Many Damn Things Simultaneously:
Complexity Theory and World Affairs1

James N. Rosenau

In this emergent epoch of multiple contradictions that I have labeled "fragmegration" in order to summarily capture the tensions between the fragmenting and integrating forces that sustain world affairs,2 a little noticed—and yet potentially significant—discrepancy prevails between our intellectual progress toward grasping the underlying complexity of human systems and our emotional expectation that advances in complexity theory may somehow point the way to policies which can ameliorate the uncertainties inherent in a fragmegrative world. The links here are profoundly causal: the more uncertainty has spread since the end of the Cold War, the more are analysts inclined to seek panaceas for instability and thus the more have they latched onto recent strides in complexity theory in the hope that it will yield solutions to the intractable problems that beset us. No less important, all these links—the uncertainty, the search for panaceas, and the strides in complexity theory—are huge, interactive, and still intensifying, thus rendering the causal dynamics ever more relevant to the course of events.

In short, all the circumstances are in place for an eventual disillusionment with complexity theory. For despite the strides, there are severe limits to the extent to which such theory can generate concrete policies that lessen the uncertainties of a fragmegrated world. And as these limits become increasingly evident subsequent to the present period of euphoria over the theory’s potential utility, a reaction against it may well set in and encourage a reversion back to simplistic, either/or modes of thought. Such a development would be regrettable. Complexity theory does have insights to offer. It provides a cast of mind that can clarify, that can alert observers to otherwise unrecognized problems, and that can serve as a brake on undue enthusiasm for particular courses of action. But these benefits can be exaggerated and thus disillusioning. Hence the central purpose of this paper is to offer a layman’s appraisal of both the potentials and the limits of complexity theory—to differentiate what range of issues and processes in world affairs it can be reasonably expected to clarify from those that are likely to remain obscure.


That a deep sense of uncertainty should pervade world affairs since the end of the Cold War is hardly surprising. The U.S.-Soviet rivalry, for all its tensions and susceptibility to collapsing into nuclear holocaust, intruded a stability into the course of events that was comprehensible, reliable, and continuous. The enemy was known. The challenges were clear. The dangers seemed obvious. The appropriate responses could readily be calculated. Quite the opposite is the case today, however. If there are enemies to be contested, challenges to meet, dangers to avoid, and responses to be launched, we are far from sure what they are. So uncertainty is the norm and apprehension the mood. The sweet moments when the wall came down in Berlin, apartheid ended in South Africa, and an aggression was set back in Kuwait seem like fleeting and remote fantasies as the alleged post-Cold War order has emerged as anything but orderly. Whatever may be the arrangements that have replaced the bipolarity of U.S.-Soviet rivalry, they are at best incipient structures and, at worst, they may simply be widespread disarray.

Put differently, a new epoch can be said to be evolving. As indicated, it is an epoch of multiple contradictions: The international system is less dominant, but it is still powerful. States are changing, but they are not disappearing. State sovereignty has eroded, but it is still vigorously asserted. Governments are weaker, but they can still throw their weight around. At times publics are more demanding, but at other times they are more compliant. Borders still keep out intruders, but they are also more porous. Landscapes are giving way to ethnoscapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes, technoscapes, and finanscapes, but territoriality is still a central preoccupation for many people.3

Sorting out contradictions such as these poses a number of difficult questions: How do we assess a world pervaded with ambiguities? How do we begin to grasp a political space that is continuously shifting, widening and narrowing, simultaneously undergoing erosion with respect to many issues and reinforcement with respect to other issues? How do we reconceptualize politics so that it connotes identities and affiliations as well as territorialities? How do we trace the new or transformed authorities that occupy the new political spaces created by shifting and porous boundaries?

The cogency of such questions—and the uncertainty they generate—reinforce the conviction that we are deeply immersed in an epochal transformation sustained by a new world view about the essential nature of human affairs, a new way of thinking about how global politics unfold. At the center of the emergent world view lies an understanding that the order which sustains families, communities, countries, and the world through time rests on contradictions, ambiguities, and uncertainties. Where earlier epochs were conceived in terms of central tendencies and orderly patterns, the present epoch appears to derive its order from contrary trends and episodic patterns. Where the lives of individuals and societies were once seen as moving along linear and steady trajectories, now their movement seems nonlinear and erratic, with equilibrium being momentary and continuously punctuated by sudden accelerations or directional shifts.

