A treaty. An international court or tribunal. Two states. The search for meaning. Submissions are made by the parties as to the ‘correct’ or ‘best’ interpretation of the treaty. Recourse is had to the canons of interpretation in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Terms like ‘good faith’, ‘ordinary meaning’, ‘object and purpose’ are repeated like incantations. So too, almost as often, terms like ‘subsequent agreement’, ‘subsequent practice’ and ‘evolutionary interpretation’ reverberate. One sometimes wonders what has happened to the actual text of the treaty to be interpreted, blanketed as it now is in interpretative theory.
In this careful and lawyerly study, Eirik Bjorge cuts through all this, drawing our attention back to basics. First and above all one has to look at the text of the treaty. The text, in its authentic language(s), is the primary expression of the common intention of the parties. This common intention is to be determined objectively by applying the canons of interpretation established in the Articles 31-33 of the Vienna Convention. Bjorge points out that the evolutionary interpretation of treaties is nothing more than that: an expression of the traditional canons of treaty construction. It is a method suited for all treaties, not just one class. It is a method for all international tribunals, not just one. But how much interpretation can the text stand? It is this question that encapsulates the quest for meaning.