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in international law, formal agreement between sovereign states or organizations of states. The term treaty is ordinarily confined to important formal agreements, while less formal international accords are called conventions, acts, declarations, or protocols.

A treaty ordinarily deals with the rights and duties of nations, but treaties may also grant specific rights to private individuals. Although treaties deal with a great variety of subjects, they are commonly classified under a few heads. Political treaties deal with (among other things) alliances, war, cessions of territory, and rectification of boundaries. Commercial treaties may govern fisheries, navigation, tariffs, and monetary exchange. Legal treaties concern extradition of criminals, patent and copyright protection, and the like.

Treaties are designed to regularize the intercourse of nations, and, as such, they are the source of most international law. In some countries treaties are a part of the law of the land and are binding upon all persons. In the United States the Supreme Court has held that a treaty automatically abrogates any state or federal statute in conflict with it.

Treaties have existed ever since states came into existence. Records survive of Mesopotamian treaties dating before 3000 B.C., and in the Old Testament many treaties are mentioned. The Greeks and the Romans had elaborate ceremonials to emphasize the sanctity of treaties, and many current treaty practices have classical antecedents.

Negotiation, Ratification, and Interpretation

A treaty is negotiated by duly accredited representatives of the executive branch of the government; for the United States negotiations are ordinarily conducted by officials of the Dept. of State under the authority of the President. The preliminaries are not usually open to the public, but the record of all protocolprotocol
, term referring to rules governing diplomatic conduct or to a variety of written instruments. Examples of the latter are authenticated minutes of international conferences; preliminary agreements, or statements of principle, which eventuate in a formal treaty; and
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 (i.e., the minutes) is preserved for use in case the treaty provisions require subsequent interpretation. Technical experts draft the text, which the government representatives then sign.

The treaty is next ratified by the signatory states in accordance with their regular practice. In the United States the Constitution requires that a treaty must be approved by two thirds of the Senate (executive agreements, however, which are undertaken through the President's powers and do not need the Senate's approval, account for a large number of the international agreements of the United States). It has been argued that such wartime agreements as those made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the Yalta ConferenceYalta Conference,
meeting (Feb. 4–11, 1945), at Yalta, Crimea, USSR, of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.
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 were in effect secret treaties. A treaty comes into effect when the ratifications are formally exchanged.

Members of the United Nations are required to register their treaties with that organization (following the like practice of the League of Nations), and a treaty that has not been registered may not be invoked before a UN agency. If treaties between UN members conflict with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter takes precedence.

The interpretation of treaties, like that of all legal documents, may present great difficulties. There is no tribunal with compulsory and final jurisdiction to interpret a treaty; parties may, however, voluntarily submit a dispute to the International Court of Justice (World Court) or the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal).


Treaties may come to an end in various ways. Most provide for a date of expiration or a time at which notice to terminate must be given if the treaty is not to continue in effect for another specified period. Treaties terminate if one of the signatory states becomes politically extinct or (in the case of political treaties) if the parties are at war with one another. The outbreak of war need not necessarily bring a treaty to an end, however, and provisions compatible with a state of hostilities remain in force, as long as they are not expressly terminated. Treaties relating to the laws of war, of course, remain in effect during hostilities. A treaty may be terminated by mutual consent, and breach of a treaty by one party entitles the other to abrogate it.


See H. Blix, Treaty-making Power (1960); P. Reuter, Introduction to the Law of Treaties (1989); A. D. McNair, The Law of Treaties (rev. ed. 1986); J. A. Grenville and B. Wasserstein, The Major International Treaties Since 1945 (1988).


a. a formal agreement or contract between two or more states, such as an alliance or trade arrangement
b. the document in which such a contract is written
2. any international agreement
3. an agreement between two parties concerning the purchase of property at a price privately agreed between them
4. in Canada
a. any of the formal agreements between Indian bands and the federal government by which the Indians surrender their land rights in return for various forms of aid
b. (as modifier): treaty Indians
References in periodicals archive ?
During the phone call, the two heads of state hailed the positive results reached thanks to the exchange of letters, the release notes, adding that HM the King thanked President Obama for his personal and efficient involvement and for the clear instructions he issued in this regard to his administration, giving proof, by the same token, of his attachment to the excellence of relations with Morocco.
Minister Judeh, she said, voiced hope that this exchange of letters will lead to launching direct negotiations between the two parties on all final status issues, something that is an essential component of Jordan's higher national interests.
The exchange of letters is an indication of the UAE's commitment to support the openness, security and stability of the Internet, said Mohammed Al Ghanim, TRA director general, after signing the dela with Rod Beckstrom, CEO and president of ICANN at the Gitex expo.
The Exchange of Letters was signed by Minister of Planning & International Cooperation Ja'far Hassan, Japanese Deputy
The meeting with the Home Secretary is being arranged following an exchange of letters between the couple and May.
Jo Vandriwala from KNGS said: "In addition to the teacher training there is an ongoing exchange of letters and work between students which encourages global citizenship.
The exchange of letters regarding the language between the coalition partners introduced new confusion within the Government.
The redacted version of MPs' expenses published on the UK Parliament website does not include an exchange of letters between her and the Fees Office which showed she had paid about pounds 700 of the bill for the bed and mattress herself at the time of purchase.
She pointed out that the redacted version of MPs' expenses published on Thursday did not include an exchange of letters between her and the Fees Office which showed she had paid about pounds 700 of the bill for the bed and mattress herself at the time of purchase.
The statement follows a recent exchange of letters between the Bank's governor Mervyn King and Chancellor Alistair Darling when they set out more aims of the fund, unveiled last month with the Government's latest banking bail-out.
In an exchange of letters, Mervyn King and Alistair Darling confirmed the fund will purchase only high-quality private sector assets, with the aim of improving liquidity for credit-starved companies.
In an exchange of letters, Mervyn King and Alistair Darling confirmed the fund will purchase only highquality private sector assets, with the aim of improving liquidity for credit-starved companies.

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