A treaty is a binding agreement under international law concluded by
subjects of international law, namely states and international
organizations. Treaties can be called by many names: treaties, international
agreements, protocols, covenants, conventions, exchanges of letters,
exchanges of notes, etc.; however all these are equally treaties, and the
rules are the same regardless of what the treaty is called.
Most of the rules regarding treaties are contained in the Vienna Convention
on the Law of Treaties between States, and the Vienna Convention on the Law
of Treaties between States and International Organizations or between
International Organizations. Most states have ratified these treaties. There
is also the Vienna Convention on Succession of States with Respect to
Treaties, however it has not entered into force, and many states reject its
provisions as not adequately reflecting the customary international law on
Treaties are divided into two types: bilateral and multilateral. A
multilateral treaty has several parties, and establishes rights and
obligations between each party and every other party. Multilateral treaties
are often, but not always, open to any state.
Bilateral states by contrast are negotiated between a limited number of
states, most commonly only two, establishing legal rights and obligations
between those two states only. It is possible however for a bilateral treaty
to have more than two parties; consider for instance the bilateral treaties
between Switzerland and the EU following the Swiss rejection of the EEA
agreeement. Each of these treaties has seventeen parties. These however are
still bilateral, not multilateral, treaties. The parties are divided into
two groups, the Swiss ("on the one part") and the European Community and its
member states ("on the other part"). The treaty establishes rights and
obligations between the Swiss and the EC and the member states severally; it
does not establish any rights and obligations amongst the EC and its member states.
Define these terms: Adoption, signature, ratification, reservation,
declaration, accession, acceptance, approval, withdrawal, denunciation.
The United Nations Charter states that treaties must be registered with the
United Nations to be enforcable under by the United Nations. This was done
to prevent the proliferation of secret treaties that occurred in the 19th
and 20th century.
Terming a document a treaty is significant because it implies that both
parties recognize the sovereignty of the other, and that the contents of the
document are intended to be binding under international law. The former was
significant in the [[Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922]. The later point became
significant with the negotiation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Britain desired the agreement to be enforcable under international law while
China did not, and the final document was left ambigious as to its nature.
United States law
In United States law, there is a distinction between 'treaties' and
'international agreements': ratification of treaties requires the advice and
consent of the Senate, while 'international agreements' can be ratified by
the joint Executive-Congressional action (called a congressional-executive
agreement or by Executive action alone. This distinction applies only within
US law; no such distinction exists in international law, and treaties and
international agreements concluded by the United States are equally treaties
within the meaning of international law.