Complexity theory
in United Nations peace operations and International Relations theory
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This chapter explores the salience of complexity theory, a relative newcomer to International Relations theory, to the study of UN peacekeeping. It demonstrates how the central tenets of complexity theory provide a valuable alternative framework for making sense of the existence as well as the effects of UN peacekeeping. The chapter highlights the importance of studying the UN peacekeeping machine as a complex social system that has idiosyncratic behaviours, some of which are antithetical to understanding through the exclusive application of simple logics and theories underpinned by linear philosophies. It focuses in particular on its value for understanding UN peacekeeping operations that are part of conflict and peacebuilding systems in highly dynamic and nonlinear environments. Drawing on the study of the UN peacekeeping system as a whole, it shows that thinking in terms of complex adaptive systems can provide important insights into the production of UN peacekeeping through global politics as well as their operation in practice. The chapter concludes by pointing to the potential of complexity theory in understanding the ways that the UN can become part of the conflict systems it seeks to manage and transform.

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