Dr. Susmit Kumar

Samuel P. Huntington proposed his theory in the 1993 Foreign Affairs article “A Clash of Civilizations?” He also published a book in 1996 called The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order based on the article. According to him, the future fault line will center around culture and religion. His theory of the clash of civilizations predicts alignments and wars among various civilizations—Western, Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, Orthodox/Russian, Hindu, African, and Latin. The term “clash of civilizations” was first used by Bernard Lewis in an article in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly titled “The Roots of Muslim Rage.”

According to Huntington,

The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future. [1]

One of his hypotheses predicts a world war among the world’s major civilizations in 2020. According to this hypothesis, American troops will have left Korea, which will lead to Korean reunification and a reduced presence for American troops in Japan. Taiwan and mainland China will reach an accommodation in which Taiwan continues to have most of its de facto independence but explicitly acknowledges Beijing’s suzerainty, and with China’s sponsorship be admitted to the United Nations on the model of Ukraine and Belorussia in 1946. China will attack Vietnam over the oil in the South China Sea and to avenge its humiliation in 1979. Because American companies are involved in the development of these oil fields on behalf of Vietnam, the U.S. will send one of its few remaining carrier task forces to the South China Sea following Vietnam’s appeal for help and despite China’s warning to the U.S., Japan, and others to stay out of the conflict. In response, China launches a military strike against the American task force. Negotiations for a cease-fire led by the U.N. secretary general and the Japanese prime minister fail, resulting in Japanese neutrality and its refusal to allow the U.S. to use its bases for action against China; the U.S. will use these bases despite the Japanese quarantine. The Chinese navy and air force, operating from both the mainland and Taiwan, will inflict serious damage on American ships and facilities in East Asia. China will occupy a major portion of Vietnam, including Hanoi.

According to Huntington’s hypothesis, the United States will refrain from escalating this war because domestic public opinion will regard it as a war for American hegemony in Southeast Asia or control of the South China Sea. In the meantime, after watching China engage in a war in East Asia, India will attack Pakistan, as a result of which Iran will join the conflict on Pakistan’s side. At the same time, China’s initial successes against the United States will stimulate major anti-Western movements in Muslim societies, and pro-Western regimes in Arab nations and Turkey will be ousted by the Muslim youth bulge (males between the ages of 16 and 30). The surge of anti-Westernism encouraged by Western weakness will lead to a massive Arab attack on Israel, which the much-reduced U.S. Sixth Fleet will be unable to stop.

Because of Chinese military successes, Japan will change its position from neutral to pro-Chinese and occupy American bases in Japan, causing the U.S. to evacuate its troops from those bases. The United States will declare a blockade on Japan, and American and Japanese ships will engage in sporadic duels in the Western Pacific. At the start of the conflict, China will offer a mutual security pact to Russia (vaguely reminiscent of the Hitler-Stalin pact), which Russia declines. Russia will take an anti-China stance because of its fear of Chinese dominance of East Asia, and reinforce its troops in Siberia, resulting in a revolt by the numerous Chinese settlers there, bringing Chinese troops into the conflict.  China will occupy Vladivostok, the Amur River valley, and other key parts of eastern Siberia. As fighting spreads between Russian and Chinese troops in central Siberia, uprisings occurs in Mongolia, which China had earlier placed under a “protectorate.”

Huntington’s hypothetical hostilities thus far have been limited to East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In order to expand them into the conflagration of a world war, he further hypothesizes that China and Iran will secretly deploy intermediate-range, nuclear-capable missiles in Bosnia and Algeria in order to intimidate America’s European allies from joining the U.S. This has the opposite effect, however, because before NATO can mobilize, Serbia, wishing to reclaim its historic role as the defender of Christianity against the Turks, invades Bosnia. Croatia joins in, and the two countries occupy and partition Bosnia, capture the missiles, and proceed with efforts to complete the ethnic cleansing they had been forced to stop in the 1990s. Albania and Turkey then attempt to help the Bosnians, and Greece and Bulgaria invade Turkey. Meanwhile, a missile with a nuclear warhead, launched from Algeria, explodes outside Marseilles, and NATO retaliates with devastating air attacks on North African targets.

Huntington’s hypothesis postulates a global conflict between two alliances—the U.S., Europe, Russia, and India on one side, and China, Japan, and most of Islam on the other. Because both sides have major nuclear capabilities and these are brought into play, both sides could be substantially destroyed; but if mutual deterrence is effective, mutual exhaustion might lead to a negotiated armistice. The West may be able to defeat China by supporting insurrections against Chinese rule by Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians, and by deploying Western and Russian forces eastward into Siberia for a final assault on Beijing, Manchuria, and the Han heartland. According to Huntington, because the economic, demographic, and military power of the major participants in the war will decline dramatically as a result of the conflict, the center of world politics will move south to nations that avoid it, such as the Latin American nations, New Zealand, Mynamar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India also if it escapes major devastation despite its participation.

The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and subsequent U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have led political scientists to believe in Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilizations. As discussed in chapter 5, it was because of economic greed (for oil) and the Israel lobby that the U.S. attacked Iraq in 2003, however, not because of civilizational fault lines. Moreover, the world has not witnessed any significant increase in conflict along civilizational fault lines for the last century. It is economic greed more than all other factors that creates and maintains fault lines among nations and peoples and that drives wars.

In addition, Huntington’s civilizations are only partly unified in nature, especially Islam. In Islam, Shiites and Sunnis fight bitterly with each other, and for this reason, Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by Sunnis, is collaborating with its bitter enemy, Israel, to fight Shiite Iran. Although Muslims in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, North Africa, and the rest of the Arab world are Sunnis, they have different viewpoints amongst themselves, and several of them have been struggling with secessionist movements and other internal conflicts for decades: for example, the Kurds in Turkey, the Baluchs and Pashtuns in Pakistan, and the Aceh in Indonesia. These factors make a unified Islam, at least, next to impossible.

Finally, as we saw during the Cold War and in particular in the Nixon government’s theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (“MAD”) vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, a prolonged conventional war is unlikely to occur between two countries that have sufficient nuclear bombs and missiles to destroy each other. Therefore, Huntington’s prediction of a bloody, cataclysmic clash between the Sinic and Western civilizations is not going to happen.

[1] Huntington, Samuel P., “A Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993.

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