Huntington’s essay “The Clash of Civilizations” written in 1993 describes a world where the fundamental source of conflict will be cultural with religion being the primary criteria defining civilizations. Huntington begins his paper by dismissing the possibility of conflict occurring for ideological or economic reasons (Huntington, Summer 1993). His thesis has been described as “theoretically simple, naturally subjective, and inherently problematic”. (Flynn-Piercy, 2011) This reminds me of reading military publications and seeing a picture of an Armor Fighting Vehicle or self-propelled Field Artillery piece referred to as a tank. The generalization is adequate for someone who does not understand the fundamental distinctions and their implication to forces on the battlefield; mistaking a vehicle not a tank for a tank is potentially lethal and can cause resources to be misallocated. Similarly by over generalizing and accepting Huntington’s theory based on his significant credentials and influence, without critical analysis, can lead to a policy completely unprepared for the reality of the true nature of the international environment and the potential for conflict.
Huntington’s credentials are impressive. They include graduating with distinction from Yale at age 18, a Masters from the University of Chicago, a Harvard Ph.D., Harvard University and Columbia University Professorships, Deputy Director of The Institute for War and Peace Studies, and founder of the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal. He was a consultant to the US Department of State in 1968 and provided strategic guidance on the conduct of the Viet Nam War. He was the White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council during 1977 and 1978 within the Carter administration. Huntington was very influential in US policy. (Wikipedia)
The international environment is a dynamic place. To better understand the threats we face one must critically examine new theories while re-examining current and past theories, placing them in context to what is currently happening and what is expected to occur. The best premise is one based on well-founded analysis supported by quantifiable data. Huntington’s response to criticism of his theory “can be best summed up by his statement: ‘got a better idea?’” (Fox, 2002) In the process of developing these “better ideas” it is appropriate to examine some of the faults with Huntington’s own analysis. Some have argued against Huntington’s premise in a similar qualitative fashion while others have argued through quantitative statistical analysis.
Huntington asserts that future conflicts will be cultural and not conducted by nation states (Huntington, Summer 1993). He goes on to describe a civilization as the highest cultural entity. He divides them into major worldwide civilizations; Western, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin America, and possibly African (Huntington, Summer 1993). Western Civilization is described as having two major variants; European and North American. Islam also has subdivisions consisting of Arab, Turkic, and Malayan (Huntington, Summer 1993). This categorization of civilizations is one of the many reasons Huntington is criticized. Dr. Guidere argues that his concept is too vague. It fails to account for the political, ideological, or religious divergences within a civilization. (Guidere, 2006) As James Graham notes “Huntington’s theory ignores culture’s inclination to be fast changing and multi-dimensional. Most Western states are now multi or bi-cultural and becoming more so.” (Graham, 2004) Huntington fails to fully develop the concept of a civilization, focusing on their differences, and broadly characterizes them in order to fit his perspective thus supporting his thesis.
Huntington lists differences among civilizations with the most important distinction being religion. Huntington fails to identify the conflict within religions;...
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