As a counter example , the Paris Agreement was merely signed in as an Executive Order by President Obama and was never approved by Congress. As a result, President Trump was able to leave the Paris Agreement with a stroke of his pen, somewhat jeopardizing the future of the entire deal. A similar problem happened with the Iranian nuclear deal.

But are there precedents where negotiators take this into account and announce that the agreement will not come into force unless approved by the legislature? So i.e. the Paris Agreement would've been considered moot up until it was signed into law or (even better) voted in as an international treaty by 2/3 of the legislature, effectively making Obamas signature a mere stepping stone to the final treaty.

Related: Why is Former President Trump criticized for leaving the Iran Deal and his 'Maximum Pressure' campaign?

  • I'm not sure why you say "as an example". Do you mean counterexample? Also the issue of how what internal procedure the US needs to follow to exit treaties is fairly contested... (perhaps moreso than the issue of ratification, as the Constitution says even less about the treaty exists...) politics.stackexchange.com/a/32836/18373 Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 14:17
  • @Fizz fixed the post. And you’re right about the exit procedure being unclear in the US, though other countries have better established procedures. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 15:14

4 Answers 4


Article 21(1) of the Paris Climate Agreement specifies when it comes into force:

This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on
which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited
their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

Every country has its own requirements that must be met before they can ratify a treaty. In the case of the United States, that is the approval of a majority in the US Senate. Many countries require legislative approval before they can ratify a treaty, and many others do not. These are always considered during the negotiation of a treaty.

Also, Article 28 of the same Agreement does provide a way for a country who wishes to leave the Agreement to do so, and this would have been available to President Trump regardless of whether or not the US Senate approved the treaty.


As explained in another answer, most treaties do have a provision specifying that they become effective if “at least X parties” have deposited their instrument of ratification. Some require that all the parties ratify the treaty before it becomes effective.

Here the wording is significant, the actual condition is receiving a formal document at the chancellery of the depositary of the treaty. What “ratify” means on the other hand is strictly a national matter. In most cases, that does imply a vote in the national parliament but some countries also require approval by other sub-national entities, a referendum, or they might not have a parliament at all (it's extremely rare nowadays but treaties do not presume otherwise). To require a specific procedure for ratification would be a major encroachment on a country's sovereignty, which is still a cornerstone of international law.

Consequently, the US notion of what a “treaty” is in its internal constitutional order (which is used by presidents to circumvent Congress and ratify international treaties without calling them that) is irrelevant in international law.

  • To require a specific procedure for ratification would be a major encroachment on a country's sovereignty - while this does make sense to me, have there been any discussions in the media or academia around such proposals? Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 15:42
  • 1
    "To require a specific procedure for ratification would be a major encroachment on a country's sovereignty": but a treaty is also a voluntary cession of some sovereignty by a country. Treaties can at least in theory include mutually agreed procedures for ratification as long as those procedures incorporate or exceed each country's constitutional procedures. Also, the US constitution is itself an example of the sort of treaty that had a threshold of the sort mentioned in the first paragraph.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:40
  • @phoog Sure I guess they could but typically they don't and most countries wouldn't agree to it, for the reason I gave in the answer. When writing it, I was also looking for some counter-example. I was thinking about situations with a strong imbalance of power, when international donors want guarantees from a government and its opposition, cease-fire agreements covering non-state actors, that kind of things but I couldn't think of a really good one.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:55
  • If anything, I suspect we are more likely to find some interrnational agreement requiring a referendum than a parliamentary vote.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:55
  • 1
    On @phoog's angle... not quite relating to ratification, but maybe the provisions in the NI Protocol related to "consent" qualify? instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/… Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 14:12

It's honestly not too clear to me what you're asking, but the NI [Brexit] Protocol has for example a continued consent provision... which spells out that the "local" (MLA) legislature needs to periodically re-approve it. It also has somewhat complicated provisions of how often this needs to hapen...

If the vote passes by a simple majority, consent will need to be sought again four years later. [...]

If the vote passes with cross community consent, then consent will only need to be sought again after eight years. A vote is classified as having cross community consent if either:

  • A majority of total MLAs and a majority of both nationalist and unionists in attendance, vote in favour; or
  • 60% of MLAs, including 40% of unionists and nationalists in attendance, vote in favour.

[...] If consent is not given, the protocol will cease to apply after two years.

So, yeah, it's possible for such things to be spelled out in treaties...

Granted, however, that this is not exactly what you seem to asking about as the NI Protocol did enter into force without such a prior vote by MLA; the "consent" vote provision is only for its continuation.

Generally speaking, many if not most international agreements nowadays have a provisional application clause, which makes them at least partially effective on signature, rather than having to wait for ratification. Don't have a citation handy fully justifying this this though, but at least for the EU ones...

Provisional application has become a quasi-automatic corollary to the signature of mixed bilateral European Union (EU) agreements. [...] The EU’s practice is found to be largely in line with the Draft Guidelines on Provisional Application that are being elaborated by the International Law Commission, although clearly it is also more refined on some points.

So, basically, if you're looking for such examples of treaties that don't have any sort of provisional application (and require full ratification beforehand), they'd be the exception nowadays. Most economic treaties since the 19th century have provisional application provisions. The Treaty of Versailles was a primary promoter of the practice, it seems, e.g. establishing the International Labor Organization, provisionally, before ratification, although the US did not fall into this pattern early adoption of the practice at the time; it only joined the ILO with explicit Senate approval (and much later, in the 1930s).

  • 1
    To clarify, I’m looking for examples of treaties that explicitly required a particular branch of government to ratify it before it comes into force or at least before it’s considered to become a permanent rather than transitional treaty. Your example for Northern Ireland is perfect, accepting. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 15:17
  • And to clarify a bit more on the counter example - everyone in the international community seems to have taken the position that Obama signing the Paris treaty is “good enough” rather than being highly skeptical and treating Obama’s signature as a waste of ink up until the moment 2/3 of Congress ratify it, showing widespread support in the legislative branch. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 15:21

There are several times where any member of trans national organisations can veto. I believe this applies to the UN Security Council, one reason for being inefective was the Soviets and US tended to veto each other. I also believe admitting a country into the EU can be vetoed by any member nation.

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