A Basic Introduction to Treaties and the United Nations

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Why do countries adhere to international treaties?

Treaties are a key aspect of International law – these documents are binding commitments that states make with each other and can range from military alliances to trade and border negotiations. In order to function properly, the world needs international agreements. But how exactly do these treaties work and what makes a treaty binding? In theory, there’s not much stopping a Country from violating a treaty as soon as it was convenient. But this doesn’t happen as much as one might think and the UN in fact plays an important role in this process.

The UN provides a structure for international treaties in 2 key ways. First, is through the UN Treaty Collection, the central database for all international agreements. All countries must submit their treaties here for them to be binding. The Second way is through the network of dispute resolution bodies. Once a country submits an agreement to the treaty collection, the UN is able to act as an adjudicator for it. Some of the most important mediating bodies include the International Court of Justice and the UN dispute tribunal. In an international system where there’s no global police to enforce agreements, the UN can be the most appealing option.

The UN Treaty Collection

Article 102 of the UN Charter mandates that all countries who sign it must use the Treaty Collection system. This project has now become a valuable resource for all countries. It is a public resource that records the full texts of multilateral and bilateral treaties since 1946. All agreements submitted to the Treaty Collection are considered to be binding in international law. Documents submitted to the treaty collection follow the rules outlined in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Check out the treaty collection here.

What happens if a country violates a treaty?

The Vienna Convention on the Law of treaties sets out the rules and procedures for dispute resolution. However, in many situations, there are predetermined statutes that states will agree upon in their treaty. These terms set out the methods for resolving potential disagreements when they happen.

Methods of dispute resolution can include arbitration panels or the use of the International Court of Justice. Depending on the treaty type, if a country is found to be at fault, they may be required to pay fines or be subject to other sanctions. Because states rely on a vast number of treaties, they are unwilling to not abide by UN sanctions. A country would no longer be able to submit claims to the ICJ if they refused to pay a fine and would be vulnerable to other states taking advantage in other agreements.

Ending a treaty properly

Obligations in international law are possible because two states consent to an agreement. For this reason, many treaties explicitly allow states to withdraw their consent provided they follow an certain procedure. This process can change depending on the treaty and may be as simple as a notification period, this could include a formal notice that a country will stop adhering to a treaty on a certain date. This process can be far more complicated, a country may pay certain fees or hand over certain assets.

If another state has materially violated treaty obligations, then the process is far more simple. The offended party is able to take advantage of this violation and use it as grounds to suspend or terminate the treaty.

Conclusion

As you can see, the UN plays an important role in the regulation and management of international treaties. The organization works to make sure that countries coordinate their agreements and establishes a process for States to communicate. This makes it easier for states to reach suitable agreements and foster strong diplomatic ties.

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