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 11 : Clashes of Civilizations (The Dynamics of Fault Line Wars) | Summary



Identity: The Rise of Civilization Consciousness

Fault line wars are rarely resolved, going through cycles of intensification, expansion, containment, and interruption. A "hate dynamic" of "us versus them" emerges, in which mutual distrust and fear are exacerbated. Moderate views tend to get supplanted and overtaken by more radical views that sanction violence. Yet extremist violence is no more likely than moderate compromise to end a fault line war. The identities that become most meaningful to groups involved in fault line wars boil down to religious identities. Religious affiliation can provide both justification and support.

This strengthening of civilizational identities has been most prevalent among Muslims. One example of how casual religious identities become strengthened can be seen in the collapse of Yugoslavia. This led the once peacefully co-existing Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to define themselves more strongly by their faiths than their nationality. A local war becomes redefined as a war of religions or a clash of civilizations. As the war intensifies, each side brands the other as "subhuman," which legitimizes the right to kill them. Another casualty in these wars is the loss of culture and its history, with libraries and museums targeted for destruction.

Civilization Rallying: Kin Countries and Diasporas

During the Cold War, the conflict between the two superpowers trickled downward to their allies and enemies. Countries in the Third World encountered the most pressure to pick a side. Since the end of the Cold War, communal conflicts have replaced the superpower conflict and thereby trickle outward. Support then comes from a kin country or group. This makes fault line wars ripe for escalating conflict as other groups are drawn in.

In one way or another, diasporas and kin countries have been involved in every fault line war of the 1990s. The Russian-Chechen conflict illustrates the ways in which religious and ethnic tensions can escalate to the point of genocide. As the Russians increased their violence, Muslims in the Russian Federation rallied behind the Chechens. The Chechen cause was also bolstered by the Chechen diaspora, which raised funds, procured weapons, and provided volunteers for the Chechen forces. Russia's support for Armenia's independence from Turkey also weakened its Muslim rivals in the region. Armenia also had diaspora support in Western Europe and North America. The attacks that originally generated the diasporas later enabled them to resist and defeat their enemies through diaspora aid.

Yugoslavia was also the site of a complex set of fault line wars in the early 1990s. Support by kin and diasporas was essential to the outcome of the war. Russia used its position in the United Nations to defend Serbian interests. On the other side, the broadest civilization rallying was by the Muslim world in support of the Bosnian Muslims. This had a major impact on the course of the war. It was essential to the survival of the Bosnian state and the regaining of its territory. The war in Bosnia was a war of civilizations, with its participants coming from different civilizations and religions. Muslim states backed the Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox states backed the Serbs, and Western governments supported the Croats. As the war progressed, divisions among the groups deepened while their identities strengthened. The outcome of the Bosnian war demonstrates how much civilizational kin support can influence the course of a war. The only anomaly was the fact that the United States became the only non-Muslim country to support the Bosnian Muslims. It actually may have been a carefully crafted strategy to reduce the influence of fundamentalist Muslim countries on the secular Bosnians. The U.S. government may have been under pressure from its Muslim allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia and wished to maintain good relations with them. It's also possible that the Americans wanted to be aligned with the "forces of good." Because the Serbs committed atrocities early in the war, they were considered the "force of evil." Ultimately, however, the Bosnians were critical of U.S. support and saved their gratitude for the aid from their Muslim kin.

Halting Fault Line Wars

Although fault line wars may halt for periods of time, they rarely end forever. This is because they are rooted in deep fault line conflicts between groups of different civilizations. Even a temporary halt in a fault line war is often the result of exhaustion by its primary participants. The radicals on either side are no longer able to mobilize their people. Yet all the halts allow for is the ability for both sides to rest and replenish their resources. The war is then renewed once an opportunity for one side to gain presents itself. Halts also usually require the involvement of a disinterested third party who shares the culture and is seen as legitimate and trustworthy. One example of this is the pope's mediation of the Argentine-Chilean boundary dispute.

Finding a party that both sides think trustworthy is difficult. Secondary parties who have rallied behind their kin can become the ones who aid in the halt of a war. The Bosnian peace process demonstrates how many levels are involved in creating a halt to fault line wars. The Western powers and Russia negotiated on one level, while NATO intervened on another level. The Americans, Russia, and Germany then had to take their agreements to the respective sides they were backing. Yet resistance to compromise can be intense, and the Bosnian Serbs and Croats took a hard line in their positions. The Serbian president—once one of the greatest warmongers—was able to bring the Bosnian Serbs to negotiate peace. Then Serbian nationalists considered him a traitor. Huntington points out that perceived traitors receive far more hate than perceived enemies.


Fault line wars provide evidence for Huntington that civilizations are quick to see themselves as distinct in their identity. Huntington's point is that competing civilizations are unlikely to reach any sort of compromise or consensus when they come into conflict. They are primed to see each other as an enemy or competitor. When the threat is to identity, it cannot be de-escalated as easily as a conflict over territory or resources. A threat to identity threatens a civilization's very meaning of life. Huntington also points out the ways in which multiple identities fade in the course of war. The identity that is most meaningful to the conflict dominates each civilization's interactions. In Huntington's view, "that identity is almost always defined by religion." Religion provides a civilization with meaning, identity, community, and divine justification in its struggles and victories. It's notable that religion supersedes ethnicity, class distinctions, and geography as a means of identification. It is the least able to quantify itself or provide a "rational" argument. It also makes it that much more difficult for civilizations to understand or respect each other's religious identities. Religious identity relies on something divine and unquantifiable.

Huntington uses the example of Bosnia to show how civilizational identities along religious lines sharpen after fighting begins. Once "Serbs, Croats, and Muslims lived peacefully together as neighbors" because religious identification was weak. Yet once the country's larger Yugoslavian identity collapsed, people's religious identities took the place of their former Yugoslavian identities. Each group became more extreme in their religious beliefs and more prone to seeing the other groups as enemies.

Even when local wars break out, each side tends to see itself as fighting not just another group but another civilization. Thereby it begins to pull in participants that share its sympathies as it becomes a war of identities. The unfortunate consequence of these wars intensifying is the manner in which each side casts the other as "subhuman" as a way to rationalize genocide. Huntington implies that when one side truly sees the other as the "Other," they reach a point of no return. They cannot even find commonality in their common humanity—such are the depths of civilizational identities and fault lines.

In "Civilizational Rallying: Kin Countries and Diasporas," Huntington relates that conflict flowed downward from the superpowers during the Cold War. However, now the world increasingly sees conflicts that start out locally and "bubble up from below." This pulls in heavier civilizational powers and states along the way as identities are staked. Huntington highlights the war in Bosnia as an example. He shows how many different parties became involved in a war between three different civilizations that belonged to different religions. Muslim states were drawn in on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox countries backed the Serbs, and Western states backed the Croats. Huntington points out the ways in which "the hatreds and cleavages among the groups deepened and their religious and civilizational identities intensified." The example of the Bosnia war supports Huntington's theory that fault line wars rarely achieve clear victories or greater understanding between civilizations. They only serve to intensify divisions and confirm each side's prejudices about the other. When kin countries and diaspora citizens are drawn into local fault line conflicts, the intense divisions reverberate outward and on a much larger scale.

In "Halting Fault Line Wars" Huntington admits that "fault line conflicts are interminable." At best, they lead to the exhaustion of both sides. But they are cyclically rekindled "because they are rooted in deep fault line conflicts involving sustained antagonistic relations between groups of different civilizations." Because both civilizations refuse to be swayed in their identities, a truce is nearly impossible, especially in the cases of proximity.

It would seem that civilizations cease to antagonize each other less out of a sense of respect and understanding but only because they become exhausted of fighting each other. Even in the best-case scenarios, those who make the first step toward peace are considered traitors to their civilization. And according to Huntington, "those perceived as traitors arouse far more passionate hatred than enemies." Again, this is because a civilization's identity is at stake. When one of their own puts their identity at risk, he or she becomes the ultimate traitor for betraying their identity. Yet Huntington acknowledges that not all fault line wars are irredeemable. Fault line wars "bubble up from below," so it lands on the more powerful and influential core states of each civilization to stamp them out.

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