Huntington – Clash of Civilizations

In his famous article Clash of Civilizations?, which was published in the summer of 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, Huntington proclaims that with the end of the Cold War, a new basis of division has emerged in the world; the ideological conflicts of the past will be replaced by inter-cultural conflicts involving civilizations. Huntington identifies seven or eight major, contemporary civilizations: the Western, Latin American and Orthodox (these two possibly being derivations of Western civilization but with an own cultural identity), Islamic, Sinic, Hindu and Japanese, with the possibility of an African civilization completing the list. Furthermore, the conflict is unavoidable and will take place across civilizational borders or fault-lines.

The clash will almost inevitably affect Australia as well, since it is part of Western civilization – as shown in 2.1 – and due to the intensity of the clash Western vs. Islamic civilizations, Australia could face challenges due to its Muslim neighbours. Furthermore, Australia is also affected, not only by such fault-line conflicts, but also by the possibility of a loss of cultural identity due to its attempts to integrate in economic regional institutions such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Another example for the special case that Australia offers is the aspect of the torn countries. These are nations that have their own homogeneous culture and can’t be affiliated to a civilization as understood by Huntington, which would leave Australia as an independent entity.

To what extent Huntington is right with his affirmations, and if they can really steer the system of modern international politics, will be discussed by applying his thoughts to Australia as a showcase scenario. For a better understanding of the underlying problems, we will firstly depict Huntington’s statements and later apply his thoughts to the situation of Australia in the international system. By doing so, we will prove Huntington’s paradigm wrong in various ways.

2. What are Civilizations and why will they clash

For Huntington the grouping of countries into the first, second or third world is no longer of importance. The only thing that matters is their cultural and ethnic, in short, civilizational allegiance. But what are civilizations, in which ways do they differ from one another and why will they clash?

2.1 Civilizations, Culture and Religion
Culture is the highest level of identity for Huntington, it is the broadest level of identification an individual can have with a collective (i.e. ethnic or religious groups). It is what all Arabs or Hindus have in common and at the same time, differentiates them from Westerners or Africans. It is, in a sense, the smallest common noun in a group itself defined by culture. And this cultural entity is what takes the form of a civilization. The criteria by which he differs civilizations from one another are origin, religion, language, history, values, customs and traditions, institutions. According to this, Huntington divides the world into eight civilizations: the Western, Latin American, Orthodox, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Japanese and African. Five of these have their respective core state (leading country) or states: for Western civilization it is the European Union (EU) and the United States; for the Orthodox civilization it is Russia; for the Sinic civilization, China; for the Hindu civilization, India; and for the Japanese civilization, Japan. There is no such core state for the Islamic civilization (being so widespread Huntington prefers to point out three subdivisions: the Arabic, Turkish and Malaysian ), nor for Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

The division of countries into civilizations seems random since Greece is not part of Western civilization but of the Slavic-orthodox, even though it is a member of the European Union and NATO and Western civilization is based on the classic-Greek civilization. Furthermore, even though they both form part of the Islamic civilization, there is little in common between Tunisia and Indonesia apart from religion. Thus, the central aspect in Huntington’s differentiation between civilizations is of religious nature even if he prefers to call it cultural. In der modernen Welt ist Religion eine zentrale, vielleicht sogar die zentrale Kraft, welche die Menschen motiviert und mobilisiert.“ “(…)Menschen kämpfen und sterben für ihren Glauben.“ To the six major civilizations Huntington has depicted, we can assign one world religion or subordinate branch (the catholic/protestant and the orthodox are all Christians) to each – Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam – or to put it in his own words: ”…die grossen Religionen sind (…) in einem sehr realen Sinn die Grundlagen, auf denen die grossen Zivilisationen ruhen.“

2.2 Why Civilizations will Clash
Huntington exposes six reasons why it will come to a clash between civilizations.

First, the differences between civilizations are basic. They are “the product of centuries“ and „far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes“ Since man is born into them, they play a substantial part in the kind of education received. This implies that differing views in subjects such as God and man or family values of a socio-political kind will inevitably lead to conflict.

Second, the increasing interactions between civilizations make the differences and commonalities between them clearer, sharpening predilections or prejudices and thus intensifying cultural consciousness.

Third, the global economic modernization estranges people from their traditional identities, weakening the nation state as source of identity and fostering the revival of religion and religious movements. “Global has no roots and people want roots.“ Only through globalization do people notice their cultural belonging.

Fourth, the West, with its dominating role in the international stage, can either motivate to join or create the opposite ”back to the roots“ phenomenon. Other civilizations won’t let their values be felt as inferior to those of the West, and they ”increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.”

