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J. B. Duroselle and

Ian J. Bickerton

Tracing the history of treaties entered into by the United States provides an illuminating insight into the changing nature, concerns, and direction of United States foreign relations. Given that the Constitution provides that the Senate must be advised and give consent before their ratification, treaties also provide a revealing insight into the ever-changing relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government, as well as domestic politics and foreign relations.

Thus we see the Republic in its early years enter a series of treaties of amity and trade with European powers, followed in the nineteenth century by further commercial treaties (with their corollaries, freedom of the seas in time of war, provision for the safety of shipwrecked sailors, access to major communication routes), and treaties delineating the nation's expanding boundaries as well as defining its legal relations with indigenous Americans. Despite its own successful interventionist policy of military and economic expansionespecially in Central America and the Pacificin the first half of the twentieth century the United States was reluctant to enter the most destructive conflict Europe had yet seen, and the Senate succeeded in limiting American involvement in international legal arrangements designed to prevent its recurrence. Following a second round of world war, in the latter half of the twentieth century, and reflecting a widespread American fear created by a ideologically polarized and increasingly militarized world, the United States entered a series of collective security alliances and armsespecially nuclear armslimitation treaties. Reflecting renewed American efforts to establish global hegemony, the United States also embarked upon a number of economic agreements in the latter part of the twentieth century to break down what Washington regarded as restrictive trade barriers.

With the transformation of numerous former European colonies in Africa and Asia into independent states and a tremendous increase in the world's population in the second half of the twentieth century, the changed nature of international relations and the role of the United States in world affairs can be traced in the appearance of new kinds of treaties dealing with such matters as human rights, ecology and the environment, and the utilization of outer space. As the twenty-first century began much of U.S. foreign relations and domestic politics was taken up with determining how to respond to these new challenges.


In the broad sense, a treaty is an accord concluded between members of the international community. These are generally states, although sometimes they are political entities seeking to become states (for example, Britain's American colonies in 1776). In the latter case, signing a treaty with the entity gives it the character of a state. According to this broad definition, a treaty is neither a law, which is internal as opposed to international, nor a contract, which is private (or is concluded between a state and a person or an organization). This was the case in the Lake Success Accord of 26 June 1947 between the United Nations and the United States, regarding the location of the permanent headquarters of the United Nations.

In the strict sense, a treaty is an international accord in which the parties involved abide by the constitutional or legal rules that, in a given state, establish treaty-making power. This is clearer in the United States than in Europe, where terminology tends to be ambiguous (the terms in use include "treaty," "convention," "pact," "charter," "statute," "act," "declaration," "protocol," "arrangement," "accord," and "modus vivendi").

In the United States the word "treaty" refers to a procedure defined in the Constitution. The president, the Constitution states, "shall have power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." Accordingly, regardless of how they are described in ordinary language (the "Covenant" of the League of Nations, the "Charter" of the United Nations, or the Atlantic "Pact"), all international accords concluded according to this procedure are "treaties," and all others are "agreements." For the first half century after independence, all treaties, once ratified by Congress, were regarded as, in the words of the Constitution, the (supreme) Law of the Land, super-added to the laws of the land and creating individual rights and duties in all states and upheld by federal courts. Today not all treaties are so highly regarded.

The distinction between treaties and agreements is clearer in the United States than elsewhere. In the latter category it is necessary to distinguish several types. An executive agreement is an accord not approved by Congress, either before or after its signing. An example is the Korean War armistice. A congressional executive agreement is an international accord concluded by the president in accordance with a law (and, as a law, enacted by a simple majority vote of the Congress), or approved after the fact by a simple majority. Examples are the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Acts of 1934 and 1962, along with the lend-lease agreements and the European Recovery Program agreements. A joint congressional-executive action is an accord passed by joint resolution of Congress requiring only a simple majority of both houses of Congress. Examples are the annexation of Texas in 1845 and American guarantees concerning Taiwan in 1955.

The president can avoid the constitutional requirement of submitting an international accord to the Senate for approval through the use of an executive agreement. While such an agreement may concern important matters, it can take as simple a form as an exchange of letters. Sometimes it derives from the president's powers as commander in chief of the armed forces. Or it may result from a law voted by Congress giving the president the power to conclude certain accords (for example, those pertaining to the Lend-Lease Act and to the European Recovery Program, as well as postal accords and certain tariff agreements since 1934). The scope of an agreement also can extend to the recognition of states and of governments, and to the provisional or preliminary accords drawn up prior to the signing of definitive treaties.

Executive agreements were unknown in the days of George Washington, only being recognized as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936 and 1937. It was not until January 1972 with the Case Act (Public Law 92-403, 1 USC 112b) that Congress accepted executive agreements as constitutional, a journey begun by Senators William Knowland of California and Homer Ferguson of Michigan in 1954. The distinction between treaties and executive agreements has only domestic significance, as both are regarded as binding in international law. But there has been a vast increase in executive agreements since World War II, in part at least because of the difficulty of obtaining two-thirds Senate approval.

The increase in executive agreements also reflects the increased volume of American business with other countries, a constant and accelerated growth of governmental responsibilities imposed on all nations by technological progress, an enormous increase in the amount of power exerted throughout the world by the United States, and congressional legislation authorizing the executive branch to conclude agreements in such areas as agriculture, trade, and foreign aid. The combined necessities of skill and speed in increasingly diversified international politics have made the president of the United States, more so than was formerly true, the most important person in the world. The following statistics speak for themselves. Between 1789 and 1840, there were 60 treaties and 27 executive agreements (a ratio of 2 to 1). Between 1789 and 1940, there were 841 treaties and 1,200 executive agreements (a ratio of 2 to 3). Between 1940 and 1955, there were 139 treaties and 1,950 executive agreements (a ratio of 1 to 14). Between 1960 and 1963, there were 30 treaties and 1,132 executive agreements (a ratio of 1 to 37). A 1984 Senate study revealed that approximately 88 percent of international agreements reached between 1946 and 1972 were based on statuary authority, 6 percent were treaties, and 6 percent solely executive agreements. By the end of the twentieth century the United States was a party to more than 5,000 executive agreements and more than 950 treaties.

Treaties include all types of international agreements among sovereign states. Those agreements may be referred to as "conventions" (usually multilateral agreements), "protocols" (which expand an agreement), "charters," or even "letters." Treaties may be bilateral or multilateral, binding or nonbinding, self-executing or requiring implementing legislation. A treaty enters into force when it is deposited with an international organization or exchanges ratification with another country.

Treaties have existed for centuries, but an internationally acceptable law of treaties was not codified until the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, which came into force in 1980. The United States, although not a party to the convention (it has been signed but not ratified), accepts it as setting out international law on the subject. Historically, treaties were used as instruments by states to transfer territory, settle disputes and execute other foreign policy matters (for example, to make peace). In recent history treaties have been concluded to regulate economic activities such as trade, commercial relations and intellectual property, and, increasingly, to protect international human rights, regulate pollution and protect the environment, and facilitate transnational litigation.

In the United States, the Founders gave the Senate a share of the treaty power to check presidential power. They also saw Senate involvement as a means of safeguarding the sovereignty of the states by giving each state an equal vote in the treaty-making process. The relationship between the executive branch and the Senate in the making of treaties has remained a controversial issue in U.S. foreign relations. While many presidents have sought the advice of the Senate before entering treaties or conventions, some have not. During the nineteenth century the Senate considerably extended its influence over the treaty-making process by exercising its power to amend treatiesa process begun with an amendment to Jay's Treaty in 1803and, by the mid to late nineteenth century, requiring a simple majority vote.

Senate amendment may include reservations, understandings, interpretations, declarations, and other statements as conditions for the Senate recommendation of approval. Forty-three treaties never entered force because Senate reservations made them unacceptable to the executive or the other party(s) to the treaty, and eighty-five were withdrawn because of Senate failure to take final action on them. President William McKinley, hoping to avoid Senate rejection, which had become increasingly frequent, named three senators to negotiate the peace treaty with Spain in 1898, thereby facilitating Senate approval. Woodrow Wilson's failure to include any senators in negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I and establishing the League of Nations was widely believed to have contributed to the Senate defeat of that treaty. Warren G Harding included senators in negotiations leading to the 1922 Washington Arms Limitation Treaty. Senators assisted in drawing up the United Nations Charter following World War II, and there were only two Senate votes against ratification.

The Senate has rejected relatively few of the treaties it has considered. It sought, with not much success, to have its deliberations kept secret. The Senate approved more than 1,500 treatiesaround 90 percent of those submitted to itin its first two hundred years. The first treaty rejected was with the Wabash and Illinois Indians in 1794, and in 1825 the Senate rejected by a vote of 40 to 0 a convention with Colombia for the suppression of the slave trade.

The flexibility of the system derives from the wide range of options it provides. In a few major instances the treaty method is required constitutionally. In the vast majority, however, the president has the principal prerogative of deciding which method will be used or attempted. Over the vast network of events, times, ideas, attitudes, and strength relationships of the political parties, a decision on the preferred method in all given types of instances rests upon calculations virtually approaching infinity.


During and immediately following the war of independence, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Adams, and the other American negotiators found their dealings with the French, Spanish, Dutch and other European powers extremely harrowing. Accordingly, they sought to avoid becoming involved in the intricacies of European politics. American leaders were determined to follow an independent foreign policy and to avoid all treaties other than those promoting (free) commerce and manufactures. In 1776, John Adams drew up a "Model Treaty," and it became the basis for the Americans' first treaties, the U.S.French treaties signed by Benjamin Franklin and French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, count of Vergennes, on 6 February 1778.

Negotiations between the American colonists and France began at Passy and resulted in two treaties. The first was a treaty of military alliance, the object of which was "to establish the liberty, sovereignty, and absolute and unlimited independence of the United States, in affairs of government as well as in affairs of commerce." It was asserted that the treaty "is based on the most perfect equality and reciprocity." The second treaty was a treaty of amity and commerce, under which each nation granted most-favored-nation status to the other.

On 4 May 1778, Congress unanimously ratified the two treaties, with the exception of a few secondary clauses. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had responsibility for conducting foreign policy, and every treaty had to be approved by at least nine of the thirteen states. Thus, through these first two treaties in American history, the United States was "introduced among the nations." It should be noted that these treaties dealt simultaneously with alliance, commerce, and the creation of international law, or "treaty law"reciprocity of treatment, freedom of the seas, and the rights of neutral powers.