Accordingly, the long-standing inclination to think in either/or terms has begun to give way to framing challenges as both/and problems. People now understand, emotionally as well as intellectually, that unexpected events are commonplace, that anomalies are normal occurrences, that minor incidents can mushroom into major outcomes, that fundamental processes trigger opposing forces even as they expand their scope, that what was once transitional may now be enduring, and that the complexities of modern life are so deeply rooted as to infuse ordinariness into the surprising development and the anxieties that attach to it.

To understand that the emergent order is rooted in contradictions and ambiguities, of course, is not to lessen the sense of uncertainty as to where world affairs are headed and how the course of events is likely to impinge on personal affairs. Indeed, the more one appreciates the contradictions and accepts the ambiguities, the greater will be the uncertainty one experiences. And the uncertainty is bound to intensify the more one ponders the multiplicity of reasons why the end of the Cold War has been accompanied by pervasive instabilities. Clearly, the absence of a superpower rivalry is not the only source of complexity. Technological dynamics are also major stimulants, and so are the breakdown of trust, the shrinking of distances, the globalization of economies, the explosive proliferation of organizations, the information revolution, the fragmentation of groups, the integration of regions, the surge of democratic practices, the spread of fundamentalism, the cessation of intense enmities, and the revival of historic animosities—all of which in turn provoke further reactions that add to the complexity and heighten the sense that the uncertainty embedded in nonlinearity has become an enduring way of life.

In some corners of the policy-making community there would appear to be a shared recognition that the intellectual tools presently available to probe the pervasive uncertainty underlying our emergent epoch may not be sufficient to the task. More than a few analysts could be cited who appreciate that our conceptual equipment needs to be enhanced and refined, that under some conditions nonlinear approaches are more suitable than the linear conceptual equipment that has served for so long as the basis of analysis, that the disciplinary boundaries that have separated the social sciences from each other and from the hard sciences are no longer clear-cut, and that the route to understanding and sound policy initiatives has to be traversed through interdisciplinary undertakings.4

It is perhaps a measure of this gap between the transformative dynamics and the conceptual equipment available to comprehend them that our vocabulary for understanding the emergent world lags well behind the changes themselves. However messy the world may have been in the waning epoch, at least we felt we had incisive tools to analyze it. But today we still do not have ways of talking about the diminished role of states without at the same time privileging them as superior to all the other actors in the global arena. We lack a means for treating the various contradictions as part and parcel of a more coherent order. We do not have techniques for analyzing the simultaneity of events such that the full array of their interconnections and feedback loops are identified.

Searching for Panaceas

So it is understandable that both the academic and policy-making communities are vulnerable to searching for panaceas. Aware they are ensconced in an epoch of contradictions, ambiguities, and uncertainties, and thus sensitive to the insufficiency of their conceptual equipment, officials and thoughtful observers alike may be inclined to seek security through an overall scheme that seems capable of clarifying the challenges posed by the emergent epoch. Complexity theory is compelling in this regard. The very fact that it focuses on complex phenomena and presumes that these are subject to theoretical inquiry, thereby implying that complex systems are patterned and ultimately comprehensible, may encourage undue hope that humankind’s problems can be unraveled and effective policies designed to resolve them pursued.

Stirring accounts of The Santa Fe Institute, where complexity theory was nursed into being through the work of economists, statisticians, computer scientists, mathematicians, biologists, physicists, and political scientists in a prolonged and profoundly successful interdisciplinary collaboration, kindled these hopes.5 The stories of how Brian Arthur evolved the notion of increasing returns in economics, of how John H. Holland developed genetic algorithms that could result in a mathematical theory capable of illuminating a wide range of complex adaptive systems, of how Stuart Kauffman generated computer simulations of abstract, interacting agents that might reveal the inner workings of large, complicated systems such as the United States, of how Per Bak discovered self-organized criticality that allowed for inferences as to how social systems might enter upon critical states that jeopardize their stability, of how Murray Gell-Mann pressed his colleagues to frame the concept of co-evolution wherein agents interact to fashion complex webs of interdependence—these stories suggested that progress toward the comprehension of complex systems was bound to pay off. And to add to the sense of panaceas, expectations were heightened by the titles these scholars gave to their works written to make their investigations meaningful for laymen. Consider, for example, the implications embedded in Holland’s Hidden Order6 and Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe7 that creative persistence is worth the effort in the sense that eventually underlying patterns, a hidden order, are out there to be discovered.8

