Treaties Literally and Metaphorically

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

A treaty is a legally binding, formal written agreement between two states. Since these agreements can exist between two parties (bilateral), or three or more parties (multilateral), it is important to have a solid framework from which to operate. Ambiguity or vagueness can rob the agreement of the clarity needed to move forward in action. For example, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea provides “a basic foundation for the international law of the oceans." The treaty outlines provisions and rules for 168 countries on how to conduct themselves amongst a shared resource. This pertains to business and trade, managing marine life, and taking care of the ecosystem and environment. With a multilateral treaty that includes this many states, it is important to have clear and detailed language on the expectations and overall agreements.



Thomas J. Miles and Eric A. Posner, of University of Chicago’s Law School, explain that “states enter treaties in order to obtain gains from cooperation." Treaties can provide support for economic, political and social interests, benefits and protection, and framework for cooperation. When seeking protection and support of interests, states desire to create legally binding agreements that help generate security. The negotiation process is an important step in treaty making, because it ensures that parties are entering into an agreement for their benefit and not for their destruction. Once both (or all) sides have negotiated their respective interests, ratifying a treaty can ensure those interests are legally recognized and preserved.


When looking at treaties, we can metaphorically apply the information to our daily relationships with partners (bilateral), and/or groups, teams (multilateral). Just like in the literal sense of a treaty, it is important to have a solid framework in our daily relationships in which to operate. Miles and Posner touch on leadership and treaties that can also give insights into domestic dynamics. If you are a leader, are you establishing context, framework and clarity for your group? Does you team know what is expected of them and the work scope? Do you have written agreements that create a "working foundation" for all parties? We look at agreements internationally and how they can create stability and security for States. We can look at companies or organizations the same way - do you have the group infrastructure to help support issues such as diversity, inclusivity, gender relations, morale, communication, engagement? These are issues that with neglect or negativity can pull resources from your team. Creative writing can be a great tool for a team working to identify agreements. Make sure your multilateral "treaties" are in place, and it will inevitably support your group on many crucial levels.

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