Peace negotiations between Britain and the Americans, already under way, proceeded apace following the American military success at Yorktown on 19 October 1781. The American delegates, Jay and Adams in particular, demanded more than independence; they also wanted the Newfoundland fisheries, the area west of the Alleghenies as far as the Mississippi River, the cession of Canada, and a war indemnity. Jay opened secret negotiations with England that led to British acceptance of the Mississippi frontier, of the Great Lakes frontier, and of a northeast boundary line at the St. Croix River. Although it was customary in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the loser to pay the winner a cash indemnity for its costly victory, the British refused to consider paying an indemnity.

A treatyconsidered as only preliminary, in conformity with European usagewas signed at Paris on 30 November 1782. France and Spain followed the American example and on 20 January 1783 also signed preliminary treaties with England. The definitive treaties were signed on 3 September 1783, at Paris, between the United States and England, and a few days later, at Versailles, between France and England.

The first article of the 1783 Treaty of Paris states: "His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the United States, viz. [here follows a list of the thirteen colonies], to be free, sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his Heirs and Successors, relinquishes all Claims to the Government Propriety and Territorial Rights." Thus, following France (1778) and the Netherlands (1782), England extended recognition to its former colony. At first, the new nation's dealings with other nations tended to lack direction. Each state wished to be consulted about international affairs. A consular convention signed with France in 1784 was not accepted by Congress until 1788, after the elimination of a clause treating each of the thirteen states as sovereign. And when commercial and territorial negotiations with Spain produced the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty in 1786, its ratification was blocked by the southern states, which felt that their interests had been neglected. However, commercial treaties were signed with Sweden in 1783 and Prussia in 1785, as well as a treaty of peace and friendship with Morocco in 1786.

The situation of drift persisted until the adoption of the Constitution. When the Constitution came into force in 1788, it brought with it a more precise definition of "treaty-making power." On the question of the role the Senate would play in the negotiation of treaties, the Founders did not wish to see the Senate play the dominant role in foreign affairs that had been the prerogative of the Roman Senate, whose exploits in this domain were known and appreciated by such cultivated leaders as Jefferson. From the beginning, George Washington established the tradition of presidential designation of negotiators. (In 1778 and 1782 negotiators had been chosen by Congress.) The president was required, however, to obtain the "advice and consent" of the Senate (with a twothirds majority) in the appointment of the secretary of state and of ambassadors.


Whether because of fear of entrapment, abandonment, or exploitation by European powers, for the next century and a half the United States was wary of signing treaties of military alliance as a means of guaranteeing its own security. Concern over being drawn into the war between revolutionary France and England undoubtedly influenced President George Washington to exhort Americans to avoid entangling alliances in his Farewell Address of 1796, a warning repeated by Jefferson as president four years later. In relation to Europe, treaties were seen by the United States as too "open," too "anarchic" in character. As each party to a treaty retains substantial decisionmaking capabilities, the risks were too great in a region where the United States was not likely to be the dominant party in any treaty arrangement. The United States did not sign another treaty of alliance until 1947 (the Rio Treaty) and 1949 (the NATO alliance).

This does not mean that the United States was not engaged in or active on the world stage. It simply means that the nation regarded unilateral action as in its best interests. The costs of cooperationeither in economic or military termswere regarded as too high or the returns insufficient to warrant the risks involved in cooperation. This was not the case in continental America, where the United States was dealing with indigenous Americans and Mexico and Canadaalthough both those countries were integrated into the European state system. In this instance the United States readily entered intoand broketreaty arrangements. In the Western Hemisphere the United States also felt it could best protect its interests unaided. Successive administrations felt that the issuance of the Monroe Doctrineestablishing Latin America as a sphere of interest, if not a protectoraterendered treaties unnecessary.

In the Pacific and East Asia, on the other hand, American attitudes to treaties varied, although the major motivation remained commercial expansion. Although the United States was too late to participate in the "great game of empire" played out there by the European powers, it participated with the Western powers in the unequal treaty system they forced upon China following the Opium Wars. Following British success in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the United States, in the Treaty of Wanghia (July 1844), extorted similar concessions from Chinamostfavored-nation status, the opening of five ports, the imposition of extraterritorial rights for Americans (legal trials for foreigners in special courts of their own nationality)that lasted until 1942. Also, although no treaty of alliance had been entered into, a U.S. navy warship acted in concert with British, French, and Dutch ships during 18631864 to punish Japan for harassment of merchant shipping, and the United States shared an indemnity that Japan was forced to pay to the Western powers.

Throughout the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, the two poles of American treaty making were territorial acquisition and amity and commerce, with its various corollaries.


After the critical phase of revolution and gaining independence, American policy began to focus on the possibilities of the vast North American continent. In the category of territorial politics alone, the United States made fourteen major attempts to annex territory between 1800 and 1869. Four were unsuccessful (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Virgin Islands); one (the annexation of Texas in 1845) was settled not by a treaty but by a joint resolution. Eight of the remaining nine resulted in major treaties: four purchase treaties (Louisiana, Florida, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and Alaska); three partition treaties concerning Oregon (1846); and a single peace treaty (Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848). Another, earlier peace treaty, that of Ghent (1814) did not involve territorial annexation.

The drafters of the Treaty of Ghent (December 1814), which ended the divisive war with the British begun two years earlier, were satisfied simply to restore the territorial status quo. News of the treaty did not reach Washington until February 1815, a delay that permitted General Andrew Jackson to prevent the capture of New Orleans in the meantime (8 January 1815). The Senate immediately approved the treaty, one of the most popular ever negotiated by Americans.

Territorial questions played a dominant role in American politics both before and after the Civil War. The territories in question were generally located on the North American continent and contiguous to previously annexed territories. (Alaska in 1867 and the Midway Islands seized in the same year were exceptions to this general rule.) Thus, the attempts or plans to acquire island territoriesHawaii, the Virgin Islands, Santo Domingo, even Cubawere considered by many as immoral and not in accord with American tradition. Once the territories were acquired, generally by treaty, it was still necessary to occupy them, which often meant fighting and then negotiating with the indigenous inhabitants.


One purpose of the new Constitution was to organize an effective army to deal with issues surrounding the "western lands." The western lands, were, of course, occupied by Native Americans. The history of U.S. relations with Native Americans during the nineteenth century is long and complicated because of the number of different Native American peoples involved, but fundamentally simple in terms of the process that was repeated hundreds of times across the continent. The U.S. government deployed military garrisons on the edge of Indian (Native American) territories, and when conflict arose, as it invariably did, the army reacted by invading the Indian nations and attacking the Native Americans.

At the time of the American Revolution, however, Americans viewed the Indians as distinct peoples, and they viewed their nations as distinct nations, even if other countries did not. Both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States reflected this reality. One of the first acts of the Continental Congress was the creation in 1775 of three departments of Indian affairs: northern, central, and southern. Among the first departmental commissioners were Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry. Their job was to negotiate treaties with Indian nations and obtain their neutrality in the coming revolutionary war. Among the first treaties presented to the Senate by George Washingtonin August 1789dealt with U.S. relations with various Native American tribes.

While the many accords reached with the Native Americans were sometimes called treaties, in reality the treaties were fictions. On 9 July 1821, Congress gave the president authority to appoint a commissioner of Indian affairs to serve under the secretary of war and have "the direction and management of all Indian affairs, and all matters arising out of Indian relations." From 1824, Native Americans were subject to the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, newly established as a division of the War Department. After 1849 they were subject to the Home Department (later the Department of the Interior), which, within a century, controlled virtually every aspect of Indian existence.

International law in the nineteenth century did not consider as true treaties accords concluded with indigenous tribes that were not constituted in the form of genuine states. In 1831 the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia ruled that Indian nations were not foreign nations but "domestic dependent nations," although the following year in Worcester v. Georgia, in a ruling that was defied by President Andrew Jackson and ignored by Congress, he ruled that they were capable of making treaties that under the Constitution were the supreme law of the land.

Between 1789 and 1871 the president was empowered by the Senate to make treaties with the Native American tribes or nations in the United States. These treaties ostensibly recognized the sovereignty of Native Americans. Many of the very early Native American treaties were ones of peace and friendship, and a few included mutual assistance pacts, or pacts to prevent other tribes from making hostile attacks. The majority of Native American treaties, however, dealt with trade and commerce, and involved Indians ceding land. Native title was effectively extinguished by treaties of evacuation and removal of the Native American population. Most were signed under coercion. During the two terms of the presidency of Andrew Jackson (18281836), when removal of Native Americans from their lands reached almost a frenzy, ninety-four Indian treaties were concluded under coercion. Interestingly, one feature that all Native American treaties share with foreign treaties is that the courts will not inquire into the validity of the signatories. Just as a court will not inquire into whether a foreign dignitary was bribed or forced into signing a treaty, the courts will not inquire into whether a Native American tribe was properly represented during negotiation of a ratified treaty or whether such a treaty was acquired by fraud or under duress.

The president's authority to make treaties with Native Americans was terminated by the Indian Appropriations Act of 3 March 1871, which declared that no Indian tribe or nation would be recognized as an independent power with whom the United States could contract by treaty. However, this statute did not alter or abrogate the terms of treaties that had already been made. Native American treaties are still enforced today and continue to constitute a major federal source of Native American law.

In later years, Congress made provisions to permit Native Americans to recover monetary damages for treaty violations by the federal government. Prior to 1946 Congress enacted numerous special statutes permitting tribes to recover damages through the court of claims, and in 1946 Congress established the Native American Claims Commission to settle claims.


In addition to the territorial treaties, the United States signed a number of trade treaties during its first half century. In realizing these treaties, as was also the case with the treaties annexing overseas territories, the navy was the chief instrument utilized. Chief among these were the Commercial Convention of 1815 with England (extended in 1818) and treaties of commerce with Russia (1832), Siam (1833), China (1844, 1858, and 1867), the Hawaiian Islands (1849 and 1875), and England (the Marcy-Elgin Treaty of 1854). Of a rather different nature were the treaties concerning possible canals linking the Atlantic and the Pacific. In 1846 a treaty was concluded with New Granada (later Colombia) guaranteeing the United States transit across the Isthmus of Panama, as well as the neutrality of the canal zone. In 1850 England and the United States signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty regarding the isthmus. Each of the countries undertook not to establish exclusive control over and to guarantee the neutrality of any canal that might be built across Central America. In 1867 a treaty signed with Nicaragua gave the United States the right to build a canal across that country.

