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Samuel P. Huntington - The Clash of Civilizations

FredParisFrance 61 / 7  
Oct 9, 2007   #1

Could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

The prompt is:

Samuel P. Huntington, in his article The Clash of Civilizations?, suggests that cultures are the emerging sources of tension and conflict in the world today. Discuss the validity of Huntington's thesis.

Thank you in advance.

In 1993, Samuel Huntington, a professor of political sciences at the University of Harvard, wrote an article in the journal "Foreign Affairs", which was on the verge of becoming of prominent importance for the field of International Relations. Titled "the clash of civilizations", Huntington's article presented an ambitious objective: the aim was to provide a theoretical framework to interpret almost all of the conflicts that had broken out since the end of the twentieth century in addition to forecast the appearance of future conflicts. Huntington claims that the world has been in a non-ideological era since the end of the Cold War and that the role of the nation-state has been less and less significant. Consequently, Huntington's states that, henceforth, civilizations are to clash with one another. Culture, and especially its religious element, has become the main cause of conflicts, far much more than political objectives such as territorial conquests. Huntington's viewpoint has often been challenged but it has also benefited from an immense popularity, ranging from college textbooks to Islamic manifestos. Furthermore, one must acknowledge that the "clash of civilizations" is a relatively simple theory to explicate the ins and outs of international politics. However, the validity of such a paradigm lies in its capacity to describe and interpret the real world and incite the reader to seek in what ways Huntington's theory allows one to understand current conflicts. Considering, as Huntington does, that the belonging to a civilization constitutes the new driving force behind conflicts, is not only flawed but also dangerous.

Huntington asserts that, since the end of the cold war, a new type of opposition has succeeded the Middle Ages conflicts between princes and the post-Westphalia antagonisms between nations. This new type of conflicts opposes the seven or eight major civilizations, i.e. Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. With the end of political ideologies, the individuals would first and foremost feel a close recognizance as regards shared cultural features (i.e. religion, ethnicity), and, as a consequence, would acknowledge their belonging to one of the Huntington's cultures, or civilizations. That supposition is relatively reliable because, effectively, the federation of individuals into ethno-national groups, due to tribalism in the wake of the disintegration of political unity, deeply influences world politics. However, he cautiously announces that the differences distinguishing his civilizations do not necessarily imply the emergence of conflicts between them. Conversely, Huntington also develops a completely opposite argument. Indeed, he declares that his civilizations are intrinsically in conflict because they are driven by incompatible moral and political values, the necessity to survive, and the will to dominate. That characteristic of the new world order would be all the more disturbing because the civilizations would behave according to the "kin-country syndrome", namely those civilizations would ally with more or less kin-civilizations. Subsequently, conflicts would primarily break out "along the fault lines between civilizations". The Huntington's explanation of conflicts all over the world may seem coherent since, in affect, numerous conflicts have arisen along his fault lines.

Huntington describes the emergence of a conspicuous Islamic menace for the western countries, in addition to concomitant threats. Indeed, according to Huntington: "Islam has bloody borders". Huntington's perception of the borders of his Islam civilization clearly reflects the practical sources of conflicts on the ground. One could notice that Huntington lays considerable emphasis on conflicts opposing Christian and Muslim populations, such as in the Balkans. Furthermore, Huntington argues that the Islamic civilization could seek military cooperation, for instance with China, mostly due to anti-western reaction, and thus create a "Confucian-Islamic connection". Subsequently, western countries should protect themselves thanks to the establishment of fortifications in the "torn-countries", as in Turkey, which is located on a fault line separating two civilizations. Besides, the western countries should also ally with friendly civilizations such as the Latin-American civilization, and endeavour to destabilize hostile civilizations according to the balance-of-power.

Huntington's perspective presupposes that a country acts according to its civilization appurtenance. Nonetheless, assuming that a relation of causality between the existence of diverse identities and the acting into an armed conflict can be established, that link is far from being properly demonstrated. Moreover, not only does Huntington completely ignore the nuances that can be present between the different populations belonging to the same civilization and asserts that the civilizations are entirely homogenous, but he also oversimplifies the international relations through the reification of those civilizations, namely he transforms them into full actors of the international stage. Huntington utterly disregards the individuals' influence in the formation of cultures and he subsequently takes no notice of the complexity of the multifarious components of the human cultures. For instance, Huntington overlooks the importance of multinational states are widespread on the world stage (about thirty percent of the states in the world states have no nation that constitutes a majority), or multistate nations. Besides, Huntington fails to explain why conflicts emerge at a particular moment but by the overexploitation of vague cultural divergences. Indeed, economical, political, or social factors seem totally absent of his analytical framework. Quite surprisingly, Huntington ingeniously succeeds in avoiding providing the reader with an unambiguous definition of what a civilization is. Actually, a civilization may be characterized by a single religion (such as Islam), nation (such as Japan), or a group of countries (such as the western countries) or even an entire area (such as Latin America). Finally, and even more astonishingly, Huntington seems to believe Saddam Hussein's low-grade propaganda to give weight to his "clash of civilization" theory when he relates that "Forswearing Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal", whereas the latter was looking for political and military support from political leaders in the Near and Middle East.

Huntington completely ignores the bloody conflicts that were highly detrimental within a same civilization during the twentieth century: for example between the western countries during the first and second World Wars, or for instance between the Muslim countries during the Iran Iraq war in the 1980s or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s. Moreover, on the one hand, Huntington fails to explain why the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country, deployed military forces, fifteen main battle tanks "Leclerc", in the context of peacekeeping operations in Kosovo from 1999 to 2002. On the other hand, Huntington also fails to explain why Muslim countries, such as the Kingdom of Arabia Saudi, took part in the anti-Iraqi coalition alongside with the United States of America in 1990-1991. Generally, Huntington appears to be fully ignorant of political alliances or conflicts without religious origin, such as in Liberia.

Finally, on closer examination, "the clash of civilizations" strangely reminds the reader of a new Realist theory. Indeed, Huntington replaces nation-states by civilizations as basic units on the international politics. Moreover, Huntington's almost bipolar vision of the world (the Confucian-Islamic connection against the western civilization) and his principle of balance-of-power between the civilizations are also reminders of a kind of new Realist theory. Nonetheless, this vision of the world stage is somewhat nostalgic of Manichean world politics and, therefore, more easily understandable. Furthermore, Huntington's theory shows an all too alarmist vision of the future. Indeed, according to Huntington, the western civilization would have entered a period of decline due to the constant progression of the multiculturalism within western countries, whereas the other civilizations (and especially the Islamic one) would be homogenous and would be less influenced by the globalization. Such an idea does not allow for the current forces of transnationalism (globalization of economy, culture, transport, and telecommunications) that act on world politics from the individual to the system level. For example, Huntington ignores phenomena such as the political integration, economic interdependence, or the social integration.

All things considered, Huntington's theory could prove to be politically dangerous for states whose leaders would adopt his vision of world politics, and especially for the USA since Huntington is an influential American political scientist. First, no diplomatic negotiations could allay tensions between antagonist civilizations since Huntington argues that they are intrinsically in opposition with other civilizations. Last and not the least, stigmatizing foreign civilizations as necessarily ominous, Huntington favours the deterioration of the diplomatic dialogue and, therefore, augments the probability of appearance of conflicts. With the benefit of hindsight, one could reconsider Huntington's prime objective: did he want to provide political leaders with a simple and reliable conceptual framework for analysing world politics or did he want to pave the way for the U.S. administration, to prepare the public for an interventionist American foreign policy at the dawn of the twenty-first century?

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