the case of combined costs the support decreases by 29.6 percentage points. However, South Koreans still have relatively high levels of support for a nuclear arsenal even after the exposure to the costs of nuclearization. This implies that the rally effect resulting from hostile international responses may mitigate the negative cost effects to some degree. This study can contribute to the growing literature by providing new theoretical foundations and empirical results.

Kyung Suk Lee. 2023. "The Microfoundations of Nuclear Proliferation: Evidence from South Korea," International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 35(4): edad033. [Link]

How do South Koreans shape their nuclear proliferation beliefs? Despite growing scholarly research on public attitudes toward nuclearization, we do not fully understand the underlying factors that influence mass opinion on nuclear weapon acquisition. This study tests the effects of structural- and individual-level factors on South Korean public support for nuclear weapon acquisition by creating a novel time-series dataset. Contrary to conventional wisdom, structural variables did not immediately shift South Koreans’ proliferation beliefs. Instead, the effects accumulated over time. North Korea’s ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests gradually increased South Koreans’ support for proliferation. Also, within a short time period, South Korea-U.S. summits had null effects but progressively dampened the armament preferences. In contrast, North Korea’s denuclearization summits instantly reduced the proliferation beliefs, however, South Koreans’ support for nuclearization surged over time. Regarding individual-level factors, South Koreans’ fear of nuclear imbalance, desire to decide on their own nuclear war, and right-leaning political ideology were positively associated with the support for proliferation. This study enriches existing literature by offering new empirical evidence and contributes to the scholarly debate on the impact of U.S. security assurances on South Koreans’ nuclear proliferation attitudes.

Kyung Suk Lee and Kwang-Ki Park. 2023. "South Korea's Humanitarian Diplomacy" The Journal of Political Science & Communication, 26(2): 123-152. [Link]

In this article, we examine the meanings of humanitarian diplomacy in the modern international system and explore the purposes of humanitarian diplomacy. We argue that the improvement of national economic interest, national reputation in global arenas, and diplomatic channel maintenance are three overarching driving forces why a state harnesses humanitarian diplomacy. Based on theoretical analyses of a state’s humanitarian diplomacy, we then analyze South Korean cases of humanitarian diplomacy, which are ODA policies, UN PKOs, and humanitarian aids toward North Korea. South Korea’s ODA policies and UN PKOs have been successfully implemented over the past decades and contributed to enhancing South Korea’s national interests. Also, South Korea has attempted to maintain diplomatic channels with Pyongyang by recovering the human networks between the two Koreas. This article contributes to the existing literature by offering a new line of argument that humanitarian diplomacy is a toolkit for improving national interests. 

Kyung Suk Lee, Kirby Goidel, and Clifford Young. 2022. "The System is Broken: Can We Have Some More?" Social Science Quarterly,  104(1): 39-53. [Link]

In this paper, we explore how populist beliefs and attitudes related to populism are associated with support for government spending across a wide range of countries and spending categories. We build our case around the following observations. First, based on previous research, populism, as manifested in real world party systems, is not a unidimensional construct but instead comprises several identifiable components that influence support for government spending independently. Specifically, we identify three attitudinal constructs: (1) System-level discontent, meaning beliefs that the current political system is broken; (2) Anti-elite populist beliefs that the current system is rigged and that elites (and experts) cannot to be trusted; and (3) Nativist beliefs that blame economic and social problems on immigration. We test how each of these constructs affects support for government spending in education, health care, social welfare, and job creation, and how that support is affected by explicit tradeoffs between spending increases, taxation, and public debt. The results shed light on the challenges of contemporary populist movements, specifically connecting preferences for increased government spending to anti-elite populist beliefs and the “system is broken” discontent while connecting opposition to government spending with nativist beliefs and attitudes.