Another economic treaty, which subsequently proved to be of great importance, was the Treaty of Kanawaga (Yokohama) with Japan (31 March 1854). Commodore Matthew C. Perry, bearing a letter from President Millard Fillmore requesting the opening of the archipelago to world trade and seeking provision for the safety of shipwrecked American sailors (mainly whalers), led an expedition that reached Japan in July 1853 and returned in FebruaryMarch 1854 to receive Japan's answer. This treaty was supplemented by the Harris Treaties of 18 June 1857 and 29 July 1858, the latter of which established diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 1883 the Treaty of Chemulpo, negotiated the year before by Commodore Robert Shulfeldt, which provided for American diplomatic representation in Seoul and opened Korea to American trade, passed the Senate.

The Treaty of Washington of 8 May 1871 between Great Britain and the United States should also be mentioned. The Confederate privateer Alabama, one of several constructed in British shipyards, had been involved in destructive attacks on the merchant fleet of the North. The United States demanded that London reimburse the damages incurred, with compound interest, as well as the cost of the two additional years of war supposedly rendered possible by this naval activity. The Senate had rejected an earlier treaty proposal (the Johnson-Clarendon Convention) on 13 April 1869. After international arbitration at Geneva, the Alabama Claims were settled by payment of an indemnity of $15.5 million.

Few treaties were signed in the next quarter century. From the time of the Alabama Claims until around 1890, the United States, preoccupied with its internal expansion, pursued a reserved foreign policy, being satisfied to formulate or recall the basic principles unilaterally, without concluding any important treaties. And, although after 1890 the United States did embark upon an imperialist foreign policy, replete with overseas conquests or interventions, this development came relatively late and was not as extensive as the colonial activities of the European powers, being limited geographically to the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific.

In addition, American annexation methods (whether purchase and partition, or through treaty or joint resolution) had been brought to a high degree of refinement and had only to be applied to colonial or occupied insular territories. The occupation of a territory depended, moreover, not on treaty-making power but on the power of the president as commander in chief and did not, therefore, provide occasions for making treaties.


During the period 18801910, two new phenomena appeared that were to have great significance. The first was American participation in the vast collective treaties negotiated in Europe that dealt with such matters as the rules of warfare at sea and other issues important to American overseas commercial activities. Whereas the United States had been absent from the congresses of Vienna (18141815), of Paris (1856), and of Berlin (1878), as well as from the ambassadorial conferences of the Concert of Europe (an obvious consequence of the Monroe Doctrine), in 1880 it participated in the Madrid Conference on Morocco (treaty approved by the Senate on 5 May 1881) and in 1884 and 1885 in the Berlin Conference on equatorial Africa. In July 1890 the United States signed an international agreement on the suppression of the slave trade in Africa (approved by the Senate on 11 January 1892).

The United States also participated in the 18881889 Pan-American Conference in Washington, D.C., which created the Pan American Union; it had refused to take part in the attempt to create such a union in 1826. Later it took a seat at the Pan-American conferences in Mexico City (19011902), Rio de Janeiro (1906), and Buenos Aires (1910), as well as at the First International Peace Conference at The Hague (1899), which created the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and at the Second International Peace Conference at The Hague (1907). The United States also was represented at the Algeciras Conference (1906) on Morocco. On this occasion the Senate accepted the resulting agreement (in December 1906), but with the reservation that its approval did not signify a break with the traditional policy of noninvolvement in Europe.

The second new development was that for the first time in its history, the United States assumed the role of mediator between two great powers, Russia and Japan, then at war. President Theodore Roosevelt had been anxious to maintain the balance of power in the Far East. He knew that the United States possessed an effective means of putting pressure on the victorious Japanese, that is, the possibility of helping them obtain funds to revive their bankrupt economy. Consequently, as early as April 1905, before the decisive Russian naval defeat at Tsushima, he secretly agreed to serve as a mediator. Japan accepted mediation on 31 May, after the battle of Tsushima, for it realized that it was better to limit its ambitions than to risk provoking a coalition against it. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth, in part a product of American initiatives, dissatisfied Japanese ultranationalists. The United States also was mediator (without being a signatory) at the Central American Peace Conference held in NovemberDecember 1907 in Washington, D.C.


It is not surprising that the most important acts of American foreign policy during this period involved territorial acquisitions, the only difference being that, with the disappearance of the frontier, the object was overseas territory, and the instrument employed was the navy rather than the army. This change was influenced by the great colonial expansion undertaken by the Europeans since 1881, as well as by Alfred Thayer Mahan, the apostle of seapower. The major motivation for U.S. expansion was the search for markets in a world (Indochina, Africa, and China) being closed off by Europeans. Nevertheless, the American approach retained its versatility: treaties remained but one among several methods of annexation.

On 17 January 1878 the United States signed the Samoan Treaty with a number of tribal chiefs, thereby receiving the right to use the strategic port of Pago Pago on the island of Tutuila. The Senate gave its approval on 30 January. The Berlin Conference of 1889, involving the Americans, the British, and the Germans, resulted in an accord establishing a tripartite protectorate over the islands (14 June). On 2 December 1899 a new treaty reallocated the islands among the three powers. It was ratified by the Senate on 16 January 1900.

In the Hawaiian Islands, after numerous futile negotiations during the nineteenth century, Queen Liliuokalani was deposed in 1893 in favor of a provisional revolutionary government. The latter (composed mainly of Americans) proposed a treaty of annexation by the United States (14 February 1893), which was rejected by President Grover Cleveland. The Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed on 4 July 1894 and recognized by Cleveland on 7 August. Cleveland was hostile to the annexation of the archipelago, but his successor, William McKinley, signed a treaty of annexation on 16 June 1897. In the Senate, however, a coalition of Democrats and anti-imperialist Republicans delayed ratification. During the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War, in order to ensure uninterrupted reinforcements to Admiral Dewey in Manila, McKinley asked Congress for a joint resolution, which required only a simple majority in both houses. The resolution was passed on 7 July 1898.

The most important actions taken in this decade were linked to the war against Spain, declared on 25 April 1898. As in the war with Mexico half a century earlier, the Americans were assured of victory. French mediation paved the way for a provisional protocol, signed on 12 August. The peace conference opened on 1 October in Paris, and the peace treaty was signed on 10 December. The final treaty added the annexation of the Philippines to that of Puerto Rico, provided for in the earlier protocol. The proposed annexation of the Philippines, which had become the symbol of U.S. imperialism, provoked heated debate in the Senate. Democrats, Populists, and anti-imperialist Republicans (numerous in New England) opposed the treaty. The imperialists based their argument on national prestige and the strategic necessity of a base in the area. The Senate did not approve the Treaty of Paris until 6 Febuary 1899. The vote was 57 to 27; a change of two votes would have made it impossible to attain the necessary two-thirds majority. Guam was also acquired from Spain along with the Philippines and was important for logistical support of the army as a means of suppressing the Philippine Insurrection. Senate approval was not sought when Wake Island was similarly annexed as a war measure on 17 January 1899.


With the Spanish-American War ended, the United States manifested a striking disregard for British naval power (still the greatest in the world) in the strategically critical zone of the Caribbean and Central America. The only two feasible trans-isthmian routes went through Panama, which belonged to Colombia, and Nicaragua. The Frelinghuysen-Zavala Treaty of 1884 (not ratified), which gave the United States exclusive rights to build a canal across Nicaragua, was complemented and made official by the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1914. Panama was the scene of considerable upheaval. In the wake of the scandal-ridden bankruptcy of the Compagnie Française du Canal de Panama (1893), its liquidator, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, made a concerted effort to persuade the United States to purchase the concession that the French had obtained from Colombia.

President Theodore Roosevelt, who was very interested in the project, sought to revive an old idea by forcing the British (at a disadvantage, because of their involvement in the Boer War) to relinquish their share of the control of the canal through the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty. As early as 1880, James G. Blaine had called for replacement of joint Anglo-American control of the canal, provided for in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, by exclusive American control. Blaine was supported by Congress, but the British had refused to agree. The first Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (5 February 1900), approved by the Senate, gave the United States exclusive rights but forbade it to fortify the canal zone. A second Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (signed on 18 November 1901 and approved by the Senate on 16 December) eliminated this restriction.

The United States thereupon entered into negotiations with Colombia to obtain the concession for the canal. This was the object of the Hay-Herran Treaty of 22 January 1903, which was approved by the Senate but rejected by Colombia. Rather than seize the zone by force, Roosevelt preferred to encourage Panama's secession from Colombia. Coordinated by Bunau-Varilla, this action was taken on 3 November 1903; and by 6 November the United States, which had sent warships to the area, recognized the new republic. Bunau-Varilla was sent as Panamanian minister to Washington; and on 18 November he signed the HayBunau-Varilla Treaty, whereby the United States was accorded the concession in perpetuity of a zone ten miles wide, with complete sovereignty and fortification rights. The Senate accepted the treaty on 23 February 1904.

In order better to protect the Canal Zone (the canal itself was completed in 1914), the United States set out to maintain order in the Caribbean. With Cuba there was initially only a unilateral decision made in 1901 (in the form of an amendment by Senator Orville H. Platt to the Army Appropriations Bill) according itself the right to intervene there. The Cubans were obliged to incorporate the Platt Amendment into their constitution. A treaty of 22 May 1903 later confirmed the amendment. This interventionist policy in Latin America, which President Woodrow Wilson greatly extended, gave rise to unilateral actions by the United States (based on the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, on 6 December 1904). Referred to as the "big stick" policy, it ultimately resulted in the landing of U.S. marines in Nicaragua on 14 August 1912. However, the Senate refused to ratify a treaty giving the United States a naval base in Nicaragua.


