Criminal Court. Indeed, as recent U.S. behavior shows, such states often resist international legal accountability. The only forms of external accountability to which they are consistently subject, therefore, are peer accountability and reputational accountability. These attempts at accountability, however, depend on efforts, often ad hoc, to establish a basis of legitimacy on which to hold a state accountable. In the debates over war with Iraq in the winter and spring of 2003, for example, France, Germany and Russia engaged in “soft balancing” – seeking to constrain the United States by denying legitimacy to its attack on Iraq. However, as this episode shows, it is difficult to impose peer or reputational accountability without a firm consensus on what constitutes legitimate behavior. If the powerful state controls substantial material resources, including force, and if it has strong internal legitimacy – so that its public does not react negatively if its leaders are criticized abroad – it may be largely immune from sanctions, as the United States was in 2003.
This discussion may clarify the role of transparency in accountability. The availability of information is crucial for all forms of accountability, but transparency, or the widespread availability of information, is essential to market, peer and reputational accountability, as well as to the internal workings of democratic accountability in states which play a supervisory role. Public reputational accountability, for example, relies almost exclusively on transparency. But transparency is not sufficient for effectiveness. Without standards and sanctions – and a configuration of power that enables sanctions to be imposed relatively consistently on all violators of standards – accountability that is both effective and widely viewed as legitimate will remain elusive.19
19 We are therefore less optimistic than Ann Florini,, who argues that “transparency is providing new opportunities both to enforce rules and standards and to hold accountable those who purport to act in the public interest.” Florini 2003: 196.