Stuart J. Thorson and Frederick Carriere headshot photos
Photo credit for Thorson (left): Hyunjin Seo, Photo credit for Carriere (right): Jungho Kwak

The Politics of Engagement with North Korea

#SciDipTurns10 North Korea Americas East Asia

In 2001, Syracuse University partnered with The Korea Society to build a shared understanding between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) through academic science engagement.1 The partnership involved faculty members from Syracuse University and the Information Center of North Korea’s Kim Chaek University of Technology. In 2012, we launched the U.S.-DPRK Scientific Engagement Consortium whose members were the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), CRDF Global, Syracuse University, and The Korea Society (later replaced by the Pacific Century Institute).2 The Consortium’s counterpart was the DPRK State Academy of Sciences.

Between 2001 and 2015, we held in-person meetings semi-annually, involving many of the same people from both the United States and North Korea. Meetings focused on science engagement, with topics including technical English for participation in international science meetings, research paper and poster session presentation skills, and international standards for information storage and retrieval. Our goal was to build trust among participants and have this trust spill over into our larger communities. The Permanent Mission of North Korea to the United Nations—known as the New York Channel—was instrumental in facilitating communication with our North Korean counterparts.

Unhappily, in 2016, meetings with our North Korean partners ceased due to high-level policy changes in Pyongyang. Even people from the New York Channel we had routinely been meeting with became unavailable for face-to-face discussion. This brought in-person science engagement to a halt. Nevertheless, we did not want this to end our broader trust-building efforts. Under the leadership of Frederick Carriere, we established The Androcles Project, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to support confidence-building measures with North Korea. Its mission includes a humanitarian project coordinated through North Korea’s Permanent Mission in New York as well as cultural, scientific, and academic exchanges. The focus continues to be on building the shared trust between Americans and North Koreans that is essential to a durable peace between our countries.

We believe that our science engagement efforts were made possible by an understanding, shared with our North Korean academic counterparts, that scientific inquiry is empirical and based on widely accepted research protocols and standards for assessing the validity of scientific truth claims. But since 2016, there has been a global erosion of this shared understanding. National borders have become more important as globalization has come under attack and scientific claims are increasingly viewed as expressions of political ideology. We are failing to heed the warnings by American diplomat and historian George Kennan not to “become like those with whom we are coping.3


  1. Stuart J. Thorson, “Universities and Networks: Scientific Engagement with North Korea,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 2012),
  2. Cathy Campbell, “A consortium model for science engagement: Lessons from the U.S.-DPRK experience.” Science & Diplomacy, June 28, 2012,
  3. George Kennan, “The Long Telegram,” in Origins of the Cold War: The Novikov, Kennan, and Roberts “Long Telegrams” of 1946, ed. Kenneth M. Jensen (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), 19–31.
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