What is Treaty?

    Treaty is a formal written agreement between nation-states or other international personalities which intends to create a relationship between them operating within the sphere of international law. It is a formal agreement entered into force between states and international organizations to define or modify their mutual duties and obligations.

    According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969, “a treaty is defined as 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 is.”

    The main objective of a treaty is to impose binding obligations on the states who are parties to it. A treaty generally concerns the rights and duties of nations, but it may also provide specific rights to private individuals.

    How Many Types of Treaties are There?

    Basically, there are two types of treaties namely: bilateral treaties and multilateral treaties.

    Bilateral Treaty

    Bilateral treaties are concluded between two states only. For instance, the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950.

    Multilateral Treaty

    Multilateral treaties are concluded among at least three states. They are generally developed under the auspices of international organizations. For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, 1989.

    Forms of Treaties

    A treaty may take many forms, but international agreements normally include four or five basic elements: The preamble, names of the parties, general aims of the treaty, plenipotentiaries, and substance of the treaty. Under the regime of international law, the term ‘treaty’ embraces convention, agreement, covenant, arrangement, act, protocol, declaration, modus vivendi, the final act, and exchange of notes.

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    A multilateral agreement reached by or under the aegis of an international organization is called a convention. The purpose of a convention is to regulate particular aspects of international law or international relations.

    The convention is the most serious, formal, comprehensive type of treaty. It’s developed mostly under the auspices of the United Nations and the associated international Law Commission. The term ‘treaty’ most often denotes multilateral treaties of general interest. Conventions may be concluded between heads of state, between states, and between governments.


    Certain international legal instruments, which are relatively informal in expression, limited in scope, and do not have many parties are called agreements. An agreement is usually bilateral, and it covers sectoral issues such as border, tourism, trade, management of water resources, areas of bilateral cooperation, and so on.

    Sometimes, an agreement is reached for the development of modalities for implementing the provisions stipulated in an earlier treaty. Agreements are concluded between heads of state, between states, or governments, and sometimes also between a government department in one country and its counterpart in another country.

    Exchange of Notes

    The exchange of notes/letters is arguably the most frequently used device for formally recording an agreement between two governments upon all kinds of transactions. The contents of the notes/letters are agreed upon in advance by the two nations participating in the exchange.

    Exchange of correspondence takes place between the ambassador of one state and the minister for foreign affairs of the state to which he/she is accredited. Exchange of notes deals with various issues like maintenance of armed forces and military missions on foreign land, settlement of boundary disputes, etc. These are less formal types of international agreements. They are supposed to become binding by the signatures of the parties alone.

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    A charter is a formal document by which a sovereign state or government grants rights, powers, and privileges to a person, business, or the people. The charter is the highest law of any organization or the constitution of the organization. For instance, the Charter of the United Nations.

    A charter is a grant made by the sovereign, either to the whole people or to a portion of them, securing them the enjoyment of certain rights, and privileges.

    Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)

    A memorandum of understanding is a document that sets out an understanding reached between two states as to their international commitments regarding some matter, but which does so in a way that indicates that the understanding is not legally binding.

    When two parties agree upon the modalities of cooperation between them, generally it is done through an MOU where details about cooperation modalities are described. This form of treaty records informal, non-legally binding arrangements between states on matters which are inappropriate for inclusion in treaties or where the form is more convenient than a treaty.


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