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Academic Science Engagement with North Korea
Published April 25, 2009
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Science diplomacy refers to international scientifi c cooperation aimed simultaneously at advancing scientifi c knowledge and improving and strengthening broader relations between participating countries and groups. Science diplomacy has proved to be especially helpful in engaging countries where traditional diplomatic relations have been problematic. Successful science depends on the trusted application of shared protocols and thus encourages the development of trust among participants. In this paper we present evidence from a long-term academic science engagement between the United States and North Korea (DPRK; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) that (1) sustained science engagement provides a valuable context for developing trust between individuals from countries with strong political differences, and (2) this trust can spill over into more traditional diplomatic engagements.
We describe an academic engagement in the area of information science between Syracuse University (SU) in the United States and Kim Chaek University of Technology (KUT) in North Korea. This engagement has been carried out in close cooperation with the Korea Society, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) located in New York City. The science engagement was initiated in 2001 and has to date resulted in 13 exchanges of scientific personnel and in the construction and implementation of the fi rst digital library in North Korea. The trust-centric nature of collaborative science is especially relevant in engaging North Korea because, as with some other Northeast Asian countries, trust flows more from relationships than from quid pro quo contracts. Thus, we argue, science engagement provides a useful context for developing the relationships ultimately required for more broad-gauged cooperation.
We then discuss several follow-on science collaborations, including the four-nation Regional Scholars and Leaders Seminar Program for Chinese, North Korean, South Korean, and U.S. information scientists and linguists; the first-ever participation by North Korean undergraduate students in the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest; and the U.S.-DPRK Scientifi c Engagement Consortium based in Washington, D.C.
The paper concludes with a discussion of lessons learned regarding the role academic scientists, acting both as educators and researchers, can play in helping to create the conditions for more familiar forms of diplomacy. This is of particular relevance in the United States, where academic institutions have an enhanced (though nonetheless constrained) legal capability to deal with academics in countries such as North Korea where many other modes of cooperation might be nearly impossible. When properly administered, science diplomacy can leverage the global credibility of U.S. science to provide an important mechanism for supporting more traditional diplomatic relationships.

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