Kyung Suk Lee, James Kim, and Hwalmin Jin, and Matthew Fuhrmann. 2022. "Nuclear Weapons and Low-Level Military Conflict," International Studies Quarterly, 66(5): sqac067. [Link]

Do nuclear weapons deter low-level military conflict? Although the political effects of nuclear weapons have been debated for more than 70 years, scholarship has yet to produce a clear answer. We design a study that reduces the risk of omitted variable bias relative to prior research. Our analysis compares the rates of conflict among eventual nuclear powers in the periods before and after they obtained an arsenal. We include two-way fixed effects to control for time invariant state-specific confounders and address common shocks. Our findings indicate that switching from nonnuclear status to a nuclear arsenal decreases the risk of  being targeted in militarized interstate disputes (MID) by nonnuclear challengers. However, when it comes to low-level conflict, nuclear powers do not appear to be deterred from instigating disputes with other nuclear-armed states. This result stands in contrast to most prior studies, which conclude that the possession of nuclear weapons increases or does not reliably decrease the risk of being targeted – even for nonnuclear challengers. Although there are clear limits to the deterrence benefits of nuclear weapons at low levels of conflict, states can reduce their vulnerability to some degree by developing a nuclear arsenal.

Kyung Suk Lee and Kirby Goidel. 2022. "U.S. Public Support for the U.S.-NATO Alliance." International Journal of Public Opinion Research 34(2): 1-10 [Link]

While previous research has thoroughly investigated the structure of Americans’ foreign policy beliefs, existing literature tells us far less about the determinants of public support for U.S. military alliances. In the following paper, we examine whether former President Donald Trump’s framing altered public support for the U.S.-NATO military alliance. First, using survey data from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, we show that support for NATO became polarized after 2016. Second, employing a survey experiment, we test two causal mechanisms that might explain these shifts: (1) A framing model positing that reframing the alliance to emphasize financial costs decreased public support; and (2) A cue-taking model positing that opinion on NATO realigned to conform to (or reject) former President Trump’s stated positions. Our experimental results reveal that reframing the alliance decreased support for NATO while the presence of a partisan cue had little or no effect.

Kyung Suk Lee and Kyu Young Lee. 2017. "U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea: An Ongoing Riddle between the U.S. and China." Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 29(3): 455-473. [Link]

The United States and China’s antithetical stances on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have consistently caused military tensions in East Asia. Based on employing the crisis bargaining theory, this article postulates that the United States and China are able to implement a hard-line strategy or an accommodative strategy in dealing with the controversial freedom of navigation issue in the South China Sea. This article categorizes each country’s strategies in a 2x2 model and examines four different cases for exploring each country’s payoffs: Case (1) the United States and China can both use force; Case (2) the United States can make unilateral concessions and China can hold its original demands; Case (3) China can make unilateral concessions and the United States can hold its original demands; and Case (4) the United States and China can make strategic compromises to avoid military clashes. This article maintains that the United States and China will choose both accommodative strategies in order to avoid open military conflicts. This article also contends that unilateral concessions either from the United States or China will harshly damage one side’s interest, thereby both countries will not choose unilateral concessions as a plausible option. In addition, both countries’ use of force is the most unlikely option.

Kyung Suk Lee. 2016. "New Approach of South Korea’s Middle Power Diplomacy: Focusing on Global Agenda Setting." Global Politics Review 2(2): 40-57. [Link]

In an altering global power architecture, South Korea has the national capacity to contribute to resolving transnational issues and has the potential to support a global common good. But in the discourse of South Korea’s role, the pivotal question has always been “how” to be a responsible middle power. Until now, South Korea has implemented its middle power in four different aspects: (1) Balancing Act in Northeast Asia; (2) ODA policy; (3) UN PKO; and (4) Global agenda setting. However, among the four, South Korea’s focus on balancing Northeast Asia and ODA policy has been disproportionately concentrated in Asia due to national interests. This paper argues that in order to be a responsible middle power, South Korea should avert from a myopic Asian standpoint and concentrate more on global agenda-setting through international institutions and the G20 platform. South Korea’s inherent structural constraints hamper a more proactive engagement in UN PKO. Therefore, global agenda-setting is a more appropriate sphere to contribute to the world as a responsible middle power.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles in Korean

Hee Chae, Kyung Suk Lee, and Jung-Ho Eom. 2023. "The Development of Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Combat Swarm Drones in the Future Intelligent Battlefield." Convergence Security Journal, forthcoming (in Korean) [Link]

채희·이경석·엄정호, “지능화 전장에서 인공지능 기반 공격용 군집드론 운용방안.” 융합보안지. 23권. 제3호 (2023), pp. 66-71.

The importance of combat drones has been highlighted through the recent outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. The combat drones played a significant role in changing the conventional wisdom of traditional warfare. Many pundits expect the role of combat swarm drones would be more crucial in future warfare. In this regard, this paper suggests the development of artificial intelligence-enabled combat swarm drones in the future battlefield. To transform the human-operated swarm drones into a fully autonomous weaponry system, our suggestions are the following. Developments of (1) AI algorithms for optimized swarm drone operations, (2) decentralized command and control systems, (3) inter-drones’ mission analysis and allocation technology, (4) enhanced drone communication security and (5) ethical guidelines for the autonomous system are crucial. Specifically, we suggest the development of AI algorithms for drone collision avoidance and moving target attacks. Also, in order to adjust rapidly changing military environment, decentralized command and control systems and mission analysis allocation technology are necessary. Lastly, cutting-edge communication technology and concrete ethical guidelines are essential for future AI-enabled combat swarm drones.

최근 발발한 러시아-우크라이나 전쟁을 통해 공격용 드론의 중요성이 부각되고 있다. 공격용 드론 활용은 그간의 재래식 전쟁의 통념을 깨는 게임체인저 역할을 하고 있다. 앞으로 지능화 전장에서 공격용 군집드론은 중요한 역할을 할 것으로 보인다. 이에 본 논문은 인공지능 기술을 바탕으로 향후 공격용 군집드론의 운용 발전 방향을 분석하고자 한다. 인간에 의해 운용되는 군집드론을 완전히 자율화된 군집드론으로 운용하기 위해서는 (1) 군집드론 운용에 최적화된 AI 알고리즘 적용, (2) 탈중앙식 지휘통제 방식 개발, (3) 드론 간 임무 분석 및 할당 자동화 기술 적용, (4) 드론 통신 보안 강화 및 (5) 무인화의 윤리기준 확정이 중요하다. 세부적으로 군집드론 간의 충돌방지 및 이동형 표적을 공격하기 위한 AI 알고리즘이 필요하다. 또한, 급변하는 전장 상황에 빠르게 대처할 수 있는 탈중앙식 지휘통제 시스템 개발과 적 공격에 의한 드론 손실 발생 시 임무를 재할당 할 수 있어야 한다. 마지막으로, 군집드론의 안전한 운용을 위한 보안기술 개발 및 무인화에 따른 윤리문제 해결을 위한 기준제정이 중요하다.

Kyung Suk Lee and Kyung-Mi Kim. 2016. "Foreign Relations between North Korea and East Germany during the Cold War period (1953-1989): Cooperation and Conflict." Journal of Contemporary European Studies 34(3): 149-180. (In Korean) [Link]

이경석·김경미, “냉전기 북한-동독의 외교관계(1953-1989):협력과 갈등.” 유럽연구. 제34권. 제3호 (2016), pp. 149-180.

Foreign Relations between North Korea and East Germany during the Cold War period were strongly affected by Sino-Soviet relations. Before the détente in the 1970s, North Korea’s pro-China policy was the pivotal factor in deciding whether to pursue cooperation or conflict between North Korea and East Germany. Based on the Soviet foreign policy of cooperation among fraternal Socialist nations, from 1953 to 1962, East Germany provided economic aid,  as well as science and technology support towards North Korea to restore its economy after the Korean War. However, in the early 1960s, North Korea engaged in a pro-China policy during the Sino-Soviet conflict and North Korea-East Germany relations substantially cooled. After North Korea altered its foreign policy to an equidistant foreign policy between the Soviet Union and China in the mid-1960s, foreign relations between North Korea and East Germany were restored and gradually redeveloped. From the 1970s, in accordance with North Korea’s self-reliance policy and General Secretary Erich Honecker’s economic-centric foreign policy, foreign relations between North Korea and East Germany considerably enlarged until the collapse of East Germany in 1989. However, both countries maintained relations during the Cold War period and was mainly limited to economic development and the transfer of science/technology. During this period, North Korea was heavily reliant on East Germany’s economic and technological support. 

냉전기 북한-동독의 외교관계는 소련과 중국을 중심으로 한 대외 국제정세로부터 많은 영향을 받았다. 1970년 데탕트 시기 이전까지 북한-동독의 협력관계 및 갈등관계는북한의 친(親)중국⋅반(反)소련 정책에 따라 결정되었다. 소련의 헤게모니 아래서 소련의 사회주의 국가연대 기조에 따라 동독은 한국전쟁 이후인 1953년부터 1962년 중⋅소 갈등이 최고조에 이를 때까지 북한의 전후복구 사업을 위해 경제적 원조와 과학기술을 지원했다. 중⋅소 분쟁 시기에 북한이 친(親)중국⋅반(反)소련 정책을 펼치면서 동독과의 관계는 급속히 냉각되었지만, 1960년 중반부터 북한이 소련과 중국에 대해 등거리 외교를 펼치면서 대(對)동독관계가 복원⋅발전했다. 1970년대 이후 북한의 자주노선과당시 동독 서기장 호네커의 경제중심적 외교정책이 맞물리면서 동독이 붕괴하기까지 북한과 동독은 경제⋅과학기술 분야를 중심으로 협력을 확대해나갔다. 냉전기 동안 전반적으로 북한-동독 간 외교관계는 경제⋅과학기술분야에 국한되었고, 북한은 동독의 경제적 원조와 과학기술지원에 크게 의존적이었다.

Non-Refereed Articles and Book Chapters

Kyung Suk Lee and Kyu Young Lee. 2018. "THAAD Deployment: Warm Peace and Cold Peace In East Asia?" in Solidarity, edited by Yonghae Kim. Seoul: Pagijong Press. pp. 159-188. [Link]

Op-Eds and Select Research-Based Commentary

Hwalmin Jin, James Kim, Kyung Suk Lee, Matthew Fuhrmann. “Why a South Korean nuclear program won’t deter North Korean provocations.” NK News (February 13, 2023) [Link]

Kyung Suk Lee and Joshua Nezam. "A Declaration to End of the Korean War Matters: 3 Steps to Moving Forward," The Diplomat (September 14, 2018) [Link]

Manuscripts Under Review

Kyung Suk Lee. "Who follows Whom?: Non-elected Elite Responsiveness to Public Support for Nuclear Weapons"

Kyung Suk Lee, Hankyeul Yang, and Daekwon Son. "U.S. Allies’ Foreign Policy Alignment in an Era of Great Power Competition: An Analysis of Domestic Politics"

Qiang Wu, Kyung Suk Lee, Kirby Goidel, and Clifford Young. "Good Trade, Bad Trade: Public Opinion, International Trade, and Globalization"

Yewon Kwon and Kyung Suk Lee. "Revisiting Inter-Korean Events and South Koreans' Perception on Unification"

Kyung Suk Lee and Daekwon Son. "To Join or Not to Join? Protégé's Audience Costs for Fighting Patron's Unwanted War"

Working Papers

Kyung Suk Lee. "The Dynamics between Elites and Masses in Nuclear Proliferation"

Kyung Suk Lee and Kirby Goidel. "U.S. Public Opinion on Military Alliances"

Kyung Suk Lee. "U.S. Public Opinion on Allied Nuclear Proliferation"