Just when nobody thought it could get worse, it did. Diplomatic relations with North Korea reached a proverbial low point early this year when Pyongyang followed a long-range rocket test with an underground nuclear explosion. Despite a perceived decline since then in North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric, and despite the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, political tensions between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States, still remain high. Pyongyang, for example, has recently cancelled scheduled North-South family reunions and there are troubling signs that it may be resuming its plutonium program.
While the prospects for political engagement with the Kim Jong-un regime may indeed remain bleak, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other opportunities for increased dialogue. One of these is science diplomacy, which enables states to use academic collaborations and scholarly exchanges in politically helpful ways. The virtue of this type of diplomacy, which can focus on solving common environmental, health, energy, and security problems, is the ‘neutral’ political space it provides friends and foes alike. Instead of continuing to trap themselves in mutual competition, they can indeed use science to create shared interests and a common destiny.