The Object and Purpose of a Treaty: Three Interpretive Methods

This Article examines the three most prominent uses of the term “object and purpose” within the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and, in each instance, offers a new method for applying the term.  First, the rule that a treaty be interpreted “in light of” its object and purpose requires a process of interpretation that oscillates between a treaty’s individual provisions and the logic of all its provisions as a whole. Second, for reservations, the term exists to preserve “rule coherence[,]” as that term has been developed by Professor Thomas Franck.  Lastly, states are required upon signature not to “defeat” the object and purpose of a treaty, and this rule is best understood as a means of facilitating domestic legislative review of new treaties by preserving the status quo at the time of signature.  In sum, this Article examines a term of art that has perplexed scholars and practitioners for decades, and, in three specific contexts, it offers an understanding of the term refined beyond what other writers have offered.

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