Woodrow Wilson, elected president in 1912, introduced what would be known as the New Diplomacy. His conception of this policy evolved gradually as the Great War in Europe progressed. Convinced that the European balance of power, from which the United States was excluded by the Monroe Doctrine, was the main cause of the war, Wilson envisioned international relations based on "a world safe for democracy." For him this meant equality of rights between states both large and small, replacement of an equilibrium based on violence by maintenance of peace through the creation of a league of nations, and abolition of secret treaties in favor of "open covenants openly arrived at" (the first of the Fourteen Points of 8 January 1918). In his eyes, the mission of the American people, which he considered morally superior to other peoples by its composition and its democratic tradition, was the establishment of a lasting peace.

When Germany resumed its unrestricted submarine war on 1 February 1917, thereby violating the rights of neutral parties, Wilson, on 2 April, proposed to Congress that the United States enter the war. From this moment it became clear that the greater their role in the war, the more Americans would be in a position to impose the New Diplomacy on their associates, with whom they were careful not to link themselves by alliance.

Subsequently, Wilson exerted considerable influence on the negotiation and conclusion of a number of treaties, most notably the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919). Regarding the negotiation of that treaty, Wilson imposed several important breaks with tradition on the Europeans. He announced that he would lead the American delegation himself, a step that caused a delay in the opening of discussions until 18 January 1919. He demanded that the Allies, following Germany, adopt the Fourteen Points before the signing of the armistice of 11 November 1918. He stipulated that the Covenant of the League of Nations must be drawn up before territorial, military, and economic issues were dealt with. Finally, Wilson wanted the Allies and associate powers to reach an agreement among themselves before imposing the treaty on Germany (a step that gave the treaty the appearance of a diktat).

When it was time to conclude the treaty, Wilson, supported by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, obliged France to renounce permanent military occupation of the Rhineland in exchange for two treaties (one Franco-American and the other Anglo-French) guaranteeing France's national boundaries. Wilson also delayed indefinitely the satisfaction of Italy's claims to Austrian territory and colonies. On the other hand, he had to yield to Japanese demands to acquire Germany's rights in China. The Japanese had threatened, first, to insert an article on racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations and, then, not to join the organization. Finally, Wilson and French Premier Georges Clemenceau forced Lloyd George, who was sympathetic to German objections and would have wanted to soften the terms of the treaty draft, to agree to keep it much as it had been presented on 7 May 1919 to the German delegation.

But Wilson failed to obtain ratification in the U.S. Senate. He made the error of not inviting any senators to participate in the negotiations. Since November 1918 the Senate membership had included forty-nine Republicans and forty-seven Democrats. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge, was a personal enemy of Wilson's. The Senate was bitterly divided on the issue of support for the Treaty of Versailles and U.S. membership in the League of Nations. In a vote, which had to approve the treaty by a two-thirds majority, Wilson could count on a maximum of only fifty-eight votes, while a two-thirds majority required sixty-four. It was clear that the Senate would accept the treaty only with major amendments.

Wilson refused to seek a compromise. He overestimated the support of world public opinion for the league as well as his own influence in the Senate. From 3 September to 29 September, Wilson traveled across the United States in order to arouse public support. The exertion was too much for him, and he became seriously ill. Sheltered from contact with the world by his wife and his physician, who withheld bad news, he obstinately refused any compromise, even though he was advised to do so by the Allies themselves. The Foreign Relations Committee agreed to condense all its objections into fourteen reservations, known as the Lodge Reservations. These were mostly aimed at denying the league the right to impose any obligations or restrictions on the United States (such as military sanctions), at rejecting any intervention of the league in internal affairs, and at exempting the Western Hemispherethe area covered by the Monroe Doctrinefrom sanctions of any kind. The text finally submitted to the Senate on 19 December was not the treaty but the treaty plus the Lodge Reservations. On 18 March 1920, in a surprise move, a fifteenth reservation, calling for the independence of Ireland, was added. On 19 March a final vote was held on the treaty plus the Lodge Reservations plus the fifteenth reservation. With only forty-five in favor, the two-thirds majority was not reached and the treaty was definitively rejected. The new president elected in 1920, Warren G. Harding, was a nationalist hostile to the League of Nations.


Following World War I, the United States reaffirmed unilateralism as its preferred modus operandi on the world stage. From 1921 to 1941 the debate between Harding-style nationalism and Wilsonian internationalism continued. Nationalism held sway for twenty years, transforming itself in the 1930s into the doctrine of isolationism. Foreign policy was nationalist in the sense that important matters were settled not by treaties but by the unilateral acts of the United States (either declarations by the executive branch or, more commonly, laws passed by Congress). In 1921 and 1924 laws settled the immigration question through the institution of quotas (a matter normally involving relations with the other countries concerned). Laws were passed to raise tariff rates (Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 and Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930). A law announcing U.S. adherence to the Permanent Court of International Justice was voted on 27 January 1926, but it was accompanied by so many reservations that the World Court ultimately rejected America's candidacy.

The United States acted unilaterally in Asia in the case of the Stimson Doctrine. Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in late 1931, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson issued identical notes to Japan and China on 7 January 1932, asserting that the United States would not recognize any impairment of American treaty rights in China and morally condemning Japanese aggression. The Stimson Doctrine was later (March 1932) endorsed by the League of Nations. Other unilateral decisions included the Neutrality Acts (19351937), which imposed embargoes on arms and munitions destined for all belligerents, whether aggressors or victims. A promise of independence for the Philippines took the form of a law (Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934). There were declarations broadening the application of the Monroe Doctrine. An exchange of letters sufficed for recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933. Everything seemed to indicate that Americans, after having rejected the greatest treaty of the century, had become suspicious of treaties, especially of collective ones. Nonentanglement no longer extended to alliances only, but also to numerous other types of treaties.

However, despite rejection of the multilateral Versailles approach, the United States under certain conditions was very willing to sign collective agreements. The clearest cases emerged from the Washington Conference of 19211922: the Five-Power Naval Disarmament Treaty (6 February 1922), the Nine-Power Treaty on China (6 February 1922), the Four-Power Treaty on the Pacific (13 December 1921), and the London Naval Conference agreements (1930 and 1935). The United States also forced Japan to renounce its claims to German rights in the Shantung Peninsula and in Siberia.

Another illustration of American willingness to act in concert with other nations was the Pact of Paris (the Kellogg-Briand Pact) of 27 August 1928, signed by an unprecedented sixty-three nations. This pact had originated in the useless, romantic proposal by French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand on the tenth anniversary of U.S. entry into the war (April 1927) that France and the United States undertake never to wage war on each other. At the urging of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, William Borah, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg proposed that the pact be expanded to include all nations. War "as an instrument of national policy" was to be renounced (thereby leaving open the possibility of military sanctions voted by the league). In this way it was possible to satisfy American pacifists like Salmon Levinson, who rejected the League of Nations but called for "the outlawry of war," as well as men like James Shotwell and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who sought an alternative to collective security. There was no provision for enforcement or sanctions, however, and the Japanese violated the pact in Manchuria as early as 16 September 1931, leaving Stimson with little to fall back on except the moral condemnation contained in his "doctrine."

This was also the period of Pan-Americanism. Whereas the United States made few treaties with Europe or the Far East during these years, it concluded a fairly large number with Latin American republics. Matters such as evacuation of occupied Caribbean nations were generally settled by executive agreements (Dominican Republic, 1922; Nicaragua, 1927); but many pacts were signed at the conferences of Havana (1928), Montevideo (1933), Buenos Aires (1936), and Lima (1938). The most important were those of Montevideo, stipulating that "No State has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another," and Lima, providing for consultations between ministers of foreign affairs whenever there was danger of war.


World War II brought American isolationism to an end. The first steps moving the United States away from neutrality took the form of executive agreements (such as the destroyers-for-bases accord of 3 September 1940) permitting increased aid to England. But it was the crucially important Lend-Lease Act (11 March 1941) that, even prior to Pearl Harbor, introduced the United States into the front stage of world diplomacy and at the same time gave the latter an entirely new form. Franklin Roosevelt's bold initiatives, combined with the enormous growth of American economic power, yielded a new and unprecedented diplomatic form, that of foreign aid. While traditional diplomacy had been conducted between great and small powers, and Wilsonian diplomacy had established the principle of equality, diplomacy after lend-lease assumed a dual nature. On the one hand, relations between nations deemed to be equals continued to be conducted by ambassadors. On the other hand, there emerged a new form of relationship between two countries, whereby one became the aid donor and the other the aid recipient. Assistance, which could be economic, military, or technical, was administered by government officials who were not ambassadors and generally were dependent on them only nominally. Aid accords tended to evolve in the following manner: first, voting of a general law by Congress; second, voting of appropriations; third, aid accords concluded with the beneficiaries.

Many programs, each involving a set of accords, were elaborated in this fashion: lend-lease (11 March 194121 August 1945); bilateral aid accords (19451948); the Marshall Plan (5 June 1947), leading to the European Recovery Program (April 1948); Point Four (aid to under-developed countries, 20 January 1949); and the Mutual Security Program (replacing the European Recovery Program). These programs led to the signing of hundreds of accords, some of which were treaties. Occasionally, an accord has been considered an agreement by the United States and a treaty by the other party. This was the case, for example, with the Franco-American Mutual Aid Accord of 27 January 1950.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took considerable precautions so that the Senate would not refuse American participation in the new international organization whose principles he had outlined as early as 1941 in the Atlantic Charter. The conferences at Tehran (28 November1 December 1943), Dumbarton Oaks (AugustOctober 1944), and Yalta (411 February 1945) had elaborated the underlying principles of the United Nations. Roosevelt constantly consulted with the Senate, endeavoring to make his collective security policy a bipartisan affair. The founding conference of the United Nations was held in San Francisco from 25 April to 26 June 1945. Forty-six nations signed the charter, which the United States was the first to adopt, the Senate approving it on 29 July 1945 with near unanimity.

It should be noted that the right of veto held by the five permanent members of the Security Council protected the United States, in the last resort, against any obligations imposed by the council. At the same time, the locating of the UN headquarters in the United States (Lake Success Accord of 26 June 1947, between the United Nations and the United States) contributed to the popularity of the organization in America. Thereafter, actively involved in the life of the international organization, the United States found that it had adopted Wilsonian "internationalism," which constituted a break with tradition.

