as relatively uncontrolled, criticizing them as “unaccountable” while celebrating the democratic accountability of states (Dahl 1999). Thus, multinational organizations are characterized as both weak and unchecked at the same time. We show that multilateral organizations are in fact accountable – indeed, more accountable externally than powerful states – but in ways quite different from those envisaged by observers who equate accountability with participation.
Accountability as we use the term implies that some actors have the right to hold other actors to a set of standards, to judge whether they have fulfilled their responsibilities in light of those standards, and to impose sanctions if they determine that those responsibilities have not been met. Accountability presupposes a relationship between power-wielders and those holding them accountable where there is a general recognition of the legitimacy of 1) the operative standards for accountability and 2) the authority of the parties to the relationship (one to exercise particular powers and the other to hold them to account). The concept of accountability implies that the actors being held accountable have obligations to act in ways that are consistent with accepted standards of behavior and that they will be sanctioned for failures to do so.
Thus, not all constraints on abuses of power in world politics constitute mechanisms of accountability. Unilateral uses of force, though they are often described as “holding someone accountable,” do not qualify as accountability mechanisms in our sense. In the classical, European balance of power system1, the principal mechanism of constraint was, ultimately, coercion or the threat of coercion. States were the exclusive sources of legitimate authority, and though they could legally bind themselves through
1 “A type of system for the conduct of relationships among states” that operates to restore equilibrium when it is threatened by a single state, or bloc of states, becoming overwhelmingly powerful (Claude 1962:41-3).