The interdependence of states, the globalization of business, the expansion of the scope and authority of multilateral organizations, and rapid increases in the number of non-governmental organizations have heightened concerns about the way power is used and abused on the world stage. A common response to these concerns is to call for greater accountability (Held 1995, Young 2000, chapter 7). Because contemporary analysts extrapolate from models of democratic accountability within states, they tend to see increased democratic participation as the only means of securing accountability globally. But democratic participation on the global level appears impracticable, or even impossible (Dahl 1999: 20). The ironic result is that the best becomes the enemy of the good. Commentators who genuinely seek to constrain abuses of power by multilateral organizations, multinational firms and non-governmental organizations, as well as by states, fail to point out how to do so, because they are unable to think outside the democratic box.
We offer an alternative analysis which considers accountability as only one of several ways in which power can be constrained; examines non-democratic accountability mechanisms as well as democratic ones; and scrutinizes the analogy between global and domestic power structures in order to specify the nature of the problem of accountability in global politics more clearly. Our analysis helps to resolve a puzzle that is posed by conventional views of accountability. The dominant view of multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO) in the international relations literature, even among institutionalist theorists, is that these entities are weak relative to states. But critics of globalization view such organizations