In this article, I examine two contemporary cases in which the same foreign adversary, North Korea (DPRK), violated the sovereignty of neighboring states. I use a comparison of South Korean and Japanese reactions to political captivity to assess institutional performance in democratic states and ways in which these dynamics are connected to international politics. We see how “captivity narratives” can be differentially constructed and deployed and how policy capture can be achieved by determined political actors. Civic groups in both countries worked to mobilize political support, frame the issue for the media, and force policy change. In Japan, politicians were more willing to use the abduction issue for domestic political gain than in Korea, where the political class was determined to prevent human rights issues (including abductions) from interfering with their larger political agenda, including improved relations with the DPRK.