Skip to content

Difference between a Treaty and Executive Agreement

When it comes to international relations, the United States has two primary tools at its disposal: treaties and executive agreements. While these two legal instruments may seem interchangeable, there are important differences to know.

A treaty is a legally binding agreement between two or more nations. Treaties are negotiated, signed, and ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. In order to ratify a treaty, the Senate must approve it by a two-thirds majority. Once ratified, the treaty is considered part of US law and is binding on all branches of government.

On the other hand, an executive agreement is a legally binding agreement between the President and the head of a foreign government. Unlike treaties, executive agreements do not require Senate approval. They can be used to address a wide range of issues, from trade to national security. Executive agreements are typically used when time is of the essence, as they can be negotiated and implemented more quickly than treaties.

One key difference between treaties and executive agreements is their level of authority. Treaties are considered to be the supreme law of the land, on par with the US Constitution. This means that if a treaty conflicts with a federal or state law, the treaty takes precedence. Executive agreements, on the other hand, are subordinate to both the Constitution and federal law.

Another important difference is their permanence. Treaties are generally permanent, unless they include provisions allowing for termination or withdrawal. Executive agreements, on the other hand, can be terminated or modified by the President without Congressional approval.

Finally, there is a difference in public awareness and involvement. Treaties often receive public attention and scrutiny before ratification, as they require Senate approval. Executive agreements, on the other hand, can be negotiated and signed without public input or awareness.

In summary, while both treaties and executive agreements are important tools in international relations, they differ in their level of authority, permanence, and public awareness. Understanding these differences can help policymakers make informed decisions about which tool to use in a given situation.