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Public International Law Research

A guide that highlights resources and recommended strategies for conducting research on international law topics.

U.S. Treaties vs. Executive Agreements

U.S. Treaties vs. Executive Agreements

International agreements to which the United States is a party can be classified as either treaties or executive agreements. International agreements whose entry into force with respect to the United States takes place only after two-thirds of the U.S. Senate has given its advice and consent under Article II, section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution are "treaties" and therefore binding U.S. law. Second, international agreements brought into force with respect to the United States on a constitutional basis other than with the advice and consent of the Senate are "international agreements other than treaties" and are often referred to as "executive agreements."       

For more information on the difference between "treaties" and "international agreements other than treaties," please see the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual at 11 FAM 721.2.  

Determining Whether the U.S. is a Party to the Treaty

Determining Whether the US is a Party to the Treaty

One of the first steps in U.S. treaties research process is determining whether or not a particular treaty is currently in force for purposes of U.S. law. The indexes identified below allow you to confirm that a specific treaty is still in force and provide you citation reference information for locating official, full-text  sources for a treaty.

Treaties in Force

TIF, published yearly by the US Department of State, outlines all treaties to which the United States is currently a party. You can also find other helpful information in this resource, including signature and entry-into-force dates and citations to official sources for the agreements.

You can access Treaties in Force through a variety of databases:


Kavass's Guide to the United States Treaties in Force

Kavass's Guide to the United States Treaties in Force is another index that can be used to identify treaties. In addition to providing the basic organizational structure of TIF, this publication also provides expanded subject lists and a chronological index for U.S. multilateral agreements in force. Access is available via HeinOnline.

Treaties Pending in the Senate

The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of all treaties currently pending in the Senate, along with links to the Senate Treaty Documents source. You can view pending treaties here.

The Senate website also maintains a list of those treaties received and approved during the current Congress. You can view those treaties here.

Official Full-Text Versions of U.S. Treaties

Official Full-Text Sources of U.S. Treaties

Once you have confirmed that a treaty is currently in force and have a citation for that treaty, you can retrieve the full text from an official or unofficial source. Official sources are preferred for Bluebook citation purposes. The following is a list of official sources that can be used to obtain full-text versions of U.S. treaties.

Senate Treaty Documents (S. Treaty Doc., 1981-present)

Treaties submitted to the Senate for ratification are first published as Senate Treaty Documents (formerly known as Senate Executive Documents (1789-1980)). In addition to the full text of the treaty, this publication also contains letters of transmittal from the president and secretary of state that can provide helpful insight into the purpose of the agreement and an outline of potential reservations or declarations that need to be made before the treaty is ratified.

Note: Prior to 1980, this series was known as Senate Executive Documents (S. Exec. Doc.). Treaties from 1789-1980 may be found under this title.

  • Database Access: You can access the Senate Treaty Documents series in HeinOnline (1981-present) or ProQuest Congressional (1981-present). It is easiest to search through these databases if you already have a citation for your treaty.
  • Free Online Access: The Government Publishing Office provides access to this series on GovInfo (1975-present). You can search for a specific treaty in the general search bar, or you can browse the Congressional Documents collection by Congress number.

 

Treaties and Other International Acts Series (1945-present)

T.I.A.S. contains treaties and executive agreements that have entered into force since 1945. It is the first official publication of U.S. treaties and international agreements. It was originally published as a series of consecutively numbered, individually paginated pamphlets containing the texts of agreements. Treaties appearing in TIAS are considered to be in slip form, and the publication is now only available in electronic format.

  • Database Access: You can access TIAS in HeinOnline (1982-present).
  • Free Online Access: The U.S. Department of State publishes TIAS and makes it available on its website (1995-present).

 

U.S. Treaties and Other International Agreements Series (U.S.T., 1950-1984)

U.S.T. contains treaties and agreements that entered into force between 1950 and 1984. These were bound together after having first appeared in T.I.A.S. in slip form.

  • Database Access: You can access U.S.T. via HeinOnline (1950-1984).

 

Treaty Series (T.S., 1795-1945)

T.S. was the predecessor to T.I.A.S. and contained all treaties entered into force from 1795-1945. Prior to 1929, the series also included most executive agreements. This title merged with the Executive Agreement Series in 1946 to form T.I.A.S.

