most important actual or potential abuses of power in the world at a given time. There is no working torts system that would promote consistent legal accountability, nor any sort of world “ombudsman.” Finally, accountability mechanisms may actually foster “sins of omission,” discouraging bold action that could save lives and otherwise promote human values. Having been lambasted for building big dams, the World Bank is likely to be very reluctant to build any big dams again, even if some such projects would be beneficial for development.
But generally speaking, in world politics, accountability for most power-wielders is likely to be less constraining than is optimal. Power-wielders certainly cannot be expected to hold themselves accountable – they resist accountability because it restricts their autonomy. But the answer is not simply “more accountability.” Instead, we need more intelligently designed accountability systems that are sensitive to the variety of possible mechanisms of constraint, the shortcomings of existing accountability mechanisms, and the normative claims of those adversely affected by global entities.
The contemporary discussion of global accountability has been unnecessarily narrow. Improved accountability is taken to be the exclusive method of controlling abuses of power. Accountability is identified with democratic accountability. And finally, democratic processes are exclusively associated with increased participation. If global participation appears infeasible, there is a temptation to despair of the possibilities for control of abuses of power altogether. Furthermore, the attempt to increase global accountability in a manner that conforms to abstract, maximal democratic principles can prevent us from recognizing specific opportunities for limiting abuses of power.