Chapter 12: Political Economy and the Responsibility of States: The Problem of Many Hands in International Law
This Chapter examines the phenomenon of diffusion of responsibility from a Political Economy (PE) perspective. It is argued that concerted actions that lead to harmful outcomes may trigger a diffusion of responsibility between States, International Organizations (IOs) and other actors involved in the concerted action. Such diffusion may bring both costs and benefits for relevant actors. The Chapter construes diffusion as a political process, of which International Law (IL) is an integral part, and exposes the costs and benefits involved. Up front, we have to define what we mean with the concept ‘diffusion’. In sociology, diffusion refers to the spread of ideas, policies and practices. This concept can also be applied to legal phenomena. For instance, we can say that the notion of the ‘rule of law’ is diffused across levels of governance. A notion that originally was connected to national legal orders, spreads to international institutions and more generally the international legal order. Likewise, we can say that responsibility is diffused, if, rather than resting on one person, it is spread over a multitude of persons. Diffusion of responsibility occurs in particular in the context of concerted action. It is clear that diffusion also may occur in situations where multiple actors do not act in concert, yet where parallel actions cause a single harmful outcome. However, it is submitted that in situations of concerted action, diffusion of responsibility is especially likely to occur and, where it does, it has particular manifestations that differ from non-concerted action.
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