Power and Responsibility

André Nollkaemper

SHARES Research Paper 42 (2014), ACIL 2014-22

➡ Click here to download the paper. Also available on SSRN.

Forthcoming in: A. Di Stefano (ed.), Un Diritto Senza Terra? Funzioni e limiti del principio di territorialità nel diritto internazionale e dell’Unione europea/A Lackland Law? Territory, Effectiveness and Jurisdiction in International and European Law (Torino: Giappichelli, 2014).

This paper critically reviews the popular proposition that ‘power breeds responsibility’. It first explains why this proposition is intuitively appealing. Particularly in situations where multiple actors contribute to harm, power can be a criterion for determining who of a multitude of actors should bear responsibility. For instance, much of the case law on extraterritorial human rights protection is based on a concept of power. The paper then explains why this intuition can be misleading. Saying that power informs responsibility is begging the question what type of power triggers what type of responsibility in what way. The paper focusses in particular on the ambiguity of the concept of power (different meanings of power have different implications for responsibility) and on the duality of the power-responsibility relationship (power itself may be constituted or influenced by responsibility). While generally speaking power indeed is highly relevant in explaining the allocation of responsibility between multiple parties, power is best considered as a compound concept that can take different forms, and which may pull in different directions, depending on the perspective from which power is analysed and the context in which it is applied.

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