There are, in short, good reasons to be hopeful: if those on the cutting edge of inquiry can be sure that human affairs rest on knowable foundations, surely there are bases for encouragement that the dilemmas of the real, post-cold war world are susceptible to clarification and more effective control. Never mind that societies are increasingly less cohesive and boundaries increasingly more porous; never mind that vast numbers of new actors are becoming relevant to the course of events; never mind that money moves instantaneously along the information highway and that ideas swirl instantaneously in cyberspace; and never mind that the feedback loops generated by societal breakdowns, proliferating actors, and boundary-spanning information are greatly intensifying the complexity of life late in the 20th Century—all such transformative dynamics may complicate the task of analysts, but complexity theory tells us that they are not beyond comprehension, that they can be grasped.

I do not say this sarcastically. Rather, I accept the claims made for complexity theory. It has made enormous strides and it does have the potential for clarifying and ultimately ameliorating the human condition. Its progress points to bases for analytically coping with porous boundaries, societal breakdowns, proliferating actors, fast-moving money and ideas, and elaborate feedback loops. But to stress these strides is not to delineate a time line when they will reach fruition in terms of policy payoffs, and it is here, in the discrepancy between the theoretical strides and their policy relevance, that the need to highlight theoretical limits and curb panacean impulses arises.

Strides in Complexity Theory

Before specifying the limits of complexity theory, let us first acknowledge the claims made for it. This can be accomplished without resort to mathematical models or sophisticated computer simulations. Few of us can comprehend the claims in these terms, but if the theoretical strides that have been made are assessed from the perspective of the philosophical underpinnings of complexity theory, it is possible to identify how the theory can serve the needs of those of us in the academic and policy-making worlds who are not tooled up in mathematics or computer science but who have a felt need for new conceptual equipment. Four underpinnings of the theory are sufficient for this purpose. The four are equally important and closely interrelated, but they are briefly outlined separately here in order to facilitate an assessment of the theory’s relevance to the analysis of world affairs.

As I understand it, at the core of complexity theory is the complex adaptive system—not a cluster of unrelated activities, but a system; not a simple system, but a complex one; and not a static, unchanging set of arrangements, but a complex adaptive system. Such a system is distinguished by a set of interrelated parts, each one of which is potentially capable of being an autonomous agent that, through acting autonomously, can impact on the others, and all of which either engage in patterned behavior as they sustain day-to-day routines or break with the routines when new challenges require new responses and new patterns. The interrelationships of the agents is what makes them a system. The capacity of the agents to break with routines and thus initiate unfamiliar feedback processes is what makes the system complex (since in a simple system all the agents consistently act in prescribed ways.) The capacity of the agents to cope collectively with the new challenges is what makes them adaptive systems. Such, then, is the modern urban community, the nation state, and the international system. Like any complex adaptive system in the natural world, the agents that comprise world affairs are brought together into systemic wholes that consist of patterned structures ever subject to transformation as a result of feedback processes from their external environments or from internal stimuli that provoke the agents to break with their established routines. There may have been long periods of stasis in history where, relatively speaking, each period in the life of a human system was like the one before it, but for a variety of reasons elaborated elsewhere,9 the present period is one of turbulence, of social systems and their polities undergoing profound transformations that exhibit all the characteristics of complex adaptive systems.

The four premises of complexity theory build upon this conception. They call attention to dimensions of complex adaptive systems that both offer promising insights into world affairs and highlight the difficulties of applying complexity theory to policy problems.

