The New York Times has a very good article published that shows who are the various scientists in North Korea that have made Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions so successful:
“We have never heard of him killing scientists,” said Choi Hyun-kyoo, a senior researcher in South Korea who runs NK Tech, a database of North Korean scientific publications. “He is someone who understands that trial and error are part of doing science.”
Analysts are still trying to explain how North Korea managed to overcome decades of international sanctions and make so much progress so quickly. But it is clear the nation has accumulated a significant scientific foundation despite its backward image.
Its new ICBM is a feat of physics and engineering that has stunned the world, and each of its six nuclear tests has been more powerful than the last, boosting Mr. Kim’s stature at home and his leverage abroad. [New York Times]
Also if you are wondering how the North Koreans have been so successful so quick with their nuclear and missile programs, this may explain it:
North Korea has also recruited scientists from the former Soviet Union, offering salaries as high as $10,000 per month, according to Lee Yun-keol, a defector who runs the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center in Seoul and has studied the history of the North’s nuclear program.
In 1992, a plane carrying 64 rocket scientists from Moscow was stopped before departing for North Korea. It is not clear how many, if any, former Soviet scientists made it to North Korea in the decades since.
Theodore A. Postol, a professor emeritus of science, technology and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the North has “this fantastic record for flying rockets the first time and having them succeed.”
“We think it’s because they had rocket motors and designs that were basically Russian designs, and they had the expertise of Russian engineers who knew how to solve the problems,” he said.
I recommend reading the whole thing at the link.