Treaties and the Law: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Definition of Treaty
  • 1:59 How Treaties Are Made
  • 2:53 The Use of Treaties
  • 3:36 Examples of Treaties
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

A treaty is an express agreement entered into by official representatives from two or more independent governments. Treaties are law. This lesson explains what a treaty is and how treaties are used.

Definition of Treaty

A treaty is a formally concluded and ratified agreement between independent governments. When we say that treaties are formal, we mean that treaties are written agreements. When we say that treaties are ratified, we mean that treaties must be approved by all of the parties to the treaty before the treaty can take effect.

A treaty is an exchange of promises, much like a contract. Let's say that Canada promises to fully open its borders to U.S. citizens, and in exchange, the U.S. promises to give the entire state of Michigan to Canada. This agreement would be written down and then approved and signed by both the U.S. president and the Canadian prime minister.

Treaties are international agreements. Independent states, international organizations or countries can make treaties. A treaty requires at least two parties; these treaties are called bilateral treaties. A treaty can include many parties; these treaties are called multilateral treaties. Treaties are sometimes called conventions, pacts or accords. Once executed, a treaty becomes international law and is binding on the parties to the agreement.

Article VI, clause 2 of the United States Constitution tells us that, 'All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.' This statement is part of the supremacy clause and means that treaties become a superior part of our federal law system. Only the Constitution itself ranks as higher law.

How Treaties Are Made

Article II of the Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties with other countries on behalf of the United States. The president uses treaties in order to conduct foreign policy. However, the president doesn't act alone. Many people are involved in the process of making a treaty.

Officials with the Department of State, which is a part of the executive branch, negotiate the treaty. Once negotiated, the treaty is sent to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent. The Senate considers the treaty and must approve the treaty by a two-thirds vote. The treaty is then sent to the president for execution. The president executes the treaty by signing it. The treaty is officially ratified once all parties to the treaty have signed it.

The Use of Treaties

Throughout history, nations have used treaties in order to formalize agreements and foreign policies with one another. Treaties have been used for many different international issues, such as peace, trade, land disputes, human rights and immigration.

Many international treaties are administered by the United Nations. The United Nations is an international organization of countries set up to promote peace and security. Notably, the United Nations was, itself, created by a treaty. The U.N. Charter established the United Nations in 1945, just after World War II.

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