Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The international law of treaty interpretation is based on the perspective of an objective third party, such as a court, seeking to interpret an agreement after it has been negotiated. The result is a legal regime that attempts unnecessarily to apply a uniform approach to all treaty provisions and which places primary emphasis on resolving disputes rather than on enforcing the parties' intent. This approach takes insufficient account of the actual process of treaty negotiation, undercuts the legitimacy of the court's interpretation and potentially diminishes the effectiveness of treaties as a means of governing international relations. International law needs a theory of treaty interpretation based not on the perspective of a court but rather on that of a negotiator.

This essay offers such a theory. The essay is divided into four parts. Part I, the Introduction, will discuss the purposes of the international law of treaty interpretation and define some terms to be used in the subsequent analysis. Part II will then summarize and analyze the current international law of treaty interpretation. Part III will provide a case study of a treaty negotiation which offers a basis for a different approach to treaty interpretation. Finally, Part IV will outline a theory of treaty interpretation from a negotiator's perspective.