The main preoccupation of American treaties following World War II was security cooperation in a postwar climate characterized by ideological conflict with the Soviet Union, bipolarization of the world between these two powers, destruction of the colonial empires and the emergence of nearly ninety new nations, economic inequality, and reliance on atomic weapons as a deterrent. The United States, therefore, could no longer pursue its traditional (moderate and reserved) policy of treaty making. Indeed, since 1945 it has concluded more treaties (not counting agreements) than any other nation, and almost all have been of a new type. They have included aid accords, participation in the United Nations, peace treaties, treaties of alliance, treaties linked to deterrence, and treaties dealing with a far wider range of issues than had traditionally been the case: human rights, ecology, the environment and resources, global warming, the outlawing of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, access to and the future use of outer space, copyright and the protection of intellectual property, and biotechnology and human cloning.

The existence of fundamental disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States prevented the conclusion of a peace treaty with Germany. The creation of the Federal Republic of Germany in September 1949 was facilitated by the fact that the three Western occupying powers had unified their zones economically and had made procedural provisions for the reconstitution of a German nation (the London convention regarding Germany, June 1948). Having also defined the respective areas of responsibility for the future state and the occupiers (the Washington accords regarding Germany, April 1949), they began transferring an increasingly important role to the former. Finally, a simple peace protocol, the Treaty of Paris (October 1954), ended the occupation, replacing it with the presence of "security forces." The treaty was approved by the Senate on 1 April 1955.

For similar reasons it proved impossible to sign a common peace treaty including both Japan and the Soviet Union, despite the efforts of John Foster Dulles in 1947. Although formal surrender ceremonies had been held aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, it was not until 8 September 1951 that the United States and forty-eight other countries concluded a peace settlement with Japan, the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Soviet Union, although it attended the San Francisco meeting, abstained. The Senate gave its consent with reservations on 20 March 1952 by a vote of 66 to 10.

In the case of Austria, which the victors intended to keep permanently separate from Germany, it required ten years of negotiations before the Soviet Union decided, in exchange for a guarantee of the country's neutrality, to join the other occupying powers in signing the Austrian State Treaty. Following Senate approval, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ratified it on 24 June 1955.

All of the above was accomplished outside the procedural framework provided for by the Potsdam Conference of 1945. On that occasion, a council of foreign ministers (of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China) was created for the purpose of negotiating the various peace treaties, on the understanding that of the five countries, only those that had signed armistice agreements with the defeated nations would participate in treaty negotiations (France being considered as having signed an armistice with Italy). In principle, this should have excluded the United States from the peace treaty with Finland. In fact, however, all the treaties with the "Axis satellites" were discussed by the Big Four (China being absent). Many meetings of the council took place in 1945 and 1946. They produced five peace treaties, signed by the American secretary of state in Washington and by the other countries (Italy, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary) on 10 February 1947 in Paris. The Senate approved them on 4 June 1947.

Two further meetings of the council took place, in Moscow (10 March24 April 1947) and London (25 NovemberDecember 1947). These negotiations were brought to a halt by U.S. adoption of containment policy (the Truman Doctrine of 12 March 1947 and the Marshall Plan of 5 June 1947), the creation of the Kominform by the Soviet Union, and the increasing tensions of the Cold War in 1948 (the Berlin Blockade). While such diplomacy did revive sporadically, beginning with the Paris conference of 23 May20 June 1949, which ended the Berlin Blockade, and including several summit meetings, it did not bring about any peace treaties.

Nor were peace treaties enactedonly armistice agreementsafter the Korean War (27 July 1953), after French withdrawal from Indochina (the Geneva Accords of 20 July 1954 were rejected by the United States), or after the war in Vietnam. In the latter case, after five years of negotiations involving the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front, an accord was finally reached on 28 January 1973. Although it had the breadth and scope of a peace treaty, it was simply an executive agreement that, on the American side, went into effect with its signing by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and not after approval by the Senate.

As soon as World War II ended, American officials sought to give new form to Pan-Americanism. They began with a provisional alliance, excluding Argentina, that was signed at Chapultepec, Mexico, in March 1945. The signatories undertook to consult with one another in the event of aggression or the threat of aggression. At the inter-American conference "for the maintenance of continental peace and security" at Rio de Janeiro (15 August2 September 1947), the twenty-one republics (except Nicaragua, which was absent) signed a reciprocal inter-American assistance treaty, which contained essentially the same provisions as the Pact of Chapultepec. Sanctions could be voted collectively against aggressors. Finally, on 30 April 1948, the Charter of the Organization of American States was signed, making the Pan American Union a regional organization within the framework of the United Nations. The United States did not ratify the charter until June 1951. Despite their innovative elements, these alliances invariably fell within the traditional perspective of the Monroe Doctrine. The same was not the case with later alliances.

The Atlantic Pact of 4 April 1949, which created NATO, was a reaction to the Cold War. The five European signatories of the treaty of alliance of Brussels (17 March 1948) gave the premier of France (Georges Bidault) and the foreign minister of England (Ernest Bevin) the task of requesting the American secretary of state, George C. Marshall, to secure his country's participation. The necessity of defending western Europe seemed so critical that on 11 June 1948 the Senate adopted, by a vote of 64 to 4, the Vandenberg Resolution, authorizing the president to conclude peacetime alliances outside the Western Hemisphere. This represented a break with prior American foreign policy, which had avoided alliances since the end of the eighteenth century. Negotiations were prolonged, since it was necessary to await the outcome of the presidential elections, in which Harry S. Truman was the victor.

A preliminary draft of 28 December was followed on 15 March 1949 by the version ultimately signed by the five (France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), the United States, and Canada. They then invited Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, and Italy to participate. The treaty, published on 18 March, before it had been signed, provided for consultation in the event of threatened or actual aggression and for military assistance, which was not to be absolutely automatic. (In the event of aggression in the North Atlantic region, each party would undertake "immediately, individually and in accord with the other parties, whatever action it shall judge necessary, including the use of armed force.") The signing by the twelve members took place in Washington, D.C., on 4 April 1949. The following day, the U.S. government granted a request for military aid, which was voted by the Congress on 14 October, a few days after the first Soviet atomic explosion.

The treaty was supplemented by the creation of the North Atlantic Council (18 May 1950) and of an integrated command in Europe known as Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE, 19 December 1950). Greece and Turkey joined the alliance in February 1952 and the Federal Republic of Germany in May 1955. On 13 September 2001, two days into the crisis created by the horrific suicide attacks by Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson (of Scotland) announced in Brussels that NATO (numbering nineteen members by 2001) stood ready to back U.S. military retaliation to the terror attack described by President George W. Bush as "an act of war." For the first time in its fifty-two-year history, NATO was invoking Article 5 of the alliance's charter, which states that "an armed attack against one or more of the nations in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all," and if such an armed attack occurs, each of them will take the necessary action to assist the party so attacked, "including the use of armed force.

At the same time as the Japanese peace treaty, the United States concluded three new alliances: the Pacific Security Pact with Australia and New Zealand (ANZUS) on 1 September 1951, an alliance with the Philippines on 30 August 1951, and a security treaty with Japan on 8 September 1951. Provisions of ANZUS were invoked for the first time in September 2001, by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in response to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Later, the United States joined the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), created by the Treaty of Manila of 8 September 1954. The other signatories of this collective defense treaty for Southeast Asia were the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan. Article 4 guaranteed the political independence and territorial integrity of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, although there was no formal alliance with these three states.

The United States also concluded bilateral mutual defense treaties with South Korea (1 October 1953), Pakistan (19 May 1954), and the Republic of China, or Taiwan (2 December 1954). This last treaty gave rise to a curious situation. Anxious to dramatize the danger presented by the People's Republic of China to Taiwan and its dependencies, the administration, without waiting for Senate approval (ultimately obtained in February 1955), had the two houses of Congress vote a joint resolution on 25 and 28 January, respectively (the votes were 409 to 3 in the House of Representatives and 95 to 3 in the Senate), authorizing the president to protect Taiwan against attack.

Thus, the United States, hostile to all military alliances for a century and a half, had enmeshed itself in the most extensive system of alliances in the history of the world, incorporating, at its peak, forty-four allies: twenty American republics, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, thirteen European nations in NATO, Japan, and seven Asian nations (including Iraq).


Among the most important treaties signed in the postwar years by the United States, despite their inadequacies, were those seeking to ban nuclear testing and to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms. It also became apparent in the years following World War II that national security would extend to activities in outer space. At first, in the face of obvious Soviet satellite superiority, the United States was determined to act unilaterally to assure its security from attack. But NATO had created a situation whereby Europe was dependent upon U.S. nuclear protection, and these obligations placed restraints upon the U.S. capacity to act unilaterally in relation to nuclear defense. Public opposition at home and in Europe to the threat of nuclear destruction forced the United States and the Soviet Union to stabilize the balance of their nuclear strategic weapon systems through some form of treaty arrangement. The first such treaty, the Treaty of Moscow, known as the Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom), banning nuclear tests in space, in the atmosphere, and underwater, was signed on 5 August 1963. It was approved on 24 September by the Senate, 80 to 19. As of 2001, more than 100 nations had signed it.

A treaty regarding the nonproliferation of nuclear arms was signed on 1 July 1968. It had been presented to the Geneva disarmament conference on 11 March by the United States and the Soviet Union. A resolution recommending the signing of the treaty was voted on 12 June 1968 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 95 to 4, with 21 abstentions. As with the Test Ban Treaty, France and China refused to endorse it.

In June 1968 the United States and the Soviet Union began disarmament negotiations aimed at restricting the construction of launching devices for nuclear and thermonuclear projectiles. Such was to be the objective of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). On the occasion of President Richard M. Nixon's trip to the Soviet Union (2230 May 1972), many economic and technical accords were signed. Among the most important was an Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty limiting the number of missiles and launchers each side could deploy. The Senate approved the ABM treaty by a vote of 88 to 2. A further major accord concerning the prevention of nuclear war was signed on 22 June during Leonid Brezhnev's visit to Washington, D.C. (1625 June 1973). A number of agreements curbing nuclear testing were signed (3 July 1974) during Nixon's Moscow visit to meet with Brezhnev for the third time.

