This post was originally published on March 26, 2014. It has been reposted in light of the recent news that the Obama Administration is pursuing a climate agreement in lieu of a treaty for the 2015 UN summit meeting in Paris.
In an increasingly globalized world, multilateral engagement is becoming even more critical for the planet’s survival. No longer can a nation act unilaterally without being left behind. In light of this, a debate has emerged about what is the best way to engage on the international level: through treaties or agreements?
In a 2013 article posted by Foreign Affairs, David Kaye argues that treaties create reliable expectations and impose consequences for violators that agreements do not. Kaye points out that because a systematic rejection of treaties has developed in the US, treaty commitment and full US participation is no longer expected, hindering the government's ability to engage in global policy making. While treaty opponents decry them as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, treaties actually create more stable and transparent relationships than gentlemen’s agreements, he says.