The Panmunjom Declaration, issued by North and South Korea on April 27, has challenged certain assumptions. Not disproven them, mind you, but to some extent challenged them. One such assumption is that North Korea will never denuclearize (whatever “denuclearize” means). Another is that Donald Trump can only make the North Korea stand-off more dangerous.
Here’s an additional assumption that may now be under threat: That you’ll never hear about North Korean scientists unless they work on nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s contributions to international science have indeed been paltry to date. According to Richard Van Noorden of Nature, North Korean scientists published less than 100 articles in “mainstream journals” last year—representing a four-fold increase over 2014. But Kim Jong-un, a week ahead of the Panmunjom Declaration, announced that North Korea would seek to boost its economy through science and education. Are North Korean scientists about to engage in greater collaboration with colleagues from other countries? Some scientists who have already worked on projects with North Korean researchers dare to hope so—aware that scientific collaboration could lead to deeper political rapprochement.
The obstacles to increased peaceful scientific research in North Korea are many—ranging from UN sanctions to the whims of Mr. Kim. But any expansion in collaboration among scientists in and outside North Korea will beat arguing about who’s got the bigger nuclear button.
The Bulletin elevates expert voices above the noise. But as an independent, nonprofit media organization, our operations depend on the support of readers like you. Help us continue to deliver quality journalism that holds leaders accountable. Your support of our work at any level is important. In return, we promise our coverage will be understandable, influential, vigilant, solution-oriented, and fair-minded. Together we can make a difference.