SALT bogged own, but negotiations on European cooperation and security came to fruition. In July 1975, President Gerald Ford traveled to Helsinki to attend a summit meeting of thirty-five nations and signed an accord that recognized Europe's boundaries as inviolable and provided vaguely for improvement of human rights, such as emigration and access to information, even in communist bloc countries. President Jimmy Carter made clear subsequently that arms control and the issue of the human rights element in the Helsinki Accords was at the core of relations with the Soviet Union. When Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance visited Moscow late in March 1977 hoping to conclude a SALT II agreement, the Soviets flatly rejected his proposals, indicating that Washington's rhetoric on human rights displeased them as meddling in their internal affairs. However, a new SALT II agreement was reached in 1979 placing a ceiling on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Although not ratified, the United States and the Soviet Union more or less honored its terms.

In 1983 Republican President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a space-based defense system against nuclear attack. SDI would not only have destabilized the nuclear balance with the Soviet Union, it would certainly have violated the spirit if not the letter of the 1972 ABM treaty. In 1985 Reagan initiated the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but no treaty resulted in the ensuing summit meetings because of Reagan's adherence to the highly controversial SDI. Of special concern were intermediate-range land-based cruise and ballistic missiles (range of 500 to 1,000 kilometers). Finally, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, which aimed to reduce and eliminate rather than, as in previous arms agreements, limit a class of weapons. The Senate ratified the treaty, with conditions, on 27 May 1988, by a vote of 93 to 5. The treaty was to stay in effect until 2001. Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, signed a START agreement with Gorbachev in Moscow in 1991, and in 1993, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, he signed a START II treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Following the adoption of a resolution calling for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTBT) in the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, negotiations on a CTBT began in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in January 1994. On 10 September 1996 the UN General Assembly approved the CTBT by an over-whelming vote of 158 to 3, with five nations abstaining. On 24 September 1996, President Bill Clinton became the first national leader to sign the treaty, and the White House submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification in September 1997. Despite overwhelming public support, after a long delay the Senate rejected it on 13 October 1999 by a vote of 51 to 48.

More than 160 nations had signed the CTBT by 2001, but of the original five nuclear powers (Britain, China, France, Russia, and United States), only Britain, France, and Russia had ratified it. The treaty required the ratification of forty-four specific countries, including the United States. These were nations that had nuclear power reactors or nuclear research facilities; all were members of the Conference on Disarmament. This group included India and Pakistan, both of which tested nuclear devices in May 1998. India and Pakistan (and China) were thought unlikely to ratify the treaty unless the United States did so first.

The Clinton administration supported a CTBT that would contain the usual clause permitting a state to withdraw from the treaty for reasons of "supreme national interest." (The maintenance of a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile was considered to be a supreme national interest of the United States.) President Bush declared a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons in 1992, and, by 2001, the United States had not conducted a nuclear test since that time. The disappearance of Cold War bipolarity brought an end to the strategic world it created and sharply reduced the sense of mutual vulnerability experienced by the two superpowers. The basic philosophy behind the 1972 ABM treaty, which banned the deployment of nationwide defenses against missile attacks, was that no nation would risk launching a missile attack if it was left defenseless against a retaliatory strike. After the Gulf War of 1991, however, the United States argued that the spread of missile technology required advanced nations to erect defenses against at least the handful of missiles that could one day be launched against them by terrorists or rogue states. This, of course, would mean that the ABM treaty would have to be adjusted to accommodate a new strategic reality.

President Clinton pushed for unilaterally constructing a partial missile defense system, which he claimed would protect the United States against the new threat. Russia objected, claiming that this would violate the ABM Treaty and start the major nuclear powers on a new, defensive dimension of the arms race. Yeltsin's successor, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, argued that mutual reduction was the path to stability. There were good political reasons to cooperate with Russia, and in May 2001, President George W. Bush offered Russia a package to broaden the scope of missile defense technology to enlist Russian support for the new system.

By the early twenty-first century there was a broad consensus emerging in the United States that it was in the American national security interest to develop a limited missile defense commensurate with the emergence of real threats and the technology available. The politics of missile defense internationally would require cooperation with allies and Russian involvement. In relation to China, the other major concern for American policymakers, missile defense would also have to be handled as a part of the overall U.S.China relationship.

The move toward cautious cooperation with Russia at the end of the Cold War was also evident in the peaceful use and exploration of outer space. For thirty years after World War II, the United States had primarily regarded space as an area of competition. Tentative steps toward cooperation had been taken in the 1970s, symbolized by the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz docking. In 1988 the Reagan administration signed an agreement with ten European nations, Canada, and Japan to undertake technological collaboration in space and human space flights, but little came of the collaboration until Russia joined in 1993.


Although American attitudes to treaties entered a new phase following World War II, the unilateralist impulse so dominant before the war continued in certain areas. The Senate opposed the ratification of multilateral UN treaties, particularly in relation to human rights issues. In the 1950s human rights became a major political issue in the United States, focusing on domestic racial segregation and civil rights. The civil rights movement and the Cold War were the domestic and international elements in a broad debate over the future of America. Conservatives believed human rights treaties conflicted with important national domestic interests. To them, desegregation at home and American participation in human rights treaties abroad were tools of the communists. Conservatives also regarded human rights treaties as a mechanism whereby the federal government would expand its powers over the rights of states and individuals, thereby destroying the constitutional rights of states and citizens. They believed the federal government would use treaty-making authority to make domestic and local law for the people of the various states, dismantling segregation and the property, marriage, and education laws associated with segregation. UN human rights treaties were seen as threatening the American way of life and introducing communist or socialistic government. The Soviet explosion of a nuclear device, the Korean War, and the success of the communist regime in China confirmed American fears of the threat and spread of communism. A further element in Senate opposition to human rights treaties was a strong chauvinistic belief in the superiority of the United States.

The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) drawn up by the UN Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, were formally codified in the treaty known as the Human Rights Covenant completed in 1954. The United States supported the adoption of the declaration in the United Nations. Although not binding in legal terms, it was regarded by many legal scholars as a statement of customary international law. The Genocide Convention, linked to the proposed declaration and drafted in response to the atrocities of the Third Reich, was the first postwar treaty on human rights. It grew out of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal signed in London on 8 August 1945 by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948, its purpose was to make genocide an international crime. President Truman transmitted the convention to the Senate on 16 June 1949 with a recommendation of ratification, but because of Senate opposition led by the American Bar Association (ABA), it was not ratified for almost forty years. The ABA was the main body influencing the Senate. In the early 1950s as many as 60 percent of senators were lawyers and had a professional relationship with the organization. Of the membership of 41,000, only thirteen were African Americansthe ethnic group that, aside from Native Americans, had been the primary object of an American variant of genocide. The Genocide Convention was unsuccessful because of legal arguments used against it by opponents in the Senate. It is clear that many senators feared that the southern system of discrimination and segregation of African Americansespecially incidents of lynching and race riotsfell within the definition of genocide under the Genocide Convention. They did not appear to have the same awareness in relation to indigenous Americans. The Senate repeatedly held hearings on the Genocide Convention between 1950 and 1985, and it was finally approved with numerous reservations, understandings, and declarations (after passage by the House as the Proxmire Act) on 14 October 1988. The act was signed by President Ronald Reagan on 4 November 1988 and lodged with the United Nations on 15 November.

The opposition to human rights treaties is odd in a way because there is a rich history of the use of human rights precepts in U.S. historyespecially U.S. domestic history. In the late eighteenth century, such precepts came under the rubric of "the rights of man," and, as noted by Alexander Hamilton in 1775, they could "never be erased or obscured by a mortal power." By 1789 human rights precepts were an established part of U.S. courts, although the vast majority of Supreme Court decisions referring to human rights have occurred only since the 1950s. John Adams stated in 1781 that the United States stood for "reason, justice, truth, the rights of mankind and the interests of the nations of Europe." Thomas Jefferson used the phrase the "rights of man" in presidential addresses in 18051806 to acknowledge the rights of Native Americans and African American slaves. Presidents John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln were among many who reaffirmed these rights in the decades preceding the Civil War. Human rights was the plank many in the Senate used to argue for the abolition of slavery. They argued that slavery was a violation of the rights of man, and that "the Constitution of the United States confers no power on Congress to deprive men of their natural rights and inalienable liberty." Some senators went even further. Charles Sumner argued in 1863, for example, that intervention in foreign countries was permissible if "on the side of Human Rights." In a treaty with China signed in 1868 the United States affirmed the "inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance."

Despite the Supreme Court decisions supporting segregation in the late nineteenth century and the Senate rejection of the Covenant of the League of Nations, by the second decade of the twentieth century there was a clear movement to further human rights. Women were given the vote, the civil rights of Native Americans as citizens were recognized, and Americans began to contemplate incorporating a Declaration of Universal Human Rights into the law of the land. Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms were perhaps the clearest expressions of America's commitment to human rights. Indeed the impulse to further human rights had reached such a point by mid-century that the career diplomat and leading architect of the American policy of containment of the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan, felt obliged to warn that the moral legalistic thread running through American foreign policy seriously threatened its vital national interests abroad. Nevertheless, nongovernmental organizations have been highly critical of the selective manner in which the United States has applied its foreign policy in relation to human rights.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, broadened the definition of human rights to include not only the traditional, classic, political, and civil rights such as the rights to property, the right to a fair trial, freedom of movement, freedom of expression and religion, and so on, but also formalized the prohibition of slavery, torture, arbitrary arrest, and such social and economic rights as the right to work, right to an adequate standard of living, right to an education, right to seek asylumrights formerly not included in the jurisdiction of international treaties. Cultural rightsthe right to participate in the cultural life of one's community, the right to share in scientific advancement, and the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from one's scientific, literary, or artistic productionwere also recognized and codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights adopted as legally binding treaties by the UN General Assembly in 1966.