Fifth, the impossibility to change cultural differences makes it very difficult to overcome them since ”they are less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones“. So the question asked by Huntington is ”what are you?“, since ”a person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim. “ Again, the religious belief is the biggest defining element when finding out the alignment of the individual.

Finally, the increase in economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness and at the same time can only succeed based on a common culture. NAFTA (Mexico became member in 1996), ASEAN or Mercosur serve as examples, as do the difficulties Japan faces in creating a similar economic institution.

2.3 The Conflicts along the Faultlines and the Kin-country Syndrome

The faultlines are the borders between civilizations, which is where the cultural battles will take place. It seems that Western and Islamic civilizations have been in conflict for the past thirteen-hundred years culminating in the Iraqi and Yugoslavian wars, ”(t)his centuries old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.” The next idea worthy of comment is the kin-country syndrome which holds for a self-evident truth, that the rallying of allies is easiest and almost exclusive to countries of the same civilization

2.4 The West versus the Rest

The West dominates every aspect of international relations, be it of political, security or economic kind since it plays the leading and founding role in the major international institutions (i.e. U.N., IMF, WTO…). For instance, it has three seats out of five in the U.N. Security Council and “(t)hrough the IMF the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate.” Huntington sees the actions taken by the West as assuring and maintaining of Western predominance in the globe, which he finds necessary. But at the same time, other states, like China, will not accept a world in which its values are regarded as inferior to those of the West and will not accept global socio-economic institutions which limit its possibilities. “The values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide” and trying to affirm or impose them on an international institution or maybe even on another culture can cause misunderstandings and will lead to a re-indigenization or reaffirmation of traditional values. Huntington sees three possible reactions to Western hegemony from other states.

The first option is to follow a course of isolation from the West and western policies as North Korea does. Unluckily though, this can only be achieved through massive public-control by the state so as to avoid the cultural Westoxication of the nation in question. This is not only costly but also proves to be a Herculean task, since ranging from the internet to the purchase of the simplest necessity, the West is almost always involved and present (for example the free market, freedom of speech, etc…).

The second possibility is “band-wagoning“ which means to try and join a country on the rise instead of looking for the classical balance of power. It involves accepting the leading country’s values and institutions. Turkey would be a good example since it is trying to join the EU. It is also what Huntington denominates a torn country, which will be explained in the following chapter.

The third and last possibility is for a country or group of them to try and build a counter-balance to the West. To work though, they need a more or less equal military capacity as well as economic power, and while cooperating with each other (either intra- or inter-civilizational) to “[preserve] indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.“ So Huntington acknowledges that the existing structure of international institutions is indeed a product of Western hegemony and reflects Western values.

Only by adopting a policy of coexistence and recognizing the legitimacy of the values the other civilizations hold as sacred, can a violent conflict between civilizations be avoided.

2.5 The Torn Countries

A torn country has a homogenial culture (i.e. customs, history, religion, etc.) Normally its history, culture and traditions are mostly non-Western but their leaders, according to Huntington , usually seek a bandwagoning strategy to join the West but they also have to heed the wishes of the antagonistic, traditionalist forces. For a torn country to be accepted into a new civilization, there are three requirements it must meet:

First, the intellectual elite of the country must be willing to and support the change, since they are the ones to make the future changes.

Second, the citizens of the country must be willing to adopt their new identity as well, since they are the bearers of the burden.

Third, the civilization the country in question wants to join must be willing “to embrace the convert”.

3. Making the Case for Australia

3.1 Australias Place in the World

According to Huntington’s own explanation, Australia is part of Western civilization. About 95% of Australians are of European descent (mostly British and Irish), with a minority of its population being of Asian (1,5%) or indigenous (2.2%) descent. Around 70% of its population has Christian beliefs, and its form of government is a Parliamentary Monarchy (i. e. Democratic form of government); which undoubtedly situates Australia in the midst of western countries.

3.2 Conflicts and Faultlines

Now that the question of Australia’s civilizational affiliation is cleared, the question of intercultural conflicts arises. First, the most obvious faultline that affects Australia emerges from the border with Indonesia, a Islamic country.

