P. Baxter, J. Hastings, P. Kim, M. Yim, “Assessing Intangible Technology Transfer in North Korea’s Nuclear International Collaboration Networks”, Strategic Trade Review, 9:10, (2023).
While the focus of nonproliferation efforts is often on controlling trade in physical goods, the transfer of intangible technology ‘non-physical knowledge, technical skills, software, and the like’ is at the heart both of North Korea’s proliferation efforts and United Nations sanctions attempting to hinder that proliferation. This article investigates how North Korea has attempted to acquire nuclear intangible technology for its development through its international research networks. Using a dataset of several thousand journal articles in nuclear-related fields, the authors conduct a network-based analysis to track the changes in the structure of North Korea’s international scientific collaboration networks over a fifty-year period. The article finds that North Korea has pursued a multi-prong strategy to acquire nuclear intangible technology. First, it has adapted the geographic scope of its scientific collaborations in response to geopolitical and sanctions trends. Second, it has gradually integrated core nuclear research with engineering and related advanced scientific fields, allowing for a maturation of its technical capabilities. Third, it has coalesced a cluster of research institutions that are interconnected with each other and with foreign institutions, allowing for foreign importation and domestic integration of nuclear-related knowledge. The article findings have implications for strategic trade controls involving intangible technology transfer.