A significant factor in the Great War, World War I, was the existence of many secret treaties between the combatants. These treaties promised help in the event of war, and guaranteed that one country would allow another influence over a third, and so on.

Are such secret treaties still enacted in modern times?

Note that to the question "how would we know about them if they are secret?", the answer is that not all secret treaties stay secret. For example, even though most of the secret treaties known were only revealed after the end of the war, a few were revealed accidentally or were leaked. For example, the secret naval treaty between Austria and Serbia was leaked to the public in 1909.

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    If they're secret, how would we know about them? May 8, 2019 at 6:03
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    The UN requires publication of treaties, as does the Vienna Convention. But neither is particularly enforceable. I imagine the US intelligence community does have some tacit or explicit agreements with other nation-state actors, but those wouldn't exactly be treaties as such.
    – Kevin
    May 8, 2019 at 6:36
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    A follow-up, or side, question to this one could be: "Has there been a revelation of secret treaties, similar to the one the Russian revolutionaries did, since WW1?" We know of many secret treaties, because a revolution occured and the new government made the secret treaties of the old regime public in order to influence public opinion to their favour.
    – Dohn Joe
    May 8, 2019 at 7:35
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    Five eyes is probably the most well known recently revealed secret treaty.
    – user7809
    May 8, 2019 at 11:33
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    @JonathanReez it's possible to know about the existence of a secret treaty, without knowing what it contains.
    – Time4Tea
    May 8, 2019 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


Secret treaties probably still exist. However, they have declined due to the existence of the United Nations. Part of the United Nations' treaty states that:

(1) Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it. (2) No party to any such treaty or international agreement which has not been registered in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article may invoke that treaty or agreement before any organ of the United Nations.

  • Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations

Basically, a secret treaty cannot be enforced in front of the United Nations and is not considered a real agreement by international law, so it has to be between two parties that really trust each other. They still exist though. A formerly secret treaty called the 1960 Security Treaty included a bunch of agreements about the establishment of military bases and nuclear weapons around Japan - many of which still have not been released to the public.

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    Legally the main workaround has been that the term "treaty" has been construed narrowly and does not include many other kinds of international understandings and agreements short of true treaty status, even though they may have the de facto force of law.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 23, 2020 at 21:00

Secret treaties are generally features of a war footing. States engage in them in order to arrange support, non-interference, or cooperation against some mutually threatening third state, without letting that third state be aware of the details. In times of peace, or within treaty blocks like the UN, NATO, or trading groups, states generally want their treaties to be open and public. This forestalls any confusion about the relationship between states, and puts pressure on all the signatories to abide by the provisions of the treaty so as not to damage their international standing.

I'm sure there are still secret agreements reached between states in war-torn regions, or with respect to certain regimes where the nature of the agreement might damage a state's reputation: e.g., if a state is supporting a regime that in the midst of an ethnic cleansing, or is using a regime to host 'black sites' out of the range of their own public's eyes. But by their nature such agreements only last as long as they are advantageous to both states; since they are secret, they can be violated by either side with relative impunity.

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