An Executive Agreement, in American foreign relations, is an understanding with the government of another country entered into by the president of the United States without the consent of the Senate, which would be required to approve a treaty. Its principal distinction from a treaty is less a matter of substance than of intent and process.
The U. S. Constitution refers only to treaties so far as contractual arrangements with other nations are concerned, and it prescribes the procedure for approving treaties in Article II, section 2. There is no express authorization of presidential power to consummate international agreements except by the treaty process. But because of the difficulty of obtaining Senate ratification of treaties by a two-thirds vote, from the outset the treaty was supplemented by the executive agreement. Devised to fill a pragmatic need, the executive agreement has been employed increasingly as American interests abroad have expanded.
Congressional-executive agreements are concluded by the president with prior or subsequent approval of both houses of Congress. These may concern affiliation with international organizations, acquisition of territory or bases, or foreign trade or aid. Presidential agreements, or pure executive agreements, are negotiated solely under authority of the executive as commander in chief or chief diplomat. They are concerned, on the one hand, with such matters as armistices and aspects of arms control, and, on the other hand, with matters pertaining to mutual security and settlement of disputes. A third category consists of agreements consummated under existing treaties, such as the executive agreements that implement the United Nations Charter, collective defense arrangements, peace treaties, and extradition commitments.