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date: 31 March 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Treaties are a central building block of the United Nations legal order. They have particular significance for the objectives set out in the UN Charter: these need to be implemented and effectuated, and treaties concretizing the Charter’s broad objectives can help achieve that aim. The Charter text, perhaps surprisingly, does not reflect this adequately. Unlike constituent documents of other international organizations, the Charter formulates no master plan for the UN’s use of treaties, and only occasionally mentions treaties explicitly. Its guidance is primarily indirect: some Charter objectives are formulated in such vague terms that without follow-up action, including follow-up action that takes the form of treaties, they would be meaningless. The drafter’s surprising caution means that the role of treaties in pursuing UN objectives is primarily shaped by practice rather than the Charter text. In the seven decades since the UN’s establishment, treaties—prepared in highly diverse processes, including by the International Law Commission (ILC) and within specialized agencies—have sprawled. In the absence of a Charter master plan, they have grown to cover large parts of the continent of international law. A sole focus on the gigantic network of treaties, however, risks overlooking the fact that more often than not, member states and UN organs prefer other means of pursuing Charter objectives (resolutions, statements, and other non-binding mechanisms). The landscape of treaties is as uneven as it is diverse.

Keywords: Charter objectives, UN Charter, International Law Commission, ILC, treaties, United Nations

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