Definition of treaty
From Old French traité, from Latin tractatus, from tractare.
treaty (plural treaties)
- (international law) A binding agreement under international law concluded by subjects of international law, namely states and international organizations.
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an (international) agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms. Regardless of terminology, all of these forms of agreements are, under international law, equally considered treaties and the rules are the same.
Treaties can be loosely compared to contracts: both are means of willing parties assuming obligations among themselves, and a party to either that fails to live up to their obligations can be held liable under international law.
A treaty is an official, express written agreement that states use to legally bind themselves. A treaty is that official document which expresses that agreement in words; and it is also the objective outcome of a ceremonial occasion which acknowledges the parties and their defined relationships.
Bilateral and multilateral treaties
Bilateral treaties are concluded between two states or entities. It is possible however for a bilateral treaty to have more than two parties; consider for instance the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union (EU) following the Swiss rejection of the European Economic Area agreement. 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 EU and its member states ("on the other part"). The treaty establishes rights and obligations between the Swiss and the EU and the member states severally; it does not establish any rights and obligations amongst the EU and its member states.
A multilateral treaty is concluded among several countries. The agreement establishes rights and obligations between each party and every other party. Multilateral treaties are often regional. Treaties of "mutual guarantee" are international compacts, e.g., the Treaty of Locarno which guarantees each signatory against attack from another.
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