The Political Economy of International Law
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The Political Economy of International Law

A European Perspective

Edited by Alberta Fabbricotti

Set in the context of growing interdisciplinarity in legal research, The Political Economy of International Law: A European Perspective provides a much-needed systematic and coherent review of the interactions between Political Economy and International Law. The book reflects the need felt by international lawyers to open their traditional frontiers to insights from other disciplines - and political economy in particular. The methodological approach of the book is to take the traditional list of topics for a general treatise of international law, and to systematically incorporate insights from political economy to each.
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Chapter 12: Political Economy and the Responsibility of States: The Problem of Many Hands in International Law

André Nollkaemper


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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