The Decline of Treaties? Obama, Trump, and the Politics of International Agreements

44 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2018

See all articles by Jeffrey S. Peake

Jeffrey S. Peake

Clemson University- Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 6, 2018


The use of Article II treaties declined significantly during the Obama presidency, as Obama submitted far fewer treaties to the Senate for approval than his predecessors. In 2015, Secretary of State Kerry remarked, “You can’t pass a treaty anymore.” Obama hardly even tried. Trump entered office clearly hostile toward treaties for different reasons, ordering a reassessment of all multilateral agreements. Trump has yet to submit a treaty, suggesting a continuation of Obama’s use of other unilateral devices, including executive and political agreements. Trump’s hostility extends to other forms of agreements that Obama managed to complete, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Iran Nuclear Agreement, as well as trade agreements. I assess the broader historical record of international agreements, including treaties, executive agreements, and political agreements, to evaluate the current state of these various diplomatic instruments. I examine several key international agreements is some detail. Clear evidence supports the notion that Obama’s unilateralism on international agreements has solidified under Trump, though Trump’s efforts are more focused on undoing Obama’s diplomacy rather than expanding American participation in international law. The implications of these changes for US foreign policy and shared power are discussed.

Note: Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 5-7, 2018.

Keywords: Treaties, Executive Agreements, Political Agreements, Diplomacy, Unilateralism, Multilateralism

Suggested Citation

Peake, Jeffrey S., The Decline of Treaties? Obama, Trump, and the Politics of International Agreements (April 6, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey S. Peake (Contact Author)

Clemson University- Department of Political Science ( email )

232 Brackett Hall
Clemson, SC 29634-1354
United States

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