THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS AND THE REMAKING OF WORLD ORDER
By Samuel P. Huntington
Simon & Schuster -- 367pp -- $26
You can almost hear the war drums beating. "Civilizations are the ultimate human tribes, and the clash of civilizations is tribal conflict on a global scale," says Samuel P. Huntington. Thus does the author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order sum up his understanding of the motor force of world history. In the Harvard University professor's bleak view, wars and near-wars between civilizations are facts of life, and foreign policy professionals who ignore this insight do so at their peril.
Argued in learned but often rambling prose, The Clash of Civilizations will surely trigger as much discussion as it did three years ago, when a much shorter version ran in Foreign Affairs. The book deserves the attention, because it forces readers to consider just how complex and fragile the world is. But Huntington, for all his brilliance, manages to ignore or gloss over large chunks of history and current events to make his thesis work.
The author proposes that in the aftermath of the cold war, policymakers need a thorough understanding of the major civilizations. These include Sinic (or Confucian), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Western, Orthodox (meaning Orthodox Christian), Latin American, and African. Identify the "fault lines" where these civilizations come into conflict, says Huntington, and you have the trouble spots of the New World Order. Thus he highlights all the frontier wars between Orthodox and Islamic civilizations, including Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan. These conflicts, says Huntington, follow a pattern of expansion and contraction. But they are rarely resolved because the combatants belong to different civilizations that can never see eye-to-eye.
A corollary to this argument is that the West, because of self-absorption and arrogance, has failed to see how scary geopolitics has become. To Huntington, Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis, which says that Western economic and political values have triumphed, is bogus. It doesn't matter that some Muslim youths wear blue jeans and listen to rap music--they probably still despise the U.S. He also mocks what he calls "Davos culture," a reference to the Swiss resort where every year, top government, financial, and academic leaders from dozens of countries convene to think great thoughts. With its cultural uniformity and consensus on economics, Davos creates the illusion that the world is much more Western-influenced than it is, says Huntington. Instead, apart from a tiny elite, most of the world ignores or hates the West.
Huntington fleshes out his thesis with some ominous scenarios. In one, he predicts the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Islamic countries, with technological assistance from China. The result could be a Sino-Islamic alliance against the West.
In a scenario that resembles a round of the board game Risk, Huntington pursues this idea. He imagines an assertive China going to war in 2010 with Vietnam over oil reserves. Vietnam drags the U.S. in on its side. Hindu India profits from the confusion to try a knockout blow against Islamic Pakistan, but China comes to Pakistan's aid. At the end of this hypothetical war, Algeria has nuked southern France, and the Russians are massing for an attack across the Great Wall and onto Beijing.
It's so terrifying that it's easy to miss some of the holes in the book. For one thing, you can argue that internecine strife within civilizations is the real danger. Many scholars think the two World Wars started essentially as civil wars inside European civilization. Likewise, the Chinese civil war that ended in 1949 produced mass carnage. So did that intra-Muslim conflict, the decade-long Iran-Iraq war.
Another problem is Huntington's dismissal of business as a force of change. He scorns the idea that the availability of Big Macs in China will turn that country into a Western bastion. It's certainly a valid objection. But what McDonald's Corp. symbolizes--the intrusion of the market economy and management discipline, the creation of wealth and rise of consumption--is in fact what is changing life in East Asia. That doesn't mean the Chinese will end up just like us, but they are getting enmeshed in a global effort to create markets. As for those hostile Muslim youths in blue jeans, parts of Islam are more integrated with the market economy than is generally realized. Turkey, for example, has not repudiated its major ties to European manufacturers, despite the successes of fundamentalist politicians.
Finally, two ideas of Huntington's disturb me. One is that the West had better wise up and stop being so high-and-mighty. Fine, but let's not crawl away from some of the best ideas we have to export, among them freedom of the press and religion, the right to protest, and equality between men and women.
Another theme that emerges is Us vs. Them--"them" being all civilizations outside the West. At times I thought I heard Huntington whispering: "Watch out--They have guns, and They are out to get you." Of course, it's wise to keep an eye out for enemies. But it's vital to watch for friends, too. The great civilizations, after all, have not destroyed each other yet and have often peacefully exchanged ideas and goods. Perhaps Huntington should next examine how civilizations cooperate when they're not clashing.