What's the deal with all the different ways to agree to a treaty?

Some countries sign the treaty, so they’re “signatories”, and it’s pretty obvious what that means. But apparently a country can also be involved by “ratification”, “accession” or “succession”. There’s even “participation”. I’m sure since it’s diplomacy that there are exact definitions of all these in this context, but I’ve struck out so far. Anyone have an idea what the difference is between them?

“Ratification” is the formal acceptance of a treaty by one of the parties. When the Senate agrees to a treaty, it allows the President to offer a certificate of ratification to the other signatories of the treaty. Ratification usually means that the treaty went into effect when it was signed.

“Accession” is used when a treaty is already in force. If someone wants to abide by the rules of a treaty already in force, like the Patent Cooperation Treaty, it “accedes” to the treaty. Ratification isn’t needed because the treaty is already in effect with the other parties.

I’m not sure about “succession”, but from what I’ve been able to look at it, I believe it has to do with matters involving a country that no longer exists (like the Soviet Union). Most of the USSR’s treaty have succeeded to Russia.

Or, more correctly, Russia has succeded the old Soviet Union as the signatory party.

Signing a treaty is usually worthless. In the US, for example, the President can sign any treaty he wants, but until it is ratified in the US Senate, it isn’t the law of the land in the US. See US Constitution, Article II, Section 2.

Technically, the Senate doesn’t ratify the treaty. The actual ratification is done by the head of state. However, the President can’t do that unless 2/3 of the Senate gives its consent.

The normal process is:

  1. Diplomats negotiate.
  2. Somebody official signs
  3. President gives the treaty to the Senate and asks if he can ratify it.
  4. 2/3 of the Senate says “OK”
  5. President exchanges “instruments of ratification” with relevant parties.

Originally the plan was that the President would sit down with the Senate and they would hash out their differences about a treaty together. Washington tried this and went to the Senate chamber with a treaty and the Senate told him that they had some questions, but they needed some more time to look over everything. This got Washington pissed off and from then on, presidents have just sent treaties over after they have been signed and let others in the administration do the lobbying.