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The Continent of International Law

Population of Cases

A complete list of coded agreements can be found on the files page.

The COIL sample comes from the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS). According to Article 102 of the United Nations Charter, “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.” Agreements that have not been registered as such cannot be invoked before any organ of the United Nations.

Given the almost universal membership of the United Nations and its stature among international organizations, its list of international agreements is one of the most comprehensive to be found. All international agreements registered or filed and recorded with the Secretariat since 1946 are published in the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) as well as many dating back to League of Nations times. The UNTS Internet collection currently contains tens of thousands of original international agreements.

The UNTS Internet site provides a range of subject terms that can be used in searching for international agreements. There are approximately 300 of these terms. Although the terms are not mutually exclusive, there is very little overlap. For COIL, agreements in four different issue areas are sampled: economics, environment, human rights, and security. The economics issue area is composed of agreements categorized under four UNTS subject headings: “Monetary matters,” “Investment,” “Finance,” and “Agricultural commodities.” The environmental issue area is composed of agreements categorized under the UNTS heading, “Environment.” The human rights issue area is composed of agreements categorized under “Human rights” while the security issue area combines agreements under “Security” and under “Disarmament.”

In order to generate a random sample of agreements in each of the four issue areas, a list of all the international agreements is generated using the particular UNTS subject headings listed above. Then using a random number generator, the agreements are reordered for each issue area. Finally, each agreement is carefully examined to determine whether or not it meets the inclusion criteria.

Exactly what counts as an international agreement? Essentially, every agreement found in the UNTS is considered an international agreement for the purposes of this study unless it is excluded by one of the following five rules.

First, those agreements were excluded whose primary ambition is to either establish the procedures and/or arrangements for or the goals of the negotiations of other agreements or designate the host state of an international conference. An example for an excluded agreement is “The Exchange of notes constituting an agreement relating to the status, privileges and immunities of the delegations to the US/USSR Standing Consultative Commission on Arms Limitation” between the United States and Switzerland is excluded. Essentially, in this agreement, the Swiss grant diplomatic immunity to the U.S. delegation for the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT).

Second, agreements were excluded that are not between at least two states. Thus, agreements between one state and an international organization would be excluded; agreements that are negotiated within an international organization but that involve two or more states would be included. The “Development Credit Agreement concerning the Zou-Borgou Cotton Project,” for instance, is excluded because it is an agreement between the International Development Association and the Government of Dahomey.

Third, those agreements were excluded that do not prescribe, proscribe, or authorize behavior that is observable in principle. That is, agreements that are not specific enough to include (at least potentially) objective criteria for determining performance are excluded from the sample. As an example, consider the 1952 “Exchange of notes constituting an agreement relating to mutual security” between the United States and Burma. This agreement is excluded because it requires only that Burma “act in conformity with its obligations under the UN Charter and in accord with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter in promoting international understanding and good will and maintaining world peace and eliminating causes of international tension.”

Fourth, agreements were excluded whose sole ambition is to implement the provisions of other international agreements. That is, agreements whose terms are closely anticipated and identified in the underlying agreement would be excluded from the sample. Examples of implementing agreements that would be included in the sample are those that both implement and extend the underlying agreement, those that specify and/or interpret the provisions of a vague underlying agreement that would be excluded, and those that implement a law of a particular state. An example for an excluded agreement is “The Memorandum of Understanding regarding the establishment of a standing consultative commission on arms limitation” between the United States and the U.S.S.R., because the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty between the US and U.S.S.R. not only anticipates the commission; it requires it.

Fifth, agreements that are extended through time, whether by default after the passage of a specified duration or by means other than default, are counted only once, not as separate international agreements. Renegotiated agreements, on the other hand, constitute separate international agreements.

The great majority of excluded agreements, about 80%, are between one state and an IGO. Only a couple of agreements are excluded under the fourth rule. There are no agreements excluded under the fifth rule given that I count extensions and renegotiations of agreements in the same way the UNTS does. Human rights agreements were excluded most often, about two out of five excluded agreements fall into this issue area.