Summary and Keywords
State responsibility can be examined from the moral, legal, and political perspectives. Historically, state responsibility was the subject of extensive work by the International Law Commission, which was carried out over 40 years (1956–2001). While the Commission’s work was terminated in 2001 with no binding conventions or treaties resulting from it, many of its final articles have become references in international and domestic tribunals. However, the Commission was unable to establish obligatory arbitration between states, to agree on penalties for international crimes, or to establish any formal legal structure with which to oversee legal state responsibility.
Differences between domestic jurisdiction and international jurisdiction limit definitive, formal legal state responsibility. The United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the International Criminal Court (ICC) all deal with state responsibility, but all reflect, to different extents the role of international politics in state responsibility. The permanent members of the UN Security Council have veto power. All United Nations member states are members of the ICJ. However, only 74 of them recognize the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ and the ICC tries individuals, not states.
The use of “illegal but legitimate” to justify military intervention in the Balkans was an example of how states creatively avoid following the legal limits of their responsibility. The decision of the ICJ in the Nicaragua v. United States case also showed the importance of the role of politics in a judicial process and the difficulties of defining the limits of a state’s responsibilities.
The very question of state responsibility in international politics reflects the importance of states and interstate international politics. States are the primary subjects of international law. However, issues such as climate change and the environment go beyond mere state responsibility and push the boundaries of the statist paradigm to larger global responsibilities erga omnes as well as actors above and below the state levels.
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