Self-Organization and Emergent Properties

The parts or agents of a complex adaptive system, being related to each other sufficiently to form recurrent patterns, do in fact self-organize their patterned behavior into an orderly whole10 and, as they do, they begin to acquire new attributes. The essential structures of the system remain intact even as their emergent properties continue to accumulate and mature. Through time the new properties of the system may obscure its original contours, but to treat these processes of emergence as forming a new system is to fail to appreciate a prime dynamic of complexity, namely, the continuities embedded in emergence. As one analyst puts it, the life of any system, "at all levels, is not one damn thing after another, but the result of a common fundamental, internal dynamic."11 Thus, for example, the NATO of 1996 is very different from the NATO of 1949 and doubtless will be very different from the NATO of 2006, but its emergent properties have not transformed it into an entirely new organization. Rather, its internal dynamic has allowed it to adapt to change even though it is still in fundamental respects the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Adaptation and Co-evolution

But there is no magic in the processes whereby systems self-organize and develop emergent properties. In the case of human systems, it is presumed they are composed of learning entities,12 with the result that the dynamics of emergence are steered, so to speak, by a capacity for adaptation, by the ability of complex systems to keep their essential structures within acceptable limits (or, in the case of nonhuman organisms, within physiological limits).13 Human systems face challenges from within or without, and the adaptive task is to maintain an acceptable balance between their internal needs and the external demands.14 At the same time, in the process of changing as they adapt, systems co-evolve with their environments. Neither can evolve in response to change without corresponding adjustments on the part of the other. On the other hand, if a system is unable to adjust to its environment’s evolutionary dynamics and thus fails to adapt, it collapses into the environment and becomes extinct. To return to the NATO example, the Organization managed from its inception to co-evolve with the Cold War and post-Cold War environments despite internal developments such as the 1967 defection of France from the military command and external developments such as the demise of the Soviet Union and the superpower rivalry. Indeed, as the environment evolved subsequent to the end of the Cold War, NATO accepted France’s decision to rejoin the military command in 1996. The adaptation of NATO stands in sharp contrast to its Cold War rival, the Warsaw Pact. It could not co-evolve with the international environment and failed to adapt; in effect, it collapsed into the environment so fully that its recurrent patterns are no longer discernible.

As the history of France in NATO suggests, the co-evolution of systems and their environments is not a straight-line progression. As systems and their environments become ever more complex, feedback loops proliferate and nonlinear dynamics intensify, with the result that it is not necessarily evident how any system evolves from one stage to another. While "no one doubts that a nation-state is more complex than a foraging band," and while the evolution from the latter to the former may include tribal, city-state, and other intermediate forms, the processes of evolution do not follow neat and logical steps.15 Systems are unalike and thus subject to local variations as well as diverse trajectories through time. Equally important, evolution may not occur continuously or evenly. Even the most complex system can maintain long equilibrium before undergoing new adaptive transformations, or what complexity theorists call "phase transitions." Put differently, their progression through time can pass through periods of stasis or extremely slow, infinitesimal changes before lurching into a phase transition, thereby tracing a temporal path referred to as "punctuated equilibrium."

The Power of Small Events

It follows from the vulnerability of complex adaptive systems to punctuations of their equilibrium and tumultuous phase transitions that small, seemingly minor events can give rise to large outcomes, that systems are sensitive at any moment in time to the conditions prevailing at that moment and can thus initiate processes of change that are substantial and dramatic. Examples of this so-called "butterfly effect" abound. Perhaps the most obvious concerns the way in which an assassination in 1914 triggered the onset of World War I, but numerous other, more recent illustrations can readily be cited. It is not difficult to reason, for instance, that the end of the Cold War began with the election of a Polish Pope more than a decade earlier, just as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison was arguably (and in retrospect) an event that triggered the end of apartheid in South Africa.16

Sensitivity to Initial Conditions

Closely related to the power of small events is the premise that even the slightest change in initial conditions can lead to very different outcomes for a complex adaptive system. This premise can be readily grasped in the case of human systems when it is appreciated that the processes of emergence pass through a number of irreversible choice points that lead down diverse paths and, thus, to diverse outcomes. This is not to imply, however, that changes in initial conditions necessarily result in unwanted outcomes. As the foregoing examples demonstrate, the power of an altered initial condition can lead to desirable as well as noxious results, an insight that highlights the wisdom of paying close attention to detail in the policy-making process.

