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Databank in International Relations


Last Updated: 21 Feb 2017

Fr. Accord

Accord, alliance, balance of power, concert of powers, convention, treaty, war, realism

A formal international (bilateral, miltilateral, supranational, global) agreement between two or more states or other polities, international organisations, communities or other actors like private groups or individuals (as in a contract). Equivalent terms are accord, protocol, covenant, convention, pact, exchange of letters, among other terms, or package or package deal when it confirms a negociation related to various aspects of relations between two or more parties.

A treaty is an agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, usually sovereign states, groups of states, international organizations, whether interstate or nongovernmental. Conventionally, international law means public international law as distinct from private international law or the conflict of laws, which deals with the differences between the municipal laws of different countries. Semantically, treaties are equivalent to contracts, as both are means of willing parties assuming obligations among themselves, whereas one party that fails to live up to its obligations can be held liable under international law.

The aims of agreements cover almost any fields, such as security, territorial provisions, trade relations, culture, identity, social provision, economic cooperation or rehabilitation, scientific research or any other common concern, implying that, by pooling their resources and acting in concert, parties can improve their overall power position within the international system, strengthen cooperation or pre-empt possible conflits. Examples include the 1998 Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland, the 1999 agreement between the Sierra Leone government and its Revolutionary United Front adversaries, the EU-Canada trade agreement (CETA) or the 2015 Paris Agreement (an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Some can be binding, others non-binding such as the latter insofar as it lacks an enforcement mechanism. In any case, they are an engagement that some action shall be taken or omitted, and implies an exchange of promises, mutual understanding, common arrangements, or stipulation.

A standard international agreement or accord presumes that a legal authority resides in an international or supranational body such as the United Nations Security Council, the World Trade Organisation or the International Crimilnal Court to act in cases of conflict between the parties. It assumes further that enforcement of international laws is consistent with the current international legal order of separate states.  

Because the UN Charter is a binding treaty, the Security Council can require action from the members of the UN in accordance with judgements rendered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (Article 94.2), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, as well as in reaction to a "threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" (Article 39). However, it suffers from the limitations of much international law insofar as it depends for its authority on acceptance of its jurisdiction by states. Although it has played a role in international conflict management, this has been primarily on a bilateral or case-by-case basis. Another limitation is that it has no jurisdiction over matters involving individual criminal responsibility. In fact, the UN was virtually immobilized, especially during the Cold War, as an autonomous actor, in part as the result of the veto power accorded to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

One consequence of such limitations was the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent body with jurisdiction over individuals. As such, it serves as a deterrent to the tyrants who, during the 20th century were responsible for the worst violence in human history. The Rome Statute is the jurisdiction of the first permanent and independent court capable of trying individuals accused of the most serious violations of international humanitarian law, namely: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In accordance with article 2 of the Rome Statute, the relationship with the United Nations system is governed by an agreement that has been approved by the Assembly of States Parties during its first Session held in New York from 3 to 10 September 2002.  On 4 October 2004, this Negotiated Relationship Agreement between the International Criminal Court and the United Nations has been concluded by the President of the Court on its behalf.

Another kind of agreement is the authorization and control exercised by government over an association or other body in consideration of the privileges granted to that body. Such controls are an important feature of the legal framework applicable to nonprofit organizations established in France. Some authorizations are obligatory, others are merely facilitative. Some authorisations are imposed by statute as part of the framework for the regulation of activities involving risks to the public, such as certain sports. Others have been instituted because of the narrow link between the activities to which they apply and public service goals. The procedure for voluntary authorisations requires an application to the competent ministry.

A generic term, “alliance” includes written agreements, whether publicized or secret, between two or more states to work together on mutual security issues on a permanent basis (like NATO). An alliance can also be unformal or entered into or for a limited period of time, as in coalitions. Security may imply offensive or defensive means to join forces [...]in the face of a common enemy [...] as a sound, long-term strategy, or to face a specific threat. One general consequence is also to strengthen the power position of each partner as well as of the whole group of states wthin the international system.