In mid-1993, Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington published an article in Foreign Affairs that sparked more debate than anything the magazine had published in the previous 45 years. Huntington argued that with the Cold War's end, the ideological divisions among nations had been replaced by divisions of historical cultures and civilizations. While much of the world still was locked in Cold War thinking, Huntington was predicting that "the fault lines between [these] civilizations will be the battle lines of the future." Three years later, world events are bearing him out. "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," Huntington's new book, expands this argument and warns of the growing challenge to Western dominance by other cultures.
Q. What are these civilizations, and does their resurgence mean war or peace?
A. Wherever we look, people with common cultures are moving together, while people with different cultures are moving apart and in some cases fighting each other. Replacing the three big blocs of the Cold War -- the free world, the Communist bloc and the Third World -- will be the world's major civilizations. These are the West; the Orthodox Christian world, with Russia as its major state; the Sinic, with China as its core state; Japan, which is a civilization unto itself; Hindi civilization, with India as the core state; Islam, with no core state; Latin America, and Africa.
Q. Everywhere, we find McDonald's, Coke, MTV, jeans. American culture bestrides the world. How can we talk about diverse cultures when one seems so dominant?
A. I don't think one can or should identify American culture or Western culture with fatty foods and fizzy drinks and faded pants. Western culture is represented by the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac. I think it will take a long while before basic institutions and concepts of Western culture really take root in other cultures. By these I mean the rule of law, separation of church and state, the rights of the individual, pluralism and other characteristics that developed 1,000 years ago in the West.
Q. We tend to judge the rest of the world by these characteristics, though, and insist that Russia or China adopt representative democracy. Is this arrogant and wrong?
A. No. I think we should promote these beliefs. But we have to recognize the obstacles against Russia, for instance, incorporating Western practices and institutions. If these do appear in Russia, the results will be very different from what we have in the West. Russia may evolve into some form of democracy, but it will be a very Russian form of democracy.
Q. You're saying that we must try to see other civilizations -- Russia, China, Japan -- in their own terms?
A. We can keep trying to promote human rights in countries like China, but we must recognize that our leverage on China is limited. China can tell us to buzz off. Already, if we pressure the Chinese on human rights, the Chinese reaction is, "Well, we're probably going to have to rethink that contract with Boeing and shift it to Airbus." They're playing the United States off against Western Europe.
Q. Because we and the Western Europeans share the same civilization, should stronger ties with them -- a free trade area, for example -- be our priority?
A. Our interests and values create great commonalities with Western Europe and we should strengthen the institutional ties with it. In the security area, we have NATO. Developing a North Atlantic free trade area would be highly desirable. The first Clinton administration did not handle our relations with Europe very well. I hope and expect that with Madeleine Albright as secretary of state, things will go much better.
Q. Is war between civilizations inevitable?
A. There are two types of violent conflict. One is fault-line wars, between people of different civilizations, which are going on in many places today -- in the former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, between Russians and Chechens, in the subcontinent, in the Middle East. These are local conflicts, and largely restricted to fighting between Muslims and non-Muslims. The great danger is that these conflicts could escalate and involve other countries.
The bigger danger would be a war between the core states of the major civilizations. This is highly improbable but not impossible. The rise of new powers can lead to so-called hegemonic wars, like the two world wars in this century as the result of the rise of Germany as the central power in Europe. What is the possibility of an intercivilizational war? The principal danger occurs from the rise of China. If its growth continues, China will want to resume its traditional role as the dominant power in East Asia. American policy has always opposed any power attempting to dominate either Europe or East Asia; in this century, we fought two world wars and a Cold War to prevent this. Now, will the United States fight a war to prevent Chinese dominance in East Asia? This may well be the central issue in American foreign policy in the next decade or two.
Q. A happier solution would be what you call a cold peace. What does that mean?
A. Cold peace doesn't sound all that bad to me, because it implies peace and the coexistence of two societies that are not close friends but who nonetheless carry on diplomatic and economic relations with each other, but seem to be somewhat cautious and skeptical.
Q. That's a long way from one world, isn't it?
A. Yes, indeed. We have to recognize that the emerging world is a multipolar, multicivilizational world.
This article first appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Pub Date: 5/18/97