The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order | Study Guide

Samuel P. Huntington

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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order | Part 4, Chapter 10 : Clashes of Civilizations (From Transition Wars to Fault Line Wars) | Summary



Transition Wars: Afghanistan and the Gulf

The first civilizational war was the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979–89, followed by the Gulf War. Both wars began as invasion but were redefined as civilization wars, marking a transition to wars between groups from different civilizations. The Afghan War was marked as "the first successful resistance to a foreign power" and was based on Islamic principles. Yet American technology, Saudi funding, and Muslim military recruits backed the Afghan government from Pakistan. The Afghan War became a civilization war largely because Muslims labeled it as one. The Gulf War also became a civilization war because Muslims came to see the Western intervention as a war against them. Although Arabs and other Muslims recognized the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, they resented the West's meddling in its affairs. This definition by Muslims as a war between the West and Islam also facilitated a reduction of antagonism within the Muslim world. Other non-Western, non-Muslim civilizations were reluctant to support the West, with many coming to see it as a war of East versus West. Also at stake during the Gulf War were resources between civilizations—namely oil.

Characteristics of Fault Line Wars

Wars rooted in identities along tribal, ethnic, religious, and national lines have been common in every era and civilization. Fault line wars are conflicts that become violent and can occur between states, nongovernmental groups, or both. The conflicts occur over control of both people and territory. This makes them difficult to resolve through negotiations and compromise, and they tend to result in large numbers of deaths and refugees.

Incidence: Islam's Bloody Borders

As the Cold War drew to a close, communal conflicts that had always existed became more prominent and prevalent. The majority of them have taken place along the boundaries separating Muslims from non-Muslims. The question arises, therefore, whether this conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims can also be found between groups from other civilizations. Although Muslims make up only one-fifth of the world's population, they have been involved in far more civilizational violence than the people of any other civilization.

Causes: History, Demography, Politics

The upsurge in late-20th-century fault line wars can be traced to recent history. These fault line conflicts had occurred in the past and therefore continued to generate fears and insecurities. Yet these groups had also successfully lived in peace together for large amounts of time. One factor leading to the increase of more recent violence can be found in changing demographic balances. The expansion of one group can bring about political, economic, and social pressures on another. Electoral competitions in divided states also, by default, encourage nationalist appeals, thereby widening the divide between groups.

There have been several theories to explain why Muslims have been involved in far more intercivilizational violence during the 20th century. One theory is that Islam has always been a religion that glorifies war and the military. The tenets of Islam dictate war against nonbelievers. The expansion of the Muslim population also brought Muslims into close proximity with non-Muslims, thereby sparking tensions. Islam is an absolutist faith that merges religion and politics. It has more difficulty adapting to and living with those of other faiths. Another theory posits that Muslims are victims of anti-Muslim prejudice. The final theory states that the root of Islamic conflict lies in the absence of one or more core states in Islam. It lacks a dominant center, which contributes to its instability. Contributing to that is the demographic explosion in Muslim societies. The increase in population leads to a larger number of unemployed young men, creating instability and violence.


"Transition Wars: Afghanistan and the Gulf" presents the example of the Gulf War and the Soviet-Afghan War. These wars demonstrate how fault line wars are created and endure. In the case of the Gulf War, the West's intervention created greater hostility toward it from the Islamic civilization. Muslims saw the problem of Saddam Hussein as their own to solve. They saw the West's intervention as serving only its own interests in the end. This misstep on the part of the West serves to highlight its fundamental misunderstanding of Muslim culture. The West's hubris was that it alone held the solution to the problem. These fundamental divisions between civilizational understandings only serve to deepen and intensify conflicts along these "fault lines." The West believed it was fighting one kind of war about human rights. But Muslims viewed the war as one between civilizations, and one in which their own was at stake.

Huntington proves his point that civilizational identity is the broadest identity. He points out that "the Gulf War brought together Muslims who previously had often been at each other's throats." When confronted with a larger civilizational enemy such as the West, they were able to work together through their larger bond of kinship and identity. The paradox presented here is that "an external enemy ... reduces conflict within a country." It further proves Huntington's claim that humankind is primed to view "the other" as its enemy or competition. The Gulf War began as a war between Iraq and Kuwait. Then it broadened in scope to encompass Islam and the West. This points to the fact that fault line wars can escalate when they begin to include core states and primary states. They can reach all the way to its broadest civilizational identity.

In "Characterizations of Fault Line Wars," Huntington points out that these kinds of wars "are rooted in the identities of people." The argument here is that a threat to identity supersedes any threats to territory or resources. To eradicate an identity is to eradicate a civilization. However, it also makes it much harder to declare a victory in a fault line war. Identities are harder to measure and quantify than territory and resources. Closely linked to a civilization's identity is its source of religion. Fault line wars tend to fall along the dividing lines of religions as well. Huntington posits that religion is "possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people." It shapes identity, morality, belief, and values. Two civilizations may not rationalize with each other because of different religious beliefs. Then they will have a difficult time coming to any sort of compromise or understanding on the fundamental level of morals or values.

"Causes: History, Demography, Politics" also points out how political elections appeal to and intensify existing fault line wars, as candidates use nationalist appeals. Fault line wars can also continue when a civilization, such as Islam, lacks a dominant center. Since different states aspire to be its leader, it generates instability amongst civilizations because it has no clear leader with whom to negotiate. Fault line wars contribute to Huntington's argument that the world is moving in the direction of many diffuse conflicts that lack coherent boundaries or achievable victories. The boundaries of civilizations are constantly shifting and being defined and fought over.

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