The Limits of Complexity Theory

Can complexity theory anticipate precisely how a complex adaptive system in world affairs will organize itself and what trajectory its emergence will follow? Can the theory trace exactly how the system will adapt or how it and its environment will co-evolve? Can the theory specify what initial conditions will lead to what large outcomes? No, it cannot perform any of these tasks. Indeed, it cannot even anticipate whether a large outcome will occur or, if it does, the range within which it might fall. Through computer simulations, for example, it has been shown that even the slightest change in an initial condition can result in an enormous deviation from what would have been the outcome in the absence of the change. Two simulations of the solar system are illustrative:

Both simulations used the same mathematical model on the same computer. Both sought to predict the position of the planets some 850,000,000 years in the future. The first and second simulation differed only in that the second simulation moved the starting position of each planet 0.5 millimeters. With such a small change in the initial conditions, [it is reasonable] to expect that the simulations would yield almost identical outcomes.

For all but one of the planets this is exactly what happened. Pluto, however, responded differently. The position of Pluto in the second simulation differed from its position in the first by 4 billion miles. Pluto’s resting position is, in this mathematical model, extremely sensitive to the initial conditions.17

Applying these results metaphorically to the global system of concern here, it could well be presumed that the Pluto outcome is the prototype in world politics, that numerous communities and societies could deviate often from their expected trajectories by the political equivalent of 4 billion miles. The variables comprising human systems at all levels of organizations are so multitudinous, and so susceptible to wide variations when their values shift, that anticipating the movement of planets through space is easy compared to charting the evolution of human systems through time.

In short, there are strict limits within which theorizing based on the premises of complexity theory must be confined. It cannot presently—and is unlikely ever to—provide a method for predicting particular events and specifying the exact shape and nature of developments in the future. As one observer notes, it is a theory "meant for thought experiments rather than for emulation of real systems."18

Consequently, it is when our panacean impulses turn us toward complexity theory for guidance in the framing of exact predictions that the policy payoffs are least likely to occur and our disillusionment is most likely to intensify. For the strides that complexity theorists have made with their mathematical models and computer simulations are still a long way from amounting to a science that can be relied upon for precision in charting the course of human affairs that lies ahead. Although their work has demonstrated the existence of an underlying order, it has also called attention to a variety of ways in which the complexity of that order can collapse into pervasive disorder. Put differently, while human affairs have both linear and nonlinear dimensions, and while there is a range of conditions in which the latter dimensions are inoperative or "well behaved,"19 it is not known when or where the nonlinear dimensions will appear and trigger inexplicable feedback mechanisms. Such unknowns lead complexity theorists to be as interested in patterns of disorder as those of order, an orientation that is quite contrary to the concerns of policy makers.

Theorizing Within the Limits

To acknowledge the limits of complexity theory, however, is not to assert that it is of no value for policy makers and academics charged with comprehending world affairs. Far from it: if the search for panaceas is abandoned and replaced with a nuanced approach, it quickly becomes clear that the underlying premises of complexity theory have a great deal to offer as a perspective or world view with which to assess and anticipate the course of events. Perhaps most notably, they challenge prevailing assumptions in both the academic and policy-making communities that political, economic, and social relationships adhere to patterns traced by linear regressions. Complexity theory asserts that it is not the case, as all too many officials and analysts presume, that "we can get a value for the whole by adding up the values of its parts."20 In the words of one analyst,

Look out the nearest window. Is there any straight line out there that wasn’t man-made? I’ve been asking the same question of student and professional groups for several years now, and the most common answer is a grin. Occasionally a philosophical person will comment that even the lines that look like straight lines are not straight lines if we look at them through a microscope. But even if we ignore that level of analysis, we are still stuck with the inevitable observation that natural structures are, at their core, nonlinear. If [this] is true, why do social scientists insist on describing human events as if all the rules that make those events occur are based on straight lines?21

A complexity perspective acknowledges the nonlinearity of both natural and human systems. It posits human systems as constantly learning, reacting, adapting, and changing even as they persist, as sustaining continuity and change simultaneously. It is a perspective that embraces non-equilibrium existence. Stated more generally, it is a mental set, a cast of mind that does not specify particular outcomes or solutions but that offers guidelines and lever points that analysts and policy makers alike can employ to more clearly assess the specific problems they seek to comprehend or resolve. Furthermore, the complexity perspective does not neglect the role of history even though it rejects the notion that a single cause has a single effect. Rather, focusing as it does on initial conditions and the paths that they chart for systems, complexity treats the historical context of situations as crucial to comprehension.

