Working Paper No. 03-20:
The Hidden Bias Of The Vienna Convention On The Law Of Treaties


Vincy Fon, Francesco Parisi

Date Posted: 2003

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The process of treaty formation and reservations to multilateral treaties, enshrined in Articles 19-21 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, establishes the principle that reservations are reciprocal. The treaty will be in force between a reserving state and a non-reserving state as amended by the reservation. Therefore if a state wants to exempt itself from a treaty obligation, it must let other nations escape that same burden. This paper presents an economic model of treaty formation and considers the effect of reciprocity on treaty ratifications among heterogeneous states. The economic model further reveals a hidden bias of the Vienna Convention. In spite of the apparent neutrality of the reciprocity principle governing the effect of reservations, the Vienna Convention creates a systematic disadvantage for states that have a comparative advantage in cooperation.