There are two official full-text publications for treaties in the United States, both managed by the Department of State. These are the T.I.A.S. and the U.S.T. See other treaty publications listed below. Note that the Treaty Office in the U.S. Department of State "is not equipped to serve as a routine source of first resort for the texts of treaties and agreements."
1. Treaties and Other International Acts Series (abbreviated T.I.A.S.)
The first official publication of the full-text of treaties. It issues a "slip" version of treaties entered into by the United States, but the print edition is several years behind. The T.I.A.S. can be out of date by as many as 10 years for larger multilateral agreements. There are several locations to find the T.I.A.S. including our print collection, Westlaw and Lexis, the U.S. Department of State Website, and HeinOnline.
2. United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (abbreviated U.S.T.)
These volumes compiled the slip copies of documents published in TIAS, but they had an even longer lag time between publications before ultimately being discontinued in print in 1982. The U.S.T. can be found in our library's print collection, Westlaw and Lexis, and HeinOnline,
3. Statutes at Large (Stat.)
Prior to the creation of U.S.T. and T.I.A.S., treaties approved by the Senate were published in the Statutes at Large. There are several sources to look through the Statutes at Large, including our print collection, Westlaw and Lexis, the Government Publishing Office website, and through HeinOnline.
Once you have located the text of the agreement, you need to determine the current status of the treaty. This includes finding the current parties of a multilateral agreement, the entry into force date, and any amendments to the original agreement. Unlike proposed legislation, un-ratified treaties do not die at the end of a Congressional session, thus it is important to determine where a treaty is in the ratification process.
The following publications can all be used to accomplish the task:
You may also wish to use the following governmental websites to gain information on where a treaty is in the ratification process.
U.S. Senate Website
U.S. State Department; Office of Treaty Affairs Website
As with any legal research, finding the text does not end your inquiry. Treaties, like statutes and regulations, are highly negotiated documents that reflect the compromises agreed on by the parties. Many treaties are also prepared or translated to languages other than English, which can add an extra layer of complications to the negotiation and interpretation of the treaty. The debates and documents produced during negotiation can be a valuable tool for interpreting and applying treaty language.
"Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31:
(a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable."
A. Negotiation Documents
1. United States Government Documents: In International Law, drafts and other documents associated with a treaty are often referred to as "travaux preparatoires." Most document associated with a treaty in the United States can be found through the same process you would use to find other government documents: FDsys and Congress.gov will have most congressional records and debates related to the treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is tasked with oversight of the treaties presented to the Senate, so the committee website is often the best place to begin.
2. Documents from outside organizations associated with the negotiation and drafting of the treaty: Organizations that are involved in the creation of a creation often serve as the depositary of the treaty. Article 77 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties addresses the responsibilities of a depositary, but their main duty--often provided for in the treaty itself--is to maintain the text of the treaty itself, including providing certified copies, and of tracking the status of a treaty, including parties' signatures, ratifications, reservations, or other communications associated with the instrument itself.
B. Dispute Settlement
Because a treaty is a legal agreement, the text will often anticipate and set rules for the settling of disputes that arise between parties. If there are provisions in your treaty that cover arbitration or settlement of disputes, check with the organization or court assigned these disputes and see what, if any, has been settled by the courts. It may be that portions of the treaty have already been given an interpretation that can guide your understanding of the treaty.
The Foreign Affairs Manual, prepared by the U.S. Department of State, has a number of documents that outline the process of negotiating and entering into treaties.