Finding Treaty Publications

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Mary Ries
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Treaty Format
Treaty Research
Treaty Resources


Treaties are formal agreements between two or more nations concerning peace, trade, etc.  While examples of these agreements exist from the time of the Egyptians, it is only recently that they are becoming increasingly codified.  

According to the United Nations

…the term "treaty" is reserved for matters of some gravity that require more solemn agreements. Their signatures are usually sealed and they normally require ratification. Typical examples of international instruments designated as "treaties" are Peace Treaties, Border Treaties, Delimitation Treaties, Extradition Treaties and Treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Cooperation.

The terms convention, protocol, pact, accord, understanding, etc., are generally employed when the subject matter is less formal in nature, however what it is called does not affect its legal standing.   International Law is based on this network of binding agreements. 

In the United States, a treaty can only be executed by the Federal Government. While negotiated by the executive branch, it must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The Senate does not ratify treaties - it only okays the U.S.'s participation.  A treaty is ratified when all parties involved exchange instruments of ratification with each other.

Besides treaties, the federal government can and does enter into other types of international agreements, collectively called executive agreements.  Because of the sharp increase in business being conducted between the U.S. and the rest of the world, Presidents have increasingly been entering into these types of agreements with leaders of other countries, especially in areas of foreign aid, agriculture, and trade. 

Statement of how the treaty will be ratified and setting the time and place for exchange of ratifications.


 Treaty Format

Treaties are formalized in writing.

Most treaties follow a standard format.

The Preamble which gives the names of the nations involved, a summary statement of the aim of the treaty, and list of the persons empowered to negotiate the treaty and who has empowered them to do this.

 The Articles which lay out the specific terms of the agreement.

 Statement of how the treaty will be ratified and setting the time and place for exchange of ratifications.

Place for signatures/seals, etc. of the signatories.

Amendments can be added to the document with appropriate signatures attesting to the changes but only before the treaty is signed.  Any changes after signing, requires a new agreement.  Treaties generally go into effect upon ratification, and are in effect until all parties involved agree to dissolve it or as specified in the original treaty.  War between the principals does not necessarily cancel a treaty.  In the past, there was an all-or-nothing aspect to treaties; signatories agreed to all the articles if signing it.  This is changing, and as treaties have become more complex and the number of parties involved has increased, signatories may agree on broad portions but express written reservations on parts.


 Treaty Research

There are many resources available for researching treaties and agreements.  Before starting your research, Duke University Law Library recommends that you ask yourself the following questions:

Has the treaty been amended?

Is the treaty still in force?

Are there only two signatories to the treaty (bilateral treaty) or are there more than two (multilateral treaty)?

Is the United States a signatory to the treaty?

As part of the expanding electronic presence of government documents, the GPO has begun digitizing treaties.  These digitized documents have a sudoc beginning S 9.10: and may be available through the Ohio State University Libraries' catalog

Besides the OSUL catalog, some of the sites below allow access to full text of treaties, while others offer only citations.  In order to find information on a specific treaty, it may be necessary to use one or more sites/resources.


 Treaty Resources

American Society of International Law.  Electronic Resource Guide.  Comprehensive overview of the subject with links to international resources of information on treaties.

Avalon Project:  Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy.  Yale University.  Lillian Goldman Law Library) Collection of documents in law, history and diplomacy from 4000BCE thru the 21st century.

Duke University.  Law Library.  Treaties.  Basic introduction to researching treaties, links and resources.

European Union.  Treaties Office Database.  Treaties and Agreements, etc. searchable by country, organization, topic, etc.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  Treaty Links.  PDFs of UK Treaties 1892-1996, with access via different links to current treaties, also have links to assorted foreign and international web sites dealing with treaties including the UN.

Georgetown Law Library.  Guides:  Foreign & International Law - Treaty Research.   Introduction to conducting treaty research, includes video tutorials on the topic.

GovInfo.  Congressional Documents.  Contains Senate Treaty Documents from the 94thCongress (1975-1976) through the current congress. 

HEINOnline.  U.S.Treaties and Agreements Library.  Kavass's Current Treaty Index.  1982-, arranged by year.

New York University School of Law.  Hauser Global Law School Program.  Mark Engsberg and Mary Beth Chappell.  UPDate:  An Introduction for Treaty Research.  Contains an introduction to treaty research and listings of resources and links.

Ohio State University Libraries.  Research Guide.  Political Science Resources:  UN and EU Documents, IGOs: International Treaties.  Hilary Bussell.  Contains web links and OSUL specific resources for researching treaties.

United Nations.  United Nations Treaty Collection. Contains information the status of treaties, depository notification, certified true copies, etc. between UN members

U.S. Department of State.  Finding Agreements.  Provides a list of resources to aid in locating treaties and agreements, including links to finding publications by foreign governments and international organizations.  Briefly mentions commercial sources also.

U.S. Department of State.  Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS).  Provides access to treaties, memorandum of understandings, etc. by year.  A brief description and a link to a PDF are part of each record.  Records are available from 1981 to the present.

U.S. Department of State.  Treaties in Force (TIF).  Provides information on treaties and other international agreements to which the United States has become a party and which are carried on the records of the Department of State as being in force as of its stated publication date, January 1, 2011.

United States Senate.  Legislation & Records - Treaties.  Lists status of treaties received from the President, etc., during the current congress.

University of California.  Hastings College of the Law Library.  International Law Research Guide – Treaties.  Comprehensive overview of the way to research international treaties. Lists resources.

University of Pennsylvania Libraries.  Treaties and Other International Agreements - Research Guide.  Guide to resources for accessing primarily US treaties, but also has information on international resources.  Although geared towards University of Pennsylvania Libraries' holdings many of the resources listed may be held by OSU Libraries.

Also check out the resources listed under International Law in Laws - Foreign and International.