The first obstacle to adopting a complexity perspective is to recognize that inevitably we operate with some kind of theory. It is sheer myth to believe that we need merely observe the circumstances of a situation in order to understand them. Facts do not speak for themselves; observers give them voice by sorting out those that are relevant from those that are irrelevant and, in so doing, they bring a theoretical perspective to bear. Whether it be realism, liberalism, or pragmatism, analysts and policy makers alike must have some theoretical orientation if they are to know anything. Theory provides guidelines; it sensitizes observers to alternative possibilities; it highlights where levers might be pulled and influence wielded; it links ends to means and strategies to resources; and perhaps most of all, it infuses context and pattern into a welter of seemingly disarrayed and unrelated phenomena.

It follows that the inability of complexity theory to make specific predictions is not a serious drawback. Understanding and not prediction is the task of theory. It provides a basis for grasping and anticipating the general patterns within which specific events occur. The weather offers a good example. It cannot be precisely predicted at any moment in time, but there are building blocks—fronts, highs and lows, jet streams, and so on—and our overall understanding of changes in weather has been much advanced by theory based on these building blocks....We understand the larger patterns and (many of) their causes, though the detailed trajectory through the space of weather possibilities is perpetually novel. As a result, we can do far better than the old standby: predict that "tomorrow’s weather will be like today’s" and you stand a 60 percent probability of being correct. A relevant theory for [complex adaptive systems] should do at least as well.22

Given the necessity of proceeding from a theoretical standpoint, it ought not be difficult to adopt a complexity perspective. Indeed, most of us have in subtle ways already done so. Even if political analysts are not—as I am not—tooled up in computer science and mathematics, the premises of complexity theory and the strides in comprehension they have facilitated are not difficult to grasp. Despite our conceptual insufficiencies, we are not helpless in the face of mounting complexity. Indeed, as the consequences of turbulent change have become more pervasive, so have observers of the global scene become increasingly wiser about the ways of the world and, to a large degree, we have become, each of us in our own way, complexity theorists. Not only are we getting accustomed to a fragmegrative world view that accepts contradictions, anomalies, and dialectic processes, but we have also learned that situations are multiply caused, that unintended consequences can accompany those that are intended, that seemingly stable situations can topple under the weight of cumulated grievances, that some situations are ripe for accidents waiting to happen, that expectations can be self-fulfilling, that organizational decisions are driven as much by informal as formal rules, that feedback loops can redirect the course of events, and so on through an extensive list of understandings that appear so commonplace as to obscure their origins in the social sciences only a few decades ago.23 Indeed, we now take for granted that learning occurs in social systems, that systems in crisis are vulnerable to sharp turns of directions precipitated by seemingly trivial incidents, that the difference between times one and two in any situation can often be ascribed to adaptive processes, that the surface appearance of societal tranquillity can mask underlying problems, and that "other things being equal" can be a treacherous phrase if it encourages us to ignore glaring exceptions. In short, we now know that history is not one damn thing after another so much as it is many damn things simultaneously.

And if we ever slip in our understanding of these subtle lessons, if we ever unknowingly revert to simplistic formulations, complexity theory serves to remind us there are no panaceas. It tells us that there are limits to how much we can comprehend of the complexity that pervades world affairs, that we have to learn to become comfortable living and acting under conditions of uncertainty.

The relevance of this accumulated wisdom—this implicit complexity perspective—can be readily illustrated. It enables us to grasp how an accidental drowning in Hong Kong intensified demonstrations against China, how the opening of a tunnel in Jerusalem could give rise to a major conflagration, how the death of four young girls can foster a "dark and brooding" mood in Brussels, how an "October surprise" might impact strongly on an American presidential election, or how social security funds will be exhausted early in the next century unless corrective policies are adopted—to cite three recent events and two long-standing maxims.24 We know, too that while the social security example is different from the others—in that it is founded on a linear projection of demographic change while the other examples involve nonlinear feedback loops—the world is comprised of linear as well as nonlinear dynamics and that this distinction is central to the kind of analysis we undertake.