These broad definitions gave many senators pause. President Carter signed the two human rights treaties in 1978 and recommended their adoption, but the Senate only ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in 1992, and then with a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations. The most important of these was that the treaty could not be invoked before American courts, and that the provisions of the treaty relating to, for example, "cruel and unusual punishment" (like the death penalty) must be interpreted as it is under the U.S. Constitution. These reservations have been rejected by many parties to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

During the Nixon administration Congress added an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting U.S. assistance to any government that consistently, grossly violated internationally recognized human rights, and in 1976 it extended the prohibition to security assistance and arms sales, except under "extraordinary circumstances." This loophole enabled Washington to continue to support such governments as that of President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and President Suharto of Indonesia despite their gross human rights violations. President Carter, who regarded human rights as a major element of foreign policy, did terminate military assistance to a number of Latin American countries because of their human rights policies, although Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush did not pursue Carter's policies. By the late twentieth century the State Department was required to report to Congress annually on the human rights records of those countries receiving U.S. economic and military assistance, some 190 nations. China's violations of human rights were a particular target of the Bush administration, although President Clinton came under strong criticism for renewing China's most-favored-nation status in 1993 and 1994. Increasingly, U.S. support of Israel was being criticized by international nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International because of Israel's alleged human rights violations in its treatment of Palestinians.


The number and range of international agreements on environmental practices and policies have grown tremendously since the 1970s. Some estimates suggest that there were around 900 agreements in force in 1992, including regional and bilateral treaties. Major accords reached on issues related to global environmental change include the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), and the various agreements forged as part of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.

The United States, like many other countries, came to the realization that solutions to shared environmental problems would occur only through cooperation among states. Successful cooperation, in turn, would require effective international institutions to guide international behavior toward sustainable development. Treaties and agreements are among the more important of these institutions. Environmental scientists identified seven major international environmental problems: oil pollution from tankers, acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, pollution of the North and Baltic seas, mismanagement of fisheries, overpopulation, and misuse of agricultural chemicals.

Responding to concerns that human activities were increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere, most nations of the world joined together in 1992 to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and was the world's most comprehensive organized response to international environmental degradation. UNCED delegates sought to adopt conventions on greenhouse gases and biodiversity; to enunciate in an Earth Charter the principles by which humans should conduct themselves in relation to the environment; to adopt a program of action, called Agenda 21, to implement the Earth Charter; and to develop a set of institutional and financial arrangements to support such measures.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change was one of two binding treaties opened for signature at UNCED in 1992. The treaty, also known as the Climate Convention, addressed potential human-induced global warming by pledging countries to seek "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." Although stated only in general terms, the Climate Convention parties agreed to attempt to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide and methane.

Although signed at UNCED, the Climate Convention was negotiated through a separate process under the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The text was adopted at New York on 9 May 1992 and opened for signature at Rio de Janeiro from 4 to 14 June 1992 and thereafter at United Nations Headquarters from 20 June 1992 to 19 June 1993. By that date the convention had received 166 signatures.

The United States was one of the first nations to ratify this treaty. It included a legally nonbinding, voluntary pledge that the major industrialized, developed nations would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. However, as it became apparent that major nations such as the United States and Japan would not meet the voluntary stabilization target by 2000, parties to the treaty decided in 1995 to enter into negotiations on a protocol to establish legally binding limitations or reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These negotiations were completed at a meeting held in Kyoto, Japan, 110 December 1997. There was wide disparity among key players especially on three items: (1) the amounts of binding reductions in greenhouse gases to be required, and the gases to be included in these requirements; (2) whether developing countries should be part of the requirements for greenhouse gas limitations; and (3) whether to allow emissions trading and joint implementation, which allow credit to be given for emissions reductions to a country that provides funding or investments in other countries that bring about the actual reductions in those other countries or locations where they may be cheaper to attain.

The Kyoto Protocol committed the industrialized nations to specified, legally binding reductions in emissions of six greenhouse gases. The treaty was opened for signature on 16 March 1998 through 16 March 1999, and the United States signed the protocol on 12 November 1998. The treaty committed the United States to a target of reducing greenhouse gases by 7 percent below 1990 levels during a "commitment period" between 2008 and 2012. By February 2000, eighty-four countries had signed the treaty, including the European Union and most of its members, along with Canada, Japan, China, and a range of developing countries. Some twenty-two countries were reported by the UNFCCC Secretariat to have ratified the treaty. Following completion of the protocol in December of 1997, details of a number of the more difficult issues remained to be negotiated and resolved. At a fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) held 213 November 1998 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it became apparent that these issues could not be resolved as had been expected during this meeting. Instead, parties established a two-year "Buenos Aires action plan" to deal with these issues, with a deadline for completion by the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) held in The Hague, Netherlands, 1324 November 2000.

More than 7,000 participants from 182 governments, 323 intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and 443 media outlets attended the COP-6 meeting. COP-6 sought to reduce differences among member countries over the following issues: the transfer of technology to assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition; the adverse effects of climate change and the impact of implementation of response measures; best practices in domestic policies and measures to address greenhouse gas emissions; the mechanisms outlined under the Kyoto Protocol; a compliance system for the protocol; and issues relating to the land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector. Despite the best efforts of COP-6 president Jan Pronk (of the Netherlands), by 23 November negotiations had stalled. Two days later, Pronk announced that delegates had failed to reach agreement. Delegates agreed to suspend COP-6 and expressed a willingness to resume their work in 2001.

President Clinton voiced strong support for the Kyoto Protocol but criticized it for not including commitments for developing countries. The United States signature was criticized by several members of Congress who opposed the treaty on a number of grounds, including questions about the scientific justification for it and about the likely economic impacts that might occur if the United States were to attempt to meet its emission reduction commitments. In recognition of the opposition to the protocol expressed in the Senate by Resolution 98 (which passed 950), President Clinton indicated that he would not submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent until meaningful developing-country participation had been achieved, thereby delaying indefinitely any possibility of ratification.

House and Senate delegations served as observers on the U.S. delegation to the Kyoto meeting, as well as to other COP meetings, including Buenos Aires. Supporters and opponents of the protocol were included in these delegations. A number of committees held hearings on the implications of the protocol for the United Statesits economy, energy prices, impacts on climate change, and other related issues. While the Clinton administration stated that the treaty could be implemented without harm to the United States economy and without imposing additional taxes, a number of questions related to how its goals could be achieved, and at what cost, continued to be of interest to Congress.

In a major setback for the environmental movement, in April 2001, President George W. Bush, responding to pressure from domestic business interests, announced that the United States no longer regarded itself bound by the Kyoto Protocol. This decision represented the triumph of U.S. economic interests over the realistic preservation of the natural global environment, and reflected the force of economic motives in the United States regardless of any detrimental impact on the world.


The determination of the United States to spread "free" market capitalism can be seen in the multi-lateral economic agreements and treaties entered into by the United States in the last decade of the twentieth century. Following World War II, Washington sought cooperative ways to rebuild the world economy and create a more coherent institutional framework within which the United States might best utilize its economic strength. This restructuring was to be based on the law of comparative advantage and free trade.

The first steps were taken at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, where forty-four nations met from 1 July to 22 July 1944 and created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to oversee the world's monetary and exchange-rate systems. The Bretton Woods Conference also established the World Bank to rebuild western Europe utilizing Marshall Plan funds. Congress passed the Bretton Woods Agreement Act in July 1945 (House 345 to 18; Senate 61 to 16). In 1946 the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the UN Conference on Trade and Employment created the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), to which the United States became a party. The trade rules in the GATT were part of the International Trade Organization (ITO) agreed to in the Havana charter in 1948. Interestingly, because the rules governing world trade set out in the GATT were so ambiguous, flexible, and loosely framed, Congress refused to ratify U.S. membership in the International Trade Organization. So the United States joined through an executive agreement, using power given to the president under the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934. Congress has never recognized the GATT, but in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, it extended the power given to the president in the 1934 act to negotiate tariff-cutting agreements.

The initial purpose of the GATT was to negotiate tariff concessions among members and to establish a code of conduct and procedures for the resolution of trade disputes by negotiation. The core assumption underlying American participation in these efforts to encourage multilateral trade arrangements was that international cooperation in trade and investment created harmonious political relations and reduced tensions between nations. The GATT was founded on the principles of nondiscrimination and multilateralism in international trade. Nondiscrimination was expressed through unconditional most-favored-nation status for all contracting parties. By this convention, if tariffs on imports from one country were lowered, the tariff on all imports of the same goods from other GATT members must also be reduced. Most-favored-nation treaties had been the preferred device for the United States in dealing with China in the nineteenth century, when the United States gained access to the China market on the back of British imperialism. Indeed, most-favored-nation treaties were favored throughout U.S. history, and the GATT was just the latest embodiment of this mechanism of extending commercial opportunities. Multilateralism in the 1950s and 1960s favored the expansion of U.S. corporations across the globe, but by the 1970s and 1980s free trade meant that the United States faced stiff competition from the revitalized economies of western Europe and Japan. At first Washington sought to maintain its advantage by promoting the expansion of the GATT rules into nontraditional areas. GATT sponsored a series of multinational trade negotiations (called rounds) to progressively lower tariffs and eliminate unfair trade practices. At the Uruguay Round (19861994), in which 117 countries participated, the GATT agreement was extended to include such areas as services, patents, trademarks, copyright, and, most importantly, agriculture. At its final meeting (held in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 7 April 1994), the Uruguay Round also created the World Trade Organization, which, from 1 January 1995, would take over the administrative functions formerly conducted by GATT. Congress legislated to implement the agreement on 7 December 1994.

Under President Reagan the United States adopted protectionist measures. It attempted to stem the hemorrhage of its traditional areas of comparative advantage through "managed" trade and ending European subsidies on agriculture. When members of GATT resisted, Washington reverted to a unilateral policyfalling back on Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, which allowed for more effective (punitive) measures on goods entering the United States. The United States also entered bilateral arrangements with Canada.

As the twentieth century came to an end the world economy was in turmoil. Macroeconomic failures across countries had created staggering levels of unemployment in rich and poor countries alike. American protectionist practices, along with the programs dictated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, helped increase the gap between rich and poor countries. Mexico, one of the countries whose economy was most at risk because of foreign-owed debtprimarily to American-owned bankshad signed the GATT in 1986, and in response to International Monetary Fund demands, began to restructure its economy along lines acceptable to U.S. economic and financial interests. These requirements included elimination of fetters on the free market, privatizing areas of the economy that were previously under public control, and eliminating restrictions on foreign investment. Mexico set in motion a series of tariff-reduction and other economic liberalization measures. It also indicated that it would be interested in securing a "Canadian" deal with the United States.

