Determining who, or indeed what, is to respond to prescriptions for action in cases of international crisis is a critical endeavor. Without such an allocation of responsibilities, calls to action—whether to protect the environment or to rescue distant strangers—lack specified agents, and, therefore, any meaningful indication of how they might be met. A fundamental step in arriving at this distribution of duties is identifying moral agents in international relations, or, in other words, identifying those bodies that can deliberate and act and thereby respond to ethical guidelines. Often, the most effective and relevant moral agents in international relations are not individuals but institutions. However, it is necessary to qualify any claim that institutions can bear duties in international relations. Not only must they possess capacities for decision-making and purposive action, they must also enjoy the conditions under which specific duties can be discharged. The importance of this latter stipulation can be usefully illustrated by examining the disparate circumstances within which states—those that exercise positive sovereignty and those that are sovereign only in name—are expected to act.
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