A useful metaphor to explain simultaneous chaos and patterns in the International System

The weather – the dynamics of the atmosphere – are chaotic in nature. Although the weather obeys a a number of physical – deterministic – laws, its dynamics are intrinsically unpredictable. The dynamics of a chaotic system are sensitive for its so-called initial conditions.


The weather is intrinsically unpredictable (source knmi.nl).

Despite the chaos and unpredictability, the climate in North Western Europe for example, also shows very regular yearly cycles; I refer to the yearly seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. These cycles can be attributed to tilted axis of the Earth, and Earth’s rotation around the sun.

Despite the intrinsic unpredictability of the weather (which can be attributed to the chaotic nature of ‘weather dynamics’), there also are clearly identifiable ‘underlying’ patterns, that shape the weather. In North Western Europe for example, the temperature will not reach minus 5 degree centigrade in for example the month of June (summer), and it will not become plus 30 degree centigrade in the month of December (winter).  That is something we can predict.

This combination of chaotic dynamics and regular seasonal patterns can serve as a metaphor for the dynamics of the (international) System. In the System there also is a combination of chaotic non-systemic war dynamics – that are intrinsically unpredictable – and ‘underlying’ patterns that are related to the longer-term war dynamics – the regular war cycles with a typical life-cycle – of the System.

A typical effect of the underlying regular cycles on the war dynamics of the System is for example that once the tipping point of a war cycle is reached, tension releases become increasingly hindered (problematic) and issues between states can no longer be resolved, until – consequently – the System becomes critical and produces a systemic war to upgrade its order (organization).