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Treaties have long served as one of the several sources of international law. Increasingly, they have come to serve as the dominant source. Being agreements between states, they are used to regulate all conceivable aspects of international and transnational affairs—bilaterally to effect one-off trades between states (for example the transfer of property) and multilaterally to make rules that aspire to be globally applicable (for example on the suppression of terrorism). This subject aims to consider the treaty from three perspectives. First, it examines the treaty concept, using historical, theoretical and functional materials to assess this instrument’s role in international relations. Second, broadly following the structure of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – ‘the treaty on treaties’ – this subject examines the ‘life-cycle’ of treaties from their inception to their termination. Third, this subject examines how domestic legal systems regulate treaty-making and the status, if any, those systems give to treaties themselves. In short, this subject considers what treaties are as well as how they are made, applied and unmade.
Principal topics include:
- Understanding the treaty concept – What is a treaty?
- Treaty functions – Why make treaties? What do treaties do?
- Treaty alternatives – political commitments, contracts, unilateral declarations
- Authority to make treaties – States, International Organizations, ‘other’ subjects of international law
- Treaty negotiations – bilateral and multilateral processes and participants
- Methods of treaty consent
- Obligations prior to entry into force – signature and provisional application
- Entry into force
- Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations
- Methods of treaty interpretation
- Grounds for the invalidity of a treaty
- Exiting treaty commitments
- Succession to a treaty in case of dissolution or merger of states
- Interaction among treaties
- Domestic authorisation of treaty-making – the role of executives and legislatures
- Status of a treaty in a national legal system – federal and non-federal States
- The future of multilateral treaty-making.
A treaty negotiation exercise forms a core part of the subject.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a comprehensive understanding of the concept of the treaty from different historical, theoretical and functional perspectives
- Be able to critically assess the pros and cons of using different forms of international agreements in different circumstances (treaties, political commitments, transnational contracts etc.)
- Understand the treaty-making capacity of different actors including, but not limited to, States
- Explain the different stages of the treaty-making process
- Have a sophisticated appreciation of negotiating dynamics including incentives to cooperate and defect
- Work effectively as team members to solve problems
- Have a detailed understanding of the treaty interpretation rules and the different methods applied under those rules
- Articulate various bases for terminating or suspending treaty commitments
- Appreciate the different frameworks domestic legal systems use in allocating treaty-making powers and regulating the legal status of treaties
- Have the required skills to be able to find and access the texts of treaties, use the status information of treaties and properly cite treaties in support of legal arguments
- Appreciate the significance of cultural differences in professional practice.
Last updated: 11 February 2021