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 9 : Clashes of Civilizations (The Global Politics of Civilizations) | Summary



Core State and Fault Line Conflicts

When civilizations clash, it is tribal conflict on a global scale. Even connections between states of civilizations that are inherited from the past but no longer serve a purpose will likely evaporate. Two opposite ends of the pole are cold war and cold peace, but both emphasize that trust and friendship are rare between different civilizations. On a smaller scale, intercivilizational conflicts show up as fault line conflicts between neighboring states from different civilizations. They may also be between groups from different civilizations within a state. Fault line conflicts are most often seen between Muslims and non-Muslims. On a larger scale, core state conflicts can be seen among the major states of different civilizations. They deal with international politics such as military power, economic power, values, and culture. Cultural differences tend to sharpen conflicts.

Islam and the West

The relationship between Islam and Christianity has historically been contentious, as each has seen the other as its opposite. Each religion has at times risen and fallen. Historically, Islam is the only other civilization that has put the survival of the West in doubt on two occasions of conquering territories. Fifty percent of wars involving different religions between 1820 and 1929 were between Muslims and Christians. Yet their conflicts stemmed as much from their similarities as their differences, with both religions being monotheistic, universalistic, and missionary. Conflicts between Islam and Christianity have fluctuated according to population growth and decline, as well as economic developments, technological change, and religious commitment. In the late 20th century, Muslim population growth has spurred larger levels of unemployment, resulting in younger people being recruited into Islam. The Islamic Resurgence has also given Muslims renewed confidence in their civilization and values. The end of the Soviet Union also eliminated a common enemy of both the West and Islam. The collapse caused each to see the other anew as a threat. Muslims and Westerners also increased contact with each other through migration, causing each to see the differences in the other.

The fundamental conflict between Muslims and Westerners lies in the fact that they have different versions of right and wrong. While the West once labeled the Soviet Union as "godless communism," so now do Muslims see "the godless West." Pro-Western governments have given way to anti-Western governments. Even the two Muslim military allies of the United States—Turkey and Pakistan—are under increasing Islamist pressure to shift their ties. Paralleling Muslim anti-Westernism is the West's growing concern with the "Islamic threat" posed by extremism. In 1995 the secretary general of NATO declared that Islamic fundamentalism was "at least as dangerous as communism." Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an intercivilizational quasi war developed between Islam and the West. It is a quasi war because it has been fought with limited means and not against the entirety of the West. Both sides recognize that a war is taking place, with each charging the other with aggressions. Militarily, it is a war of terrorism versus air power. The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism, but Islam 's belief that its culture is superior. Likewise, it is the West's belief in its universality that is the problem for Islam.

Asia, China, and America

The economic shifts in Asia are one of the most significant global developments in the second half of the 20th century. Many observers believed, on the assumption that economic relations enforce peace, that its expanding network would ensure peace and harmony among different nations. Yet economic growth can create political instability within and between countries, altering the balance of power. Although economic exchange brings people into contact, it does not necessarily cause them to agree. Asia's economic developments naturally lead to disruptions in international politics, such as Asia's ability to expand its military capabilities. Asia as a power includes at least seven civilizations. Yet it has only one stable democracy in comparison with the West's stable democracies and high levels of economic development. Asia has little economic or societal integration among its societies in comparison with the West. While Western Europe is now peaceful after centuries of conflict, East Asia is not, because of territorial disputes. American relations with both Japan and China became increasingly antagonistic in the 1980s and 1990s, with some observers dubbing the conflicts "the new cold war."

Over the course of the decade, America's relationship with both Japan and China deteriorated—something that was clearly against American national interest. Their increased interactions only provided more opportunities for clashes and disagreements. It also served to highlight the fundamental cultural differences between the civilizations. The trend in settling disputes tends to fall in the Asian direction, reflecting the changing power relations. Although the United States saw their concessions as an inducement for Asia to respond in kind, Asians saw it as a sign of American weakness. If Chinese economic development continues, it could be the single most serious security issue the American government will face in the 21st century. As China rises to power, other states must decide to "balance" against it or "bandwagon" in hope that supporting it will inspire mutual benevolence. Bandwagoning is most likely to occur between states belonging to the same civilization. The rise of China will also pose a major threat to Japan, which will be divided as to which strategy to take. It is most likely to accommodate China, since it has, for security reasons, historically sought to align itself with the dominant power.

Civilizations and Core States: Emerging Alignments

The post–Cold War world lacks the kind of split that existed during the Cold War. But tensions between the West because of Muslim demographics and Asian economics have become central to global politics. Under these conditions, it's possible that the Chinese-Islamic connection may broaden and deepen. It may begin with their shared opposition to the West on ideas of weapons proliferation and human rights issues. Yet China sees itself as a power that doesn't need alliances with other countries. However, its conflicts with the West mean that it values support from other anti-Western states—which are mostly Islamic. If Russia and China align, they would tilt the balance against the West. But if Russia aligns with the West, the opposite occurs—a counterbalance to the Chinese-Islamic connection. India, on the other hand, may also emerge as an independent power center that acts as a counterweight to Chinese power and influence. This also makes an Indian-Russian alliance possible.