The United States, once the defender of multi-lateralism and free trade, sought regional solutions to its economic woes. One such initiative was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed with Canada and Mexico. Designed to create a free trade zone in the North American continent, it came into effect on 1 January 1994. NAFTA was an executive agreement reached on 12 August 1992. It was approved by the Congress after a vigorous national debate in late 1993.

In its own words, one of the main objectives of NAFTA was "the elimination of tariffs between Canada, Mexico, and the United States on 'qualifying' goods by the year 1998 for originating goods from Canada and for originating goods from Mexico by the year 2008." It also sought to promote fair competition, increase investment in the territories, protect and enforce intellectual property rights, and establish a framework for further cooperation between the countries.

Critics argued that NAFTA had only a limited relation to free trade. They pointed out that a primary U.S. objective was increased protection for "intellectual property," including software, patents for seeds and drugs, and so on. Such measures were designed to ensure that U.S.based corporations controlled the technology of the future, including biotechnology, which, it was hoped, would allow protected private enterprise to control health, agriculture, and the means of life generally, locking the poor into dependence and hopelessness. Nevertheless, NAFTA provided Mexican exporters with additional market access and helped attract foreign direct investment into Mexico, in services as well as in the industrial export sector. At the end of 1999, Mexico was the eighth largest export economy in the world, with $280 billion in exports. By the end of 2000, Mexico ranked as the fifth largest export economy in the world (up from twenty-sixth at the beginning of the 1990s) with an estimated $300 billion in exports. Between 1993 and 1999, Mexico's exports to the United States rose a remarkable 160 percent. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that American companies stood to gain $61 billion a year from the Third World if U.S. protectionist demands were satisfied by NAFTA. Opponents further pointed out that NAFTA included intricate "rules of origin" requirements designed to keep foreign competitors out. Moreover, the agreements went far beyond trade. A prime U.S. objective was liberalization of services, which would allow supranational banks to displace domestic competitors and thus eliminate any threat of national economic planning and independent development.

The treaty was also thought likely to have harmful environmental effects, encouraging a shift of production to regions where enforcement was lax. Increasingly in the global economy, production could be shifted to high-repression, low-wage areas and directed to privileged sectors. In 1996, General Motors, for example, planned to close almost two dozen plants in the United States and Canada even as it became the largest private employer in Mexico. Critics charged that the agreement overrode the rights of workers, consumers, and the future generations who cannot "vote" in the market on environmental issues, and that the goal was to provide a business environment unfettered by government interference. Package and labeling requirements and inspection procedures to protect consumers, for example, would not be required.

NAFTA did set up an institutional framework to address regional environmental issues. The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) were two such steps to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. Mexico attempted to enforce its environmental laws for new companies, thereby diminishing any incentive for firms to relocate to Mexico to avoid environmental enforcement. The Mexican government began to enforce more effectively its environmental laws by imposing sanctions against the more visible polluters and, more importantly, developed a program of voluntary environmental audits. One institution set up to help deal with the extensive environmental problems on the U.S.Mexico border was the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BEEC). The BEEC was an autonomous, binational organization that supported local communities and other project sponsors in developing and implementing environmental infrastructure projects related to the treatment of water and wastewater and the management of municipal solid waste.


The meaning, nature, and purpose of treaties changed significantly over two centuries, reflecting the greater complexity of international relations. Several developments contributed to this phenomenon. Among the more obvious changes that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century were the unprecedented rise in the world's population, the emergence of ethnic awareness around the world, an increase in the number of independent states, and developments associated with inventions in weapons systems, communications, and science, especially biochemistry. Treaties came to address not only the needs met by the relatively simple military security alliances and trade arrangements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; they became also instruments for organizing and structuring the tremendously complex demands of an interdependent global geopolitical economic system. Treaties now dictated the conduct of nations in matters of global importance such as human rights, resource use and allocation, pollution, protection of the environment and animal species, intellectual property rights, and a whole host of hitherto unthought-of areas of national behavior. Despite the objections of individual nations, these international arrangements were proving remarkably successful in shaping international and domestic performance, and whether they liked it or not, most nations were linked into a complex international treaty system.

In this interdependent, international environment, the United States found itself in an anomalous position. It could no longer continue to enteror refuse to enterinto treaty arrangements based solely upon domestic political considerations or an entirely independent assessment of whether or not unilateral action is preferable to multilateral action. The United States, although by some measures the world's most powerful military and economic power and free of the crippling shackles of the Cold War, could not ignore the responsibilities and restraints imposed by such institutions as the United Nations, the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund, acting through a global, multilateral, treaty system. Nor could it ignore world opinion while seeking to take advantage of its membership in that treaty system.

Treaties came to impinge upon almost all aspects of the lives of Americans as well as the lives of most of the world's population. Perhaps the most dramatic change in respect to treaties was that they came to reflect the interests of global institutions as much as individual nations or their populations. This was as true of the United States as it was of other nations. A little over two centuries later, the worst fears of the Founders appeared to have been realized: the United States was involved in a series of world entanglements they could not have imagined.

Despite these views, it was not clear at the turn of the twenty-first century that the United States would accept the new order. President George W. Bush and his administration appeared to want to return to the nonentanglement envisioned in the days of the early Republic, and in their desire to do so they struck a resonant chord in the American people.


Bemis, Samuel F. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. New York, 1949.

. Pinckney's Treaty: America's Advantage from Europe's Distress. New Haven, Conn., 1960.

. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. New Haven, Conn., 1962. All three Bemis books provide an excellent background to the early treaties.

Byrd, Elbert M. Treaties and Executive Agreements in the United States, Their Separate Roles and Limitations. The Hague, 1960. Good on the treaty-making process.

Caldwell, Lynton Keith. International Environmental Policy: Emergence and Dimensions. 2d ed. Durham, N.C. 1990.

DeConde, Alexander. Entangling Alliance: Politics and Diplomacy Under George Washington. Westport, Conn., 1958.

. The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War With France, 17971801. New York, 1966. Both DeConde works clearly set out the issues that shaped early attitudes toward treaties.

DeConde, Alexander, ed. Isolation and Security: Ideas and Interests in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy. Durham, N.C., 1957. Examines the domestic factors at work between the wars.

Duroselle, Jean Baptiste. From Wilson to Roosevelt: Foreign Policy of the United States, 19131945. Cambridge, Mass., 1963. Helpful for World Wars I and II.

Ferrell, Robert H. Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. New Haven, Conn., 1952. Careful and scholarly.

Fisher, Louis. Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President. 4th ed. Lawrence, Kans., 1997. A survey that contains useful material on treaty ratifications.

Jackson, John H. The World Trading System: Law and Policy of International Economic Relations. Cambridge, Mass., 1997. An introduction to trade law and policy by a supporter of GATT and the WTO.

Kaufman, Natalie Hevener. Human Rights Treaties and the Senate: A History of Opposition. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1990. Forceful attack on Senate opposition to human rights treaties, including the Genocide Convention.

Kimball, Warren F. The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 19391941. Baltimore, 1969. Indispensable on the turning point toward cooperation.

Lake, David A. Entangling Relations: American Foreign Policy in Its Century. Princeton, N.J., 1999. A political scientist examines the tension that surrounded the question of whether the United States should act unilaterally or cooperatively through treaties in twentieth-century foreign relations.

Leopold, Richard. The Growth of American Foreign Policy: A History. New York, 1962. Although it does not go beyond the 1950s, this survey provides helpful structural details on the relationship between treaties and foreign relations.

Malloy, William M., comp. Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols, and Agreements Between the United States and Other Powers, 17761909. 2 vols. Holmes Beach, Fla., 1996. A comprehensive collection of nineteenth-century treaties.

Paterson, Thomas G., J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan. American Foreign Relations: A History. 2 vols. Boston, 2000. A particularly useful survey of United States foreign relations for this topic.

Pletcher, David M. The Diplomacy of Annexation: Texas, Oregon, and the Mexican War. Columbia, Mo., 1973. Remains the classic examination of these episodes.

Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. 2 vols. Lincoln, Neb., 1984. Traces the stages of government policy toward Native Americans.

Rosenne, Shabtai. Developments in the Law of Treaties, 19451986. Cambridge, 1989. Technical lectures on legal aspects of how treaties have developed since World War II.

United States Department of State. Treaties in Force: A List of Treaties and Other International Agreements. Washington, D.C., annually since 1950. The most up-to-date list (by topic and country) of treaties to which the United States is a signatory.

United States Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations. "Implications of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change." Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, 105th Congress, 2d Session, 11 February 1998 (Washington D.C., 1998). One of a series of congressional publications on hearings before Congress on the Kyoto Protocol.

Van Cleave, William R., and S. T. Cohen. Nuclear Weapons, Policies, and the Test Ban Issue. New York, 1987. Critical of test ban treaties.

Zupnick, Elliott. Visions and Revisions: The U.S. in the Global Economy. Boulder, Colo., 1999. A strong defense of the U.S. role in globalization.

See also Ambassadors, Executive Agents, and Special Representatives; Arms Control and Disarmament; Collective Security; Congressional Power; The Constitution; Economic Policy and Theory; Environmental Diplomacy; Human Rights; International Law; Presidential Power; Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy; Tariff Policies.


"He [the President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other pubic Ministers and Consuls."

From Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution

"Do Americans want, or are they ready for world government?That is what government by treaty will do, sooner or later. Government by treaty is a dangerous approach, and if we wish to retain our freedom, and maintain our American concept of government we have got to abandon that approach."

Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Genocide Convention Hearings, 1950

"The Internationalists in this country and elsewhere really proposed to use the United Nations and the treaty process as a law-making process to change the domestic laws and even the Government of the United States and to establish a World Government along socialistic lines."

Frank Holman, president of the American Bar Association, November 1955, on human rights treaties

"Only one overriding factor can determine whether the U.S. should act multilaterally or unilaterally, and that is Americans' interests. We should act multilaterally when doing so advances our interests, and we should act unilaterally when that we serve our purpose. What works best."

Anthony Lake, assistant to President Bill Clinton for national security affairs, September 1993

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