Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22–49.
THE NEXT PATTERN OF CONFLICT
“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
After Westphalia, conflict for a century and a half were driven by the interests of princes. After the French Revolution, it was nations. Post World War I, the conflict of nations was replaced by the conflict of ideologies. Now, what’s peculiar about all these is that these conflicts were conflicts within the West. With the end of the Cold War, international politics will become dominated by the interaction between the West and non-Western civilisations. The peoples and governments outside of the west will join the West as movers and shapers of history.
THE NATURE OF CIVILIZATIONS
The Cold War distinction along political and economic lines between the First, Second, and Third world is no longer relevant. Instead, it is more meaningful to talk about culture and civilisation.
“A civilization is … the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.” So, while two villages in Italy might not share the same culture, they will have some similarity that distinguishes them from a German village. However, European villages will share certain cultural features that differentiate them from Chinese or Arab villages. But above the Westerns, Arabs, and Chinese, there is no broader cultural identity. These are, therefore, civilisations. A person may have many identities to which he identifies with varying levels of identity — his village, linguistic group, his religion, his nation, and so on — but the civilisation to which he belongs is the broadest level of of identification to which he identifies.
The following may be said about civilisations:
- Civilizations may involve a large number of people, as with China, or a very small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean.
- A civilization may include several nation states, as is the case with
Western, Latin American and Arab civilizations, or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization.
- Civilizations obviously blend and overlap, and may include subcivilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions.
- While the lines between civilisations are seldom sharp, they are real.
- Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge….they disappear and are buried in the sands of time.
Nation states have been major actors in global affairs for only a short amount of time. Most of history has been the history of civilisations.
WHY CIVILIZATIONS WILL CLASH
“The world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization.”
- First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. … These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes.
- Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations….The interactions among peoples of different civilizations enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history.
- Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist”.
- Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations.
- Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is “What are you?” That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, … the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head.
- Finally, economic regionalism is increasing. The importance of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the future. … On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization.
THE FAULT LINES BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS
Ideological boundaries are giving way to fault lines between civilisations. For instance, the disappearance of the Cold War era ideological division between Western and Eastern Europe, has been followed by the division of Europe between Western Christianity on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam on the other. “The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe.”
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.
WInston Churchill, “The Sinews of Peace”.
The fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has sustained for over a millenia ever since the founding of Islam — from the Crusades in the 11th to 13th centuries, to the rise of the Ottomans in the 14th to 17th centuries, to the rise of Western Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism after WW II, and finally the military interventions of the West in the Middle East in recent times. “This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.”
[Comment: And after this follows an long inventory of instances where culture/civilisation has been the cause or predicted to be the cause of conflicts: from Central Europe to the Middle East to the Subcontinent to East Asia, but also including relations between the Asian powers and the Western powers. I have neglected to include them here. But you get the point Huntington is making.]
THE KIN-COUNTRY SYNDROME
“Groups or states that belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization. …[E]lements of civilizational rallying … may provide a foretaste of the future.”
First, in the Gulf War one Arab state invaded another and then fought a coalition of Arab, Western and other states. While only a few Muslim governments overtly supported Saddam Hussein, many Arab elites privately cheered him on, and he was highly popular among large sections of the Arab publics. Islamic fundamentalist movements universally supported Iraq rather than the Western-backed governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Forswearing Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal. He and his supporters attempted to define the war as a war between civilizations.
A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.
Second, the kin-country syndrome also appeared in conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Armenian military successes in 1992 and 1993 stimulated Turkey to become increasingly supportive of its religious, ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan.
Third, with respect to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia,
Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian
Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs.
Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian
attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of
Bosnia-Herzegovina. … Islamic governments and groups, on the other hand, castigated the West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians.
[Comment: Serbia being dominated by Orthodox Christians (above 80% of the population) and Bosnia, Roman Catholics (a similar percentage).]
In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War provoked intervention from countries that politically were fascist, communist and democratic. In the 1990s the Yugoslav conflict is provoking intervention from countries that are Muslim, Orthodox and Western Christian.
None of these preclude conflicts within the same civilisation. However, such conflicts will be less intense and less likely to expand than other conflicts
Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been growing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. ... The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.
THE WEST VERSUS THE REST
The west is, at the moment, at the peak of its powers — political, economic and military. Global security is in the hands of a directorate composed of USA, Britain, and France while economic issues, under the USA, Germany, and Japan. The phrase “world community” has become an euphemism that justifies the interests and actions of the west.
International institutions, economic resources, and military power are being used by the West to impose and perpetuate their dominance, protect their interests, and promote Western ideas. This is how the rest, and this is with a significant amount of truth, views the new world. The tussle along these lines will be the source of conflict between the west and other civilisations. Of course, it is true that at a superficial level, western ideas, western values, and western products have permeated the whole world. But at a basic level, fundamental western concepts and values — such as individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state — have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.
This conflict between the West and the Rest can lead to one of three responses by the Rest. First, non-Western states can attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West, and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated global community. A second alternative, the equivalent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions. The third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.
THE TORN COUNTRIES
Torn countries are those that are relatively culturally homogeneous but are “torn” between whether they belong to one civilisation or another. They are economically and politically drawn towards the West but are detained by their culture. The most obvious example of this is Turkey in the early 20th century and Mexico more recently. But globally, and today, the most important torn country is Russia where the question of whether Russia is part of the West or the leader of a distinct Slavic Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one.
“To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about this move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s joining the West.”
The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist.
THE CONFUCIAN-ISLAMIC CONNECTION
The obstacles for the rest in joining the West are least for Latin and Eastern European countries, greater for Orthodox countries of the former Soviet Union, and still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu and Buddhist societies.
Countries that do not wish to align with the West have sought to instead compete by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent of these is the Confucian-Islamic connection.
The conflict between the West and Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely on the development, acquisition, and deployment of advanced weaponry. And while the West seeks to limit proliferation of weapons, the Rest see military development as necessary for their security. And this necessity is at its most obvious in the sustained expansion of China’s military power and its means to create military power. China is also exporting arms and arms technology to countries in the Middle East and Pakistan. A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military power of the West.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST
“This article does not argue that civilization identities will replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other. This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects.”
As should be obvious, these are not a prescriptive but descriptive hypotheses. If they appear plausible, their implications for Western policy must be understood.
For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.