Analysis, Foreign Affairs, Governance, Military, Nuclear Weapons

U.S.-DPRK Negotiations and North Korean Provocations

The debate over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program has been raging for nearly 25 years. In this dataset CSIS Beyond Parallel collected information on negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea to see if there are any trends that could help shed light on the present nuclear conundrum. This data on bilateral and multilateral negotiations from 1990 to the present is drawn primarily from the U.S. State Department archives and is supplemented by other primary and secondary sources.1 It is inclusive of information about government meetings located in the public domain and does not include track 1.5 dialogues or secret meetings. This information was cross-examined against our original dataset on North Korean provocations to draw conclusions about the relationship between negotiations and provocations.

Click here for the interactive with more details on our study

Key Findings

  • There appears to be an inverse correlation between U.S.-DPRK diplomacy and the frequency of North Korean provocations in this 25-year period. That is, there may be some correlation between periods when the U.S. is at the negotiating table with North Korea, in a bilateral or multilateral setting, and a decrease in DPRK provocations. However, this does not necessarily indicate that a causal relationship exists.
  • The absence of missile tests or other kinetic provocations does not necessarily suggest a halt in North Korean weapons development or a reduction of the overall nuclear threat. But, diplomacy does seem to have some restraining effect on the number of provocations carried out.
  • The ratio of negotiations to provocations is highest under North Korean leader Kim Il-sung from 1990 to 1994. The ratio of negotiations to provocations is lowest under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from 2012 to the present.
  • Whether the U.S. president is a Democrat or Republican, party control of the White House appears to have no effect on the pace of North Korean provocations.
  • Negotiations under Kim Jong-un hit historic lows in comparison to his predecessors, even when accounting for tenure in office.





This original Beyond Parallel dataset was compiled with the objective of creating a comprehensive open-source database of bilateral and multilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

The methodology was determined by the following: 1) defining the terms of a negotiation; 2) defining the terms of a North Korean provocation; 3) finding sources for data collection; and 4) delineating the time-period to be covered by the database.

Definition of a Negotiation

The criteria for defining a negotiation that guided our research is the following:

    A meeting or set of meetings between officials of the United States and North Korea that is/was intended to further bilateral or multilateral dialogue between the countries on a series of political, economic, or technical issues that were agreed upon with prior consultation. The dialogue may be an effort to reach agreement between the parties or in support of an existing agreement.

In the 1990s, negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea consisted of largely bilateral negotiations focused on the DPRK’s nuclear weapons development. In the 2000s, the talks were changed to a multilateral format that included countries in the region such as China, the U.S., Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.

Definition of a Provocation

A provocation is defined as the following:

    An intentional military action taken by North Korea that breaches the sovereignty of a third country such as South Korea or the United States, causes personal injury or damage to property, and/or constitutes a serious violation of international law for the attainment of specific military, political, or diplomatic objectives.

North Korean provocations over the last decade have primarily consisted of missile launches and nuclear tests. But these are not the only methods by which North Korea displays its military power and expresses discontent to the outside world. The graphic below represents the most common types of North Korean provocations.


Sources for Research

CSIS Beyond Parallel used both primary and secondary sources for this study. For information on negotiations, the major primary source used was the U.S. Department of State archives. We read through each entry cited in the database to verify the date, location, description, and officials involved in the negotiations. If information could not be verified using a primary source then secondary sources including books, reports, and datasets produced by other research organizations2 (at the minimum two for every data point) were used to document the information.3 For provocations, we used a combination of open source data from the U.S. Department of Defense, ROK Ministry of National Defense, and media reports to collect the recorded information.

Determination of Time Period

For this dataset, we limited our study from 1990 to the present. There were virtually no diplomatic contacts between North Korea and the United States between the end of the Korean War in 1953 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991. Serious concerns about the development of a nuclear weapons program in North Korea emerged in the early 1990s and prompted the U.S. to establish diplomatic contacts at that time. For expedience and descriptive purposes, we began with the first year in that decade.

U.S.-DPRK Negotiations 1990 to 2017


Show 3 Footnotes

  1. Joel Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L Gallucci, Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004); Leszek Buszynski, Negotiating with North Korea: The Six Party Talks and the Nuclear Issue (New York: Routledge, 2013); Jonathan D. Pollack, No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security (New York: Routledge, 2011).
  2. Nuclear Threat Initiative, “North Korea Nuclear Chronology,” February 2011.
  3. Narushige Michishita, North Korea’s Military-Diplomatic Campaigns 1966-2009 (New York: Routledge, 2010); Robert Daniel Wallace, North Korea and the Science of Provocation: Fifty Years of Conflict-Making (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016).