  • Database Access: You can access T.S. via HeinOnline (1795-1945). 

 

Executive Agreement Series (E.A.S., 1929-1945)

E.A.S. contained executive agreements that entered into force from 1929-1945. This title merged with the Treaty Series in 1946 to form T.I.A.S.

  • Database Access: You can access E.A.S. via HeinOnline.

 

United Statutes Statutes at Large (Stat., 1778-1949)

Treaties that entered into force prior to 1950 are included in Statutes at Large, the chronological compilation of U.S. federal session laws. A cumulative index of all treaties published in Statutes at Large can be found at 64 Stat. B1107.

Unofficial Full-Text Versions of U.S. Treaties

Unofficial Full-Text Sources for U.S. Treaties

U.S. Treaties and International Agreements Current Service (KAV Agreements, 1984-present)

This publication should be used in conjunction with Kavass's Current Treaty Index. Treaties in this series are arranged by Kavass number (KAV), and it can be a useful resource for locating those treaties that have not yet been assigned an official T.I.A.S. citation number. This publication is available from HeinOnline.

 

Treaties and Other International Agreements of the U.S. (Bevans, 1777-1949)

This compilation is arranged into 13 volumes and is considered one of the most complete collections of treaties and other agreements entered into by the United States from 1776-1950. Volumes 1-4 of this collection contain multilateral agreements in chronological order, while volumes 5-12 contain the texts of bilateral treaties in alphabetical order by country. Volume 13 provides indexes by country and subject.

  • Database Access: This publication is available from HeinOnline, and LLMC-Digital.
  • Free Online Access: The Library of Congress makes Bevans available via its website.

 

Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance Databases

Both Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance provide access to U.S. treaties. In each database, a unique Westlaw or Lexis citation is applied to individual treaties, often with a parallel citation to T.I.A.S. 

Identifying Reservations and Declarations

Identifying Treaty Reservations & Declarations

Reservation

A reservation is a declaration made by a state by which it purports to exclude or alter the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to the state. A reservation enables a state to accept a multilateral as a whole by giving it the possibility not to apply certain provisions with which it does not want to comply. Reservations can be made when the treaty is signed, ratified, approved or acceded to. Reservations must not be incompatible with the object and the purpose of the treaty. Furthermore, a treaty might prohibit reservations or only allow for certain reservations to be made. See UN Glossary of Terms Relating to Treaty Actions.

Declaration

States can make declarations as to their understanding of some matter or as to the interpretation of a particular treaty provision. Unlike reservations, declarations merely clarify the state's position and do not purport to exclude or modify the legal effect of a treaty. Declarations are usually made at the time of deposit of the corresponding instrument or at the time of signature. See UN Glossary of Terms Relating to Treaty Actions.

Locating U.S. Reservations and Declarations

In order to have a complete understanding of how a treaty will impact U.S. law, you need to identify any relevant reservations and/or declarations to the treaty made by the United States during ratification. The following is a list of resources that can be used to identify whether the U.S. attached any qualifiers to its participation in the agreement.

Senate Treaty Documents (S. Treaty Doc., 1981-present)

In addition to containing the full text of the treaty, this publication also contains letters of transmittal from the president and secretary of state that can provide helpful insight into the purpose of the agreement and an outline of potential reservations or declarations that need to be made before the treaty is ratified.

Note: Prior to 1980, this series was known as Senate Executive Documents (S. Exec. Doc.). Treaties from 1789-1980 may be found under this title.

  • Database Access: You can access the Senate Treat Documents series in HeinOnline (1981-present) or ProQuest Congressional (1981-present). It is easiest to search through these databases if you already have a citation for your treaty.
  • Free Online Access: The Government Publishing Office provides access to this series on GovInfo (1975-present). You can search for a specific treaty in the general search bar, or you can browse the Congressional Documents collection by Congress number.
Depository Websites

After a treaty has been concluded and all parties have formally signed, the written instruments are placed in the custody of a depository. For treaties with a small number of parties, the depository is usually the government of the state on whose territory the treaty was signed. Multilateral treaties are usually deposited with an international organization.

You should always check for a depository website, as these website typically provide overviews of reservations and declarations for treaties. For an example of a depository website, you can view the status page for The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.