What is a treaty?

Definition From Several Perspectives

Treaty, international agreement (Roget's International Thesauraus, 4th ed., 771.2)

From the Perspective of American History: A Treaty Redefines Relationship After War

According to Washburn (l973), ". . . The treaty form often has been used to redefine the relationship that exists after one side has been bested by the other in war. So it was with many Indian treaties [with the United States].

"The Constitution grants the President authority 'by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate to make Treaties.' No distinction is made between treaties with Indian nations and those with foreign powers. In the first year of the Republic, George Washington observed: 'It doubtless is important that all treaties and compacts formed by the United States with other nations, whether civilized or not, should be made with caution, and executed with fidelity.'

". . .Some [treaties] show Indians as equals; others reveal them as supplicants. Some are compacts made by undefeated powers ready to establish peace with each other; others are little more than surrender terms dictated by the United States. Some treaties show complete respect for the internal sovereignty of the Indian nations and some show a total lack of respect. Sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that some treaties were not always made by the duly constituted leaders of tribes, that fraud, bribery, liquor, and other factors corrupted the theoretical equality that existed between the two sides. But there is also sufficient evidence to show that the true representatives of Indian groups often did negotiate treaties that were based on Indian as well as white power. . .

". . .The general treaty making process, stretching from 1789-1871, usually was not one-sided. Numerous court cases have demonstrated that the Indian treaties are still significant and are frequent bulwarks in the defense of Indian property, tribal autonomy, and hunting and fishing rights" (2261).

From the Perspectives of Ethics in Politics: A Treaty Forgives and/or Promises

According to Arendt (1989), "The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility--of being unable to undo what one has done . . .is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability--for the chaotic uncertainty of the future. . .is. . . the faculty to make and keep promises. . .

"Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would. . . be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover. . . Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each man's lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities--a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfills, can dispel. Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others. . .(237).

"In contrast to forgiving, which. . .has always been deemed unrealistic and inadmissible in the public realm, the power of stabilization inherent in the faculty of making promises has been known throughout our tradition. We may trace it back to the Roman legal system, the inviolability of agreements and treaties. . .or we may see its discoverer in Abraham, the man from Ur, whose whole story, as the Bible tells it, shows such a passionate drive toward making covenants. . .until eventually God himself agreed to make a Covenant with him. At any rate, the great variety of contract theories since the Romans attests to the fact that the power of making promises has occupied the center of political thought over the centuries. . .(243-4).

"The unpredictability which the act of making promises at least partially dispels is of a twofold nature: it arises simultaneously out of the 'darkness of the human heart' that is the basic unreliability of men who never can guarantee today who they will be tomorrow, and out of the impossibility of foretelling the consequences of an act within a community of equals where everybody has the same capacity to act. . .

"The function of the faculty of promising is to master this two-fold darkness of human affairs and is, as such, the only alternative to a mastery which relies on domination of one's self and rule over others. . . The danger and the advantage inherent in all bodies politic that rely on contracts and treaties is that they, unlike those that rely on rule and sovereignty, leave the unpredictability of human affairs and the unpredictability of men as they are, using them merely as the medium, as it were, into which certain islands of predictability are thrown and in which certain guideposts of reliability are erected. The moment promises lose their character as isolated islands of certainty in an ocean of uncertainty, that is, when this faculty is misused to cover the whole ground of the future and to map out a path secured in all directions, they lose their binding power. . ."(244).