In other words, while it is understandable that we are vulnerable to the appeal of panaceas, this need not be the case. Our analytic capacities and concepts are not so far removed from complexity theorists that we need be in awe of their accomplishments or be ready to emulate their methods. Few of us have the skills or resources to undertake sophisticated computer simulations—and that may even be an advantage, as greater technical skills might lead us to dismiss complexity theory as inapplicable—but as a philosophical perspective complexity theory is not out of our reach. None of its premises and concepts are alien to our analytic habits. They sum to a perspective that is consistent with our own and with the transformations that appear to be taking the world into unfamiliar realms. Hence, through its explication, the complexity perspective can serve as a guide both to comprehending a fragmegrated world and theorizing within its limits.

End Notes

1. A paper presented at the Conference on Complexity, Global Politics, and National Security, sponsored by the National Defense University and the RAND Corporation (Washington, D.C., November 13, 1996). I am grateful to Matthew Hoffmann, David Johnson, and Hongying Wang for their helpful reactions to earlier drafts.

2. Development of the fragmegration approach has occurred in fits and starts. See James N. Rosenau, "‘Fragmegrative’ Challenges to National Security," in Terry L. Heyns (ed.), Understanding U.S. Strategy: A Reader (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, 1983), pp. 65-82; James N. Rosenau, "Distant Proximities: The Dynamics and Dialectics of Globalization," in Bjorn Hettne (ed.), International Political Economy: Understanding Global Disorder (London: Zed Books, 1995), pp. 46-64; and James N. Rosenau, Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier: Exploring Governance in a Turbulent World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), Chap. 6.

3. For a discussion of the nature of these diverse "scapes," see Arjun Appadurai, "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," Public Culture, Vol. 2 (1990), pp. 1-23.

4. See, for example, John L. Gaddis, "International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War," International Security, Vol. 17 (Winter 1992/93), pp. 5-58.

5. Cf. Roger Lewin, Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), and M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).

6. John H. Holland, Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995).

7. Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

8. For a title pointing in the opposite direction, see Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994).

9. James N. Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

10. As one complexity theorist put it, referring to self-organization as a natural property of complexgenetic systems, "There is ‘order for free’ out there." Stuart Kauffman, quoted in Lewin, Complexity, p. 25.

11. Lewin, Complexity, p. 192.

12. Holland, Hidden Order, p. 93.

13. The notion of physiological constraints setting adaptive limits is developed in W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain (New York: John Wiley, 1960, 2nd ed.), p. 58, whereas the substitution of acceptable limits in the case of human systems is developed in James N. Rosenau, The Study of Political Adaptation (London: Frances Pinter Publishers, 1981), pp. 31-40.

14. For a full elaboration of this conception of adaptation, see Rosenau, The Study of Political Adaptation, Chap. 4.

15. Lewin, Complexity, p. 19.

16. For an extensive account that traces the end of apartheid back to Mandela’s links to South African President F.W. de Klerk while he was still in prison, see Allister Sparks, "The Secret Revolution," The New Yorker, April 11, 1994, pp. 56-78.

17. R. David Smith, "The Inapplicability Principle: What Chaos Means for Social Science," Behavioral Science, Vol. 40 (1995), p. 22.

18. Holland, Hidden Order, p. 98.

19. For the use of this phrase, see Smith, "The Inapplicability Principle," p. 30.

20. Holland, Hidden Order, p. 15.

21. Stephen Guastello, Chaos, Catastrophe, and Human Affairs: Application of Nonlinear Dynamics to Work, Organizations, and Social Evolution (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995), p. 1.

22. Holland, Hidden Order, p. 168.

23. For an eye-opening sense of how rapidly the social sciences have advanced in recent years, consider that it was only some five decades ago that, for the first time, a gifted analyst arrested systematic attention to the dynamics of informal patterns of organizations, an insight that is today taken for granted. Cf. Herbert A. Simon, Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Behavior in Administrative Organization (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1945).

24. Accounts of the events can be found in Edward A. Gargan, "Man Dies During Protest over Asian Islets," New York Times, September 27, 1996, p. A8; Joel Greenberg, "Dashed Hope Fed Arab Fury Against Remaining Strictures," New York Times, September 27, 1996, p. A1; and Marlies Simons, "Scandals Force the 2 Belgiums to Explore Inner Ills," New York Times, October 10, 1996, p. A3.

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