The Importance of International Treaties: Is Ratification Necessary?

By Roberg, Jeffrey L. | World Affairs, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Importance of International Treaties: Is Ratification Necessary?


Roberg, Jeffrey L., World Affairs


As the remaining superpower, the United States must be involved in the creation and maintenance of various international treaty regimes. Internationalists argue that these international regimes place necessary obligations and limits on states, whereas realists and neo-realists argue that state sovereignty is still largely king. This article argues that both sides are partly correct by examining four treaties the United States signed but did not ratify.

The United States is party to numerous treaties and enjoys global influence. The economic and military power of the United States frequently allows it to negotiate treaties in its favor. However, the United States has signed, but not ratified, a few major treaties because it could not persuade the other party or parties to include key concessions in the treaty's final terms. Such treaties include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Rome Statute, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II (SALT II). Negotiation costs time and money, and it is reasonable to assume that the U.S. government would not invest its resources in a treaty without a reasonable expectation of approving, or at least abiding by, the final result. A brief examination of the above treaties and U.S. foreign policy may help explain why the United States has not ratified certain treaties with terms mostly meeting U.S. objectives.

TREATY ANALYSIS: SIGNING VERSUS RATIFYING

In the United States, all treaties must be signed and ratified before they become binding legal documents. The U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2, states that the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Con sent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds or the Senators present concur." The president may sign a treaty at his or her own discretion; the Senate must then pass a resolution of ratification for the treaty to take effect.

After signing a treaty, the president submits it to the Senate, which forwards the treaty and relevant documents to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to begin the ratification process. After analyzing the information, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations may report favorably or unfavorably on the treaty, may make a ratification recommendation, or decline to act on the treaty. (1) If a treaty is brought to the floor of the Senate, it is debated and may be amended. (2) When debate is concluded, "the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the President to proceed with the ratification of the treaty." (3) Two-thirds of the Senate is needed either to approve the resolution of ratification or to postpone consideration of the treaty indefinitely. Treaty consideration does not end when the congressional session terminates. Any treaties that have not been fully considered are returned to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and added to the calendar of the following session. Therefore, it is possible for a treaty to remain in the Senate indefinitely. (4)

The Senate may approve, reject, or approve with conditions or amendments a resolution of ratification. In the last case, the president decides whether to accept the conditions and amendments and to attempt to renegotiate the terms of the treaty with the other signatories. The Senate may also choose to do nothing, allowing the treaty to sit until withdrawn by the president. (5)

The Constitution grants the executive and legislative branches concurrent power over treaty making, and the two aspects of treaty approval--signing and ratifying--create potential for conflict. Signing is essentially a unilateral action by the president, whereas ratifying requires consensus between the president and a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Conflict is likely when the president's views differ from those of prominent senators with enough influence to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to table or block a treaty. …

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