In "Core States and Fault Line Conflicts," Huntington lays out how civilizations are merely large-scale tribes with similar ties and conflicts on a global scale. In the current and future world, civilizations will also align along tribal aspects of shared cultural, religious, and social beliefs. This alliance often occurs in an effort to prevent an opposing civilization from gaining an advantage. Yet Huntington posits that relationships between different civilizations will likely never become too close. It will often descend into hostility when common ground cannot be found. With this, any notions of friendship and trust are eradicated, as civilizations grow suspicious of each other's motives and alliances. Many conflicts will arise from fault line conflicts, which can then escalate to core state conflicts on a global scale. The issues at play between these kinds of conflicts can be seen throughout history. But Huntington believes that they will become more prevalent as power becomes more diffuse.

In "Islam and the West," Huntington demonstrates how these fault line and cores state conflicts can escalate. He points out that "the relations between Islam and Christianity ... have often been stormy. Each has been the other's Other." By this, he means that because each civilization sees the other as fundamentally different, it becomes easy to see each other as an enemy. He reminds the reader that "Islam is the only civilization which has put the survival of the West in doubt, and it has done that at least twice." With a history of strife and mutual antagonism, it becomes hard for either civilization to find common ground or empathy for each other.

Yet Huntington also points out that for all their ideological differences, Islam and Christianity are more similar than they'd like to believe. The similarity is thanks to their "parallel concepts of 'jihad' and 'crusade.'" It is perhaps this similarity that makes them obvious enemies of each other since both civilizations feel threatened by the other's surety in their beliefs. Huntington also posits that "the collapse of communism removed a common enemy of the West and Islam and left each the perceived major threat to the other."

Their growing proximity resulting from modern advances and immigration has only strengthened each civilization's belief in its identity. Modernization has further cast the other as its biggest existential threat. Here Huntington also begins to hint that proximity, counter to the belief that it can foster mutual understanding, only serves to antagonize different civilizations. It causes them to cling more tightly to their own identities. Interestingly, since Islam has no core state, the conflicts between it and the West are less about territory. They are more about issues of human rights, democracy, resources, migration, terrorism, and intervention. Since these issues are harder to define than territorial disputes, this can cause conflicts to be murky, protracted, and without clear resolution. Each sees the other as a threat to their very identity and, therefore, their existence. Each also alleges that the other is at war with them. While a lack of Islamic boundaries makes it difficult to declare a territorial war, it is indeed a war of civilizations that Huntington dubs a "quasi war." It is one that has claimed far more Western lives than in the "real" Gulf War. Huntington posits that the real threat to the West is that Islam is a civilization that believes in its superiority over the West. The real threat to Islam is that the West is convinced of its superiority over Islam. The implication, then, is a never-ending, often-escalating war with no chance for peace or resolution.

"Asia, China, and America" shifts gears to examine how the economic changes in Asia have affected the power of other civilizations. Huntington points out the erroneous belief that these new economic networks would usher in an era of peace. This projection rested on the notion that because civilizations would have to work together, they would have to get along. Rising tensions between East Asia and the West only prove Huntington's point that increased contact between civilizations amplifies the possibility for conflicts. Proximity does not guarantee mutual understanding. Huntington says that "historically it has often produced a deeper awareness of the differences between peoples and stimulated mutual fears." As the West and Asia come into increased contact, each becomes more resolute and confident that its way is the best way. Even amongst East Asian states, uncertainty mounts as each government wonders who its future enemies and allies will be.

Of significance is the fact that Asian Confucian values prize the collective over the individual. This philosophy highlights a major fundamental difference between Asian and American civilizations. When values that touch on respect, identity, and rights come into play, the contrasts are highlighted. Each civilization finds the other difficult to understand and empathize with. When there are fundamental differences in society and culture, it is difficult to find common ground to make agreements that are beneficial to both civilizations. Any resolution between them must, therefore, rely on one making concessions to the other on the basis of their values. Because values are integral to identity, it becomes a concession of identity. One example Huntington highlights is that the West is more likely to make economic or political concessions on "good faith." Yet Asians see any concessions as a sign of weakness to be exploited. This difference in values and cultural beliefs then serves to deepen the rifts and misunderstandings between these civilizations. Yet Huntington points out that the West is a tenuous place when it comes to negotiating with Asia. First, it must "accept what it has historically attempted to prevent: domination of a key region of the world by another power." China's economic rise threatens Western hegemony and shifts the global balance of power.

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