Table of Contents

Research Handbook on the Law of Treaties

Research Handbook on the Law of Treaties

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Christian J. Tams, Antonios Tzanakopoulos and Andreas Zimmermann

Offering a unique conceptual approach to the Law of Treaties this insightful Research Handbook not only sets out the foundational issues, but identifies tensions within the field, including formalism vs flexibility, integrity vs flexibility, and uniformity vs specialisation, to name a few. It seeks to define and re-define the dimensions in which Treaty law operates, tracing its fault-lines and the challenges it faces, such as breaches, regime-collisions, state succession and armed conflict. Representing a broad range of jurisdictional and ideological perspectives, the Research Handbook provides a diverse and stimulating approach to international treaties.

Chapter 1: The law of treaties; or, should this book exist?

Vaughan Lowe

Subjects: law - academic, public international law, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations


This short chapter is not about rules of international law applicable to treaties. It is about the concept of ‘the law of treaties’ as a subject or topic within international law. It takes as its starting point the conception of treaties, which is the paradigm implicit in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. That paradigm is of a written instrument negotiated by the States parties to it, where the binding force comes from the consensus ad idem. It is a clearly consensualist model, as befits a body of doctrine whose roots lie in consensualist conceptions of international law in general. The main argument of the chapter is that ‘the law of treaties’ may no longer be the most useful way of approaching legal obligations voluntarily assumed by States. The law of treaties is a curious phenomenon. It has the appearance of solidity and certainty. Scarcely any piece of international litigation does not include in its overture a reference to the rules on treaty interpretation that are contained in the Vienna Convention. That almost ritualistic reference commonly continues with an assertion that the Vienna Convention is regarded as an accurate statement of customary international law; and in most cases that assertion is accepted without demur. And in many cases the court or tribunal is spared a reading of the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on the ground that they are too well known to need repetition.