James W. Hart
Ron Jones’ guide, Locating Treaties, is the best first place to go for information on treaties. It lists general sources that provide indexes to, the status of, or the full-text of treaties. This guide is focused on specialized sources. It has separate sections for regional treaty collections;subject collections; and secretariats. At this point this guide covers only environmental treaties. Other subjects will be added in the future.
Treaties may have any of a number of various titles such as convention, agreement, pact, protocol, or covenant. But they are all the same; those terms do not indicate different types of treaties. A treaty is an agreement between two (bilateral) or more (multilateral) nations. The definition and rules on treaties are in the 1969 Vienna Treaty on the Law of Treaties (VTLT). Its says that treaty "...means an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation." (VTLT, Article 2 (1)(a))
Certain terms are used to describe states that are at certain points in the treaty-making process. The meaning of a negotiating state is obvious. But a "'contracting State' means a State which has consented to be bound by the treaty, whether or not the treaty has entered into force; [(VTLT, Article 2 (1)(f))] [whereas] 'party' means a State which has consented to be bound by the treaty and for which the treaty is in force;..." (VTLT, Article 2 (1)(g))
Various nations have different ways of demonstrating their consent to be bound. Some do so by signature alone. Others require that a signature be confirmed by ratification such as our requirement of 2/3 approval by the Senate. Some exchange instruments, i.e., treaties to be bound by another treaty. Some do so by one step, accession. But all of these mean the same thing: "the international act so named whereby a State establishes on the international plane its consent to be bound by a treaty;..." (VTLT, Article 2 (1)(b))
Some treaties allow states to make reservations to any or only to certain provisions. A treaty may also prohibit reservations to any or certain provisions. A reservation is a "unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, whereby it purports to exclude or to modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State." (VTLT, Article 2 (1)(d)) Reservations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty are prohibited. The fact that two states are involved in a conflict that appears to be covered by a particular provision of a treaty may not be relevant to the conflict if one of the states has made a reservation to the provision. It's important to check the list of reservations to make sure that a particular provision of a treaty applies to a particular state.
There is much more to learn about treaties, their formation, application, interpretation, and termination. You can find this information in nearly any comprehensive general introduction to international law or in many specialized books. You can find them in our catalog, UCLID.