Since the 1970’s the greatest priority of Australian foreign policy had been to have good diplomatic ties with Indonesia. So it came, that PM’s Whitlam, Hawke and Keating kept supporting Indonesia in a show of Chamberlainesque appeasement, even after they had invaded East-Timor (a predominantly Catholic country) in 1975 . When John Howard was elected in 1996, he immediately sent peacekeeping forces into East Timor and advocated Australia’s support for their independence. The role of this support of an essentially Christian country against a Muslim nation was detrimental to Australia’s reputation with other Muslim countries. One could also argue, that the political cost of mobilization to help East Timor was lower, since East Timor is also a Christian country. This would prove Huntington’s idea of the kin-country syndrome. This is supported as well by various other decisions made on foreign policy. John Howard’s foreign policy initiatives during his administration where mainly directed at strengthening the link between Australia and the USA, culminating in a belligerent engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq . Clearly a political course of bandwagoning with the stronger power. Thus, the combination of supporting the US and the Timorese against the Muslim World has had detrimental effects on Australia’s relationship with Middle Eastern countries and some Asian countries, which has only been improved through the generous relief given to the victims of the Tsunami of 2004.

3.3 Australia, a Torn Country?

Australia has undertaken important steps towards economic integration in the South-East Pacific region. It has joined APEC and shown true commitment to its cause by enlarging its annual budget allowance for APEC in 2007 up to AU14.5$

According to Huntington, this shows that Australian leaders are aiming at making a torn country in reverse out of Australia. This means, that they seek to defect from western civilization and to redefine themselves as an Asian country. According to Huntington, Australian leaders argued that their countries future lay within the dynamic economies of East Asia. Yet as Huntington poses, close economic cooperation normally requires a cultural base (like in the EU, Mercosur or NAFTA). Taking the thought even further, even if the Australian elites where willing to go that far, the Australian population would have to give their consent (a very improbable thing to happen) and the new hosting Civilization would have to accept the newcomer (Australia), which is about as improbable . As of now, not a single country has succesfully realigned itself within a new civilizational community, and the chances of it happening look rather bleak.

To support the idea of the problematic realignment – in terms of financial interests – it suffices to check the proposals for an All- Asian Free Trade Zone presented by Malaysia in 1990 called the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) or East Asia Economic Group (EAEG), which encompassed member states of ASEAN The initiative was presented due to the dissatisfaction of joining ASEAN (an Asian-states-only institution) with APEC (which has member states from the western civilization as well- i.e. USA, Australia) and was aimed at leaving out any western powers. In the end little was done to materialize any final agreements on implementation of EAEC . Still, this serves as an example to clarify to what extent Australia would have faced difficulties in trying to align itself in a new Civilization. The core countries would have left them out.

4. Conclusion

All in all, Huntington presents his thoughts clearly and finds some strong arguments to back his different thesis. After having applied parts of his work to Australia the credit one must give him seems to rise. Yet one should beware taking his work as the new paradigm for international relations since some of his ideas are still unproven. In Australia’s case, economic cooperation with its neighbours can ensure a rise in the living standards of the nations involved, which in itself has the gracious side effect of improving conditions for democracies to foster. According to the modernization theory, richer populations usually expect more freedom from their governing elite, which in the end usually results in a turn towards a more democratic environment. The better news is that democracies have the tendency to sort problems with other democratic countries in non-violent ways, making a peaceful coexistence easier. That way, Australia could very well forfeit belligerent stands on its diverse neighbours along its faultlines, and instead focus on economic development and free trade. The rise in the budget made for APEC shows that it is willing to invest in means of fighting corruption and empowering free trade in its neighbouring countries which according to Huntington’s Hobbesian view of international relations would seem imposible.

List of Works Cited

– “Australia.” Der Fischer Weltalmanach: 2006. Frankfurt a. M. 2006

– Huntington, Samuel P.: Kampf der Kulturen, Die Neugestaltung der Weltpolitik im 21. Jahrhundert. München: 1996

– Huntington, Samuel P.: “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Volume 72 Nr.3, Summer 1993

– Fickling, David: “Australia to send troops to Afghanistan” The Guardian Wednsday July 13, 2005

– Hopkins, Andrea: “Australia let Indonesia invade East Timor in 1975” The Guardian Wednesday September 13, 2000

– Information on ASEAN’s decision regarding EAEC, in:

– Lubbers, R.F.M: “A response to Samuel Huntington.” September 1997. December 20th 2007

– “Australia Increases Contribution to APEC.” News Release Issued by the 19th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting Sydney: September 6, 2007

– REUTERS: “’Our alliance with the US remains pivotal’” The Guardian, Saturday October 9 2004

– Rushdie, Salman: “Yes, this is about Islam.” New York Times, November 2, 2001, January 24, 2008

– Triandis, Harry C.: “Cross-Cultural Studies of Individualism and Collectivism. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation.” New York Times, Dec. 25, 1990

– “Und dann die Atombombe. Gespräch mit Professor Samuel Huntington” Der Spiegel, Nr. 48, 25.11.1996