The failure of the Six-Party Talks


The Six-Party Talks were launched in 2003 ,with the aim of ending North Korea’s nuclear program, through negotiations involving six member states i.e. the United States, China, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea.

Unfortunately, there has been little success and progress with these talks, mainly due to the belligerant and uncooperative North, with its missile testings and other provocations.

Though there have been calls to resume these talks, there is somewhat of a languid demeanour among the member states. The U.S. for one, has been relucatant to resume negotiations, insisting that Pyongyang first honor past commitments and dismantle its program before relaunching discussions with other parties.


The U.S. is familiar in using the ‘carrot and stick’ approach in dealing with Pyongyang.


The “carrot and stick” approach is an idiom that refers to a policy of offering a combination of rewards and punishment to induce behavior. It is named in reference to a cart driver dangling a carrot in front of a donkey and holding a stick behind it.

In response to Washington’s ‘carrot and stick approach’, North Korean delegate Kim Kye Gwan responded that North Korea would adopt a “dialog and shield” approach, adding ominously that by “shield,” Pyongyang meant that it would “further improve our deterrent” aka a bigger nuclear test in the future.

Obstacles to the Talks 


  1. An unpredictable North Korean regime. The United States has found North Korea to be erratic in negotiations and actions.
  2. Differing approaches by Six Party governments. CFR’s Snyder says the Six Party Talks and other regional efforts preceding it failed because the participating states “placed their own immediate priorities and concerns above the collective need to halt North Korea’s nuclear program.” While Japan and the United States have consistently pushed for strong sanctions, China, South Korea, and Russia have settled for less stringent actions from fear that a sudden toppling of the regime would trigger major refugee influxes.
  3. U.S. resistance to bilateral negotiations. For much of the Bush administration, Washington resisted direct dialogue with Pyongyang so that any compromise with the Kim regime would be framed as a multilateral decision. Yet North Korea repeatedly demanded dialogue as a condition to halting its nuclear program. In June 2007, former envoy Hill made a surprise visit to Pyongyang to advance the February deal, marking a reversal in the U.S. stance. The two countries have since held bilateral talks on several occasions. It has also been reported that an Obama administration official made secret visits to North Korea in April and August 2012 in an unsuccessful bid to engage the new leadership and moderate its foreign policy.


What next? 



(To the government of North Korea:)

1. Comply with UN Security Council resolutions regarding development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, including by:

a) returning to the Six-Party Talks to implement the September 2005 “Statement of Principles” and bargaining in good faith for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula; and b) returning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

(To the governments of China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the U.S. and others:)

2. Refrain from governmental engagement that supports or validates the DPRK’s pyŏngjin line, including by not recognising the North as a nuclear state.

3. Do not accept transformation of the Six-Party Talks into a forum that ignores denuclearisation and recognises the DPRK as a nuclear state, and ensure that engagement with the North takes place in a venue appropriate to the relevant issue.

4. Continue to enforce UN sanctions against DPRK nuclear and missile programs and maintain vigilant export controls to ensure that dual-use materials and technologies are not transferred to it.

5. Support engagement of economic actors, within the framework of UN resolutions prohibiting illicit transfers.

6. Support civil society engagement with the DPRK, particularly programs that enable North Koreans to travel, while exercising care that such engagement is not utilised as a channel for transactions prohibited by UN resolutions.

(Seoul/Brussels, 16 June 2015)





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Currently living and pursuing my undergraduate studies in South Korea.

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