Difference Wiki

Unilateral vs. Bilateral: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 22, 2023
Unilateral involves one side or party, while bilateral involves two sides or parties.

Key Differences

Unilateral actions or decisions are made by one party without the agreement or participation of others. Bilateral, on the other hand, involves two parties cooperating or agreeing on a matter.
Unilateral can refer to something affecting one side of the body or a one-sided approach. Bilateral implies involvement or symmetry on both sides, as in bilateral agreements or conditions affecting both sides of the body.
In international relations, a unilateral decision is made by one country without consulting others. Bilateral agreements involve two countries negotiating and agreeing on terms.
Unilateral often suggests independence or going it alone, while bilateral suggests partnership, cooperation, or mutual agreement.

Comparison Chart


Involves one side or party.
Involves two sides or parties.


Decisions made independently.
Decisions made through mutual agreement.

International relations

Actions taken by one country alone.
Agreements between two countries.


Affecting one side of the body.
Symmetrical involvement on both sides.


Suggests independence or going it alone.
Implies partnership, cooperation, or symmetry.

Unilateral and Bilateral Definitions


Involving one side or party.
The government's unilateral decision sparked controversy.


Affecting both sides of the body.
She had bilateral knee pain.


Independent action without consultation.
Their unilateral withdrawal from the treaty was unexpected.


Pertaining to both sides of a situation.
The bilateral negotiations were complex but successful.


Affecting one side of the body.
He experienced unilateral hearing loss.


Involving two sides or parties.
The bilateral trade agreement benefited both countries.


Of, on, relating to, involving, or affecting only one side
"a unilateral advantage in defense" (New Republic).


Agreements or decisions made between two entities.
They reached a bilateral understanding on the issue.


Performed or undertaken by only one side
Unilateral disarmament.


Having or formed of two sides; two-sided.


Obligating only one of two or more parties, nations, or persons, as a contract or an agreement.


Affecting or undertaken by two sides equally; binding on both parties
A bilateral agreement.
Bilateral negotiations.


Emphasizing or recognizing only one side of a subject.


Relating to both the right and the left side of the body or of a body structure
Bilateral mastectomy.


Having only one side.


Having or marked by bilateral symmetry.


Tracing the lineage of one parent only
A unilateral genealogy.


Having two sides.


(Botany) Having leaves, flowers, or other parts on one side only.


Involving both sides equally.


Done by one side only.


(of an agreement) Binding on both of the two parties involved.


Affecting only one side of the body.


Having bilateral symmetry.


Binding or affecting one party only.


(anthropology) Involving descent or ascent regardless of sex and side of the family.


Being on one side only; affecting but one side; one-sided.


A meeting between two people or groups.


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.


Having two sides; arranged upon two sides; affecting two sides or two parties.


Involving only one part or side;
Unilateral paralysis
A unilateral decision


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.


Tracing descent from either the paternal or the maternal line only


Having identical parts on each side of an axis


Made or done by one party.
The CEO's unilateral actions led to backlash.


Involving only one part or side;
Unilateral paralysis
A unilateral decision


Pertaining to one side of a situation.
His unilateral perspective lacked broader understanding.


Affecting or undertaken by two parties;
A bilateral agreement between the United States and Japan


Characterized by mutual cooperation.
Their bilateral efforts led to a breakthrough.


What does unilateral mean?

Unilateral refers to actions or decisions made by one side or party.

What is bilateral?

Bilateral involves two sides or parties, often in agreements or conditions.

Do bilateral agreements require negotiation?

Yes, they typically involve negotiation and mutual agreement.

Is bilateral cooperation important in diplomacy?

Yes, it's essential for mutual understanding and agreements.

What’s an example of a bilateral agreement?

Trade agreements between two countries are a common example.

Can unilateral actions lead to conflicts?

Yes, unilateral decisions can lead to disagreements or conflicts.

Is bilateral always preferable to unilateral?

Not always; it depends on the context and the need for cooperation.

Can a decision be both unilateral and bilateral?

No, they are mutually exclusive; unilateral involves one party, bilateral involves two.

Are unilateral decisions common in international relations?

They occur but can lead to disagreements or tensions.

What is unilateral hearing loss?

It’s hearing loss affecting only one ear.

Can health conditions be unilateral?

Yes, conditions can affect just one side of the body.

Do bilateral treaties require ratification?

Yes, typically by the legislative bodies of the involved parties.

Can a company make unilateral decisions?

Yes, a company can make decisions without consulting others.

Is unilateral synonymous with independent?

In some contexts, yes, as it involves acting alone.

Can unilateral actions be beneficial?

In certain situations, they can be effective and necessary.

Can bilateral conditions affect the whole body?

Yes, if they impact both sides or aspects symmetrically.

Are unilateral decisions faster to make?

Often, as they don’t require negotiation or agreement.

Can unilateral decisions be reversed?

Yes, but it depends on the context and consequences.

Is bilateral symmetry common in nature?

Yes, many organisms exhibit bilateral symmetry.

Do bilateral agreements foster international cooperation?

Yes, they play a crucial role in fostering international cooperation.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons