On 18 October 2019, United Nations University Headquarters in Tokyo hosted a Conversation Series event to mark the launch of The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Treaties, the first sustained analysis of the United Nations as a forum in which, and an institution through which, treaties are negotiated and implemented
At the Friday-evening event, two of the book’s editors ― Prof. Simon Chesterman (Dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law) and Dr David M. Malone (UNU Rector and UN Under-Secretary-General) ― and the book’s project manager and associate editor, Ms Alexandra Ivanovic (Senior Manager, UNU Office of the Rector) joined moderator Dr Sabine Becker-Thierry (UNU Chief of Staff) for a conversation that offered unique insights into UN treaty-making practices and techniques, the challenges that lie ahead, and the possibilities and limitations of this under-studied aspect of international law and relations.
The event was attended by members of the private sector, students, academics, international and non-government organisations, and government officials, with the panel addressing a range of questions covering the normative function of international treaties in a phase of multilateralism decline, the impact of politics on treaty-making, and the UN’s role in international treaties in the future.
The focus of the conversation, The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Treaties, argues that the greatest contribution the UN has made to the world is not what it has helped us to achieve (including improvements in health and economic development) nor even what it has enabled us to avoid (such as global war). Rather, the UN’s greatest achievement has been the role that it has played in establishing a better world by vastly expanding the content and structure of international law through the diversity, substantive range, and depth of subjects relevant to global development, human rights, humanitarian protection, and arms control covered by a massive expansion of multilateral treaties since World War II.
More than 45 experts (academics, practitioners, lawyers, specialists in a variety of social science disciplines, and diplomats involved in the negotiation of multilateral treaties) contributed to the 720-page volume. Its 34 chapters offer detailed considerations of the evolution, practice, and technique of UN treaty-making, touching on a wide range of sectoral and thematic topics (for example, health, culture, terrorism, outer space, drugs and crime, commercial arbitration, and diplomatic relations). International treaties on such topics impact us all, every day of our lives, without most of us being aware of the vast international legal and normative framework that seeks to protect human rights, lives, and livelihoods.
Overall, the volume underscores the enormous diversity of UN treaty-making activity over that past 70-plus years, enabling readers to trace a larger narrative of major breakthroughs, surprise successes, missed opportunities, and recurring challenges.
A subsequent launch event for The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Treaties was held on 25 October in Singapore (at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus). Additional launch events will take place in New York on 6 November 2019 at the NYU School of Law and on 7 November 2019 at UN Headquarters (before delegates of the 6th Committee of the UN General Assembly, organised by the Missions for Portugal and Mexico to the UN) and the Australian Consulate (a reception hosted by the Australian Mission to the UN).