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Treaties

Overview

This guide is intended to help legal researchers find treaties. Because there is no single one-stop repository for all treaties, treaty research requires an understanding of what treaties are and what types of treaties are covered by the various finding aids and full-text sources available to you.

Treaty citations and short form abbreviations in this guide are intended for US legal researchers interested in publishing in the United States, and are governed by Rule 21.4 of the Bluebook.

What is a Treaty?

A treaty is an agreement between two or more nations. Treaties may be referred to by other names (e.g., accords, agreements, charters, covenants, conventions, pacts, and protocols), but the choice of name holds no legal significance in international law.

Treaties are often categorized as bilateral (between just two countries) or multilateral (between three or more countries). Understanding these categories and the following terms will help guide your treaty research:

Entry into force – Date on which the treaty becomes legally binding on parties. This date is often specified in the treaty itself, and may differ for different parties.
Ratification – Formal acceptance of the terms of a treaty by a party.
Reservation – Statement made by a nation upon signing or ratifying a treaty that excludes or modifies the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty for that party.
Signature – Indication of an intent to be bound by the terms of the treaty.

The UN Treaty Collection also offers a helpful Glossary for treaty-related terminology.

Secondary Sources for Treaty Law

If you are unfamiliar with treaty law and would like further context, we recommend the following secondary sources.

For an introductory overview of treaties and treaty law:

Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, edited by Rüdiger Wolfrum
The “Treaties” article by Malgosia Fitzmaurice provides a concise overview, and the many following sub-entries will provide both background and useful bibliographies on various aspects of treaty law.
UN Treaty Handbook (2012)
Intended as a practical guide to assist States in becoming parties to international treaties, this handbook contains useful diagrams and flow charts that are useful for understanding treaty procedure.

For more in-depth treaty law coverage:

Modern Treaty Law and Practice, 3rd edition by Anthony Aust (2013) (eBook link).
Comprehensive treatise on treaty law from a practitioner’s viewpoint.
The Oxford Guide to Treaties, edited by Duncan B. Hollis (2012)
This guide provides a mix of academic scholarship and practice-oriented articles discussing how treaties are formed, applied, and interpreted.
Treaty Interpretation, 2nd edition by Richard K. Gardiner (2015)
This treatise focuses on the rules of treaty interpretation codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

How to Find Treaties Using this Guide

To quickly find the text of a treaty, ask yourself the following two questions:

1. Is the United States a party to the treaty?
a. If so, go to U.S. Treaties. If not, proceed to question two.
2. Is the treaty bilateral or multilateral?
a. If there are only two parties, go to Bilateral Treaties.
b. If there are more than two parties, go to Multilateral Treaties.

If you are unsure of the answers to the above questions or if you cannot locate your treaty using the resources provided in the above sections, you can also try finding treaties by topic.

If you are researching pre-1949 treaties that are no longer in force, please read our Guide to Researching Historical Treaties.