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Theorizing Decision-Making in International Bureaucracies: UN Peacekeeping Operations and Responses to Norm Violations

Oksamytna, K. ORCID: 0000-0001-7725-3151, Tansey, O., von Billerbeck, S. & Gippert, B. J. (2023). Theorizing Decision-Making in International Bureaucracies: UN Peacekeeping Operations and Responses to Norm Violations. International Studies Quarterly, 67(4), article number sqad099. doi: 10.1093/isq/sqad099


Many international organizations (IOs) provide assistance to governments through country offices or peacekeeping operations. Sometimes, government authorities in countries receiving IO services violate norms that underpin IO’s engagement. IO officials must then choose between confrontational and conciliatory responses. These responses are located on a spectrum that ranges from a firm and public response to silence and downplaying. How do IO officials decide on their response? Based on over 200 interviews with UN peacekeeping officials, we argue that the factors that shape their decision-making are found across three categories: individual, departmental, and positional. In terms of individual characteristics, previous experience, career security, and the length of service at a particular duty station matter. Regarding departmental factors, politicization of work, professional composition, and the type of interlocutors predispose departments to be supporters or critics of authorities in recipient countries. In terms of positional considerations, the place of a post or department in the IO hierarchy, relations with other IO entities, and the distance from the field play a role. While important in its own right, decision-making by civilian UN peacekeeping officials is informative about similar processes in other IOs that employ individuals from diverse backgrounds in complex bureaucracies.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) (2023). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Subjects: J Political Science
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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