Unilateral vs. Bilateral — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on September 21, 2023
Unilateral pertains to one side or party, while Bilateral involves two sides or parties. Unilateral decisions are made by one entity; Bilateral agreements involve mutual consent of two entities.
Difference Between Unilateral and Bilateral
Table of Contents
"Unilateral" is derived from the Latin word "unus," meaning "one." When we speak of unilateral actions or decisions, it signifies that they are undertaken by one party without the explicit consent or involvement of another. These actions are often independent and based solely on the discretion of the decision-maker.
On the other hand, "Bilateral" originates from the Latin word "bis," meaning "twice." Bilateral involves two distinct parties. In contexts like diplomacy or trade, bilateral agreements or treaties indicate mutual understanding and consent between the two involved entities.
Unilateral decisions or actions can be swift as they do not require consensus. For example, a country may take a unilateral decision to impose sanctions. Such decisions, while quick, might not always consider the perspectives of all affected parties.
Bilateral actions, agreements, or discussions tend to be collaborative. They often take longer due to negotiations but can lead to more comprehensive and mutually beneficial outcomes. Bilateral treaties, for instance, are crafted after discussions between the two countries involved.
In essence, while unilateral emphasizes independence and decision-making by a single party, bilateral underscores collaboration and mutual agreement between two parties.
From a single party
Mutual from both parties
Latin "unus" for "one"
Latin "bis" for "twice"
Faster, no consensus needed
Often slower, requires negotiations
Unilateral sanctions, one-sided decisions
Bilateral agreements, mutual treaties
Compare with Definitions
Pertaining to one side or party.
The country's unilateral decision surprised many.
Pertaining to both the left and right side.
The bilateral hearing loss was concerning.
Independent in action or decision.
The company's unilateral policies were criticized.
Involving two sides or parties.
The bilateral agreement benefitted both nations.
Of, on, relating to, involving, or affecting only one side
"a unilateral advantage in defense" (New Republic).
Having two identical or corresponding sides.
The butterfly has a bilateral symmetry.
Performed or undertaken by only one side
Mutual or reciprocal.
They had a bilateral understanding of the terms.
Obligating only one of two or more parties, nations, or persons, as a contract or an agreement.
Having or formed of two sides; two-sided.
Emphasizing or recognizing only one side of a subject.
Affecting or undertaken by two sides equally; binding on both parties
A bilateral agreement.
Having only one side.
Relating to both the right and the left side of the body or of a body structure
Tracing the lineage of one parent only
A unilateral genealogy.
Having or marked by bilateral symmetry.
(Botany) Having leaves, flowers, or other parts on one side only.
Having two sides.
Done by one side only.
Involving both sides equally.
Affecting only one side of the body.
(of an agreement) Binding on both of the two parties involved.
Binding or affecting one party only.
Having bilateral symmetry.
Being on one side only; affecting but one side; one-sided.
(anthropology) Involving descent or ascent regardless of sex and side of the family.
Pertaining to one side; one-sided; as, a unilateral raceme, in which the flowers grow only on one side of a common axis, or are all turned to one side.
A meeting between two people or groups.
Involving only one part or side;
A unilateral decision
Having two sides; arranged upon two sides; affecting two sides or two parties.
Tracing descent from either the paternal or the maternal line only
Of or pertaining to the two sides of a central area or organ, or of a central axis; as, bilateral symmetry in animals, where there is a similarity of parts on the right and left sides of the body.
Undertaken by one entity without others.
She made a unilateral move in the chess game.
Having identical parts on each side of an axis
Affecting one side of something.
The patient has unilateral pain in the left leg.
Involving only one part or side;
A unilateral decision
Not mutual or reciprocal.
The unilateral declaration was unexpected.
Affecting or undertaken by two parties;
A bilateral agreement between the United States and Japan
Undertaken by two parties.
Bilateral negotiations took weeks to conclude.
How many parties are involved in a bilateral agreement?
Bilateral agreements involve two parties.
Are bilateral actions always collaborative?
Yes, bilateral actions typically involve collaboration and mutual consent between two parties.
Is a unilateral treaty possible?
No, treaties are typically bilateral or multilateral as they involve agreements between multiple parties.
Can a unilateral decision involve negotiations?
Typically, unilateral decisions are made without negotiations since they are decided by one party.
What does "Unilateral" primarily refer to?
Unilateral pertains to actions or decisions made by one side or party.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.