Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Treaty Research

This guide describes resources and methods for locating and updating treaties of the United States and other countries.

Distinguishing Treaties From Executive Agreements

Under U.S. law, the term “treaty” is reserved for international agreements submitted by the executive branch to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent.  Only if the Senate ratifies a treaty by a two-thirds majority may the treaty enter into force.  International agreements that enter into force without the advice and consent of the Senate are often referred to generically as “executive agreements.”  Bear in mind that this generic term encompasses three distinct types of agreements:

  • Agreements concluded on the basis of the president's constitutional authority (executive agreements);
  • Agreements concluded pursuant to a statute enacted by Congress (congressional-executive agreements); and
  • Agreements concluded pursuant to the terms of a duly ratified treaty.

The president must transmit the text of an executive agreement to Congress within 60 days of its entry into to force, pursuant to a 2005 amendment to the Case-Zablocki Act, 1 U.S.C. §112b.

The Office of the Legal Advisor of the U.S. State Department is responsible for deciding whether an international agreement should be classified as a treaty.  The criteria for making this determination are set forth in the Circular 175 Procedure, which is codified in Volume 11 of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (11 FAM 720).  The Circular 175 Procedure also establishes uniform guidelines for negotiating, concluding, reporting, and publishing U.S. treaties and other international agreements.

For more in-depth discussion and analysis of the distinction between treaties and other types of international agreements, and for more information about the process of negotiation and ratification, consult the following resources: