This is the full article from 1999.


It is now clear that the Cold War paradigm of global politics — a simplistic demarcation between liberal democracy in the «West» and communism in the «East», what historians of strategy often referred to as a «bipolar world» (1) — came to an end in Berlin on 9th November 1989 (2). Since then, many have argued that the demolition of the Berlin Wall symbolised the resolution of a century of conflict that had opened with the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 (3). But this, resolution generated a fresh problem, or even a kind of vacuum: for what new threat paradigm could serve to interpret global politics in the new unipolar or multipolar world and justify expenditure on weapons now that the old «enemy» had suddenly evaporated before our eyes? 

One of the most interesting approaches to this problem lies in what Samuel Huntington labelled in a celebrated Foreign Affairs article «the cultural reconfiguration of global politics» (4). Huntington's basic hypothesis is that in future the fundamental source of conflict will no longer be ideological or economic but cultural; no longer a struggle between East and West, but conflicts between the West, the World of Islam and other cultural or religious blocs. In even simpler terms, given a world in which cultural identity supercedes ideology, the question preceding combat will no longer be «which side are you on?» but «what are you?». 

These conflicts and questions, Huntington argued, occur at two levels: the micro-level, where «adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory; and the macro-level, where «states from different civilizations compete for relativemilitary and economic power», struggle to control global institutions and promote political and religious values (5). In the coming century Western powers will have to make a greater effort to comprehend the religious and philosophical assumptions underlying different «civilizations», and seek to understandhow their members perceive themselves and their own interests

The reaction to this article was immediate and often scathing, especially concerning the examples used, and even as Huntington began to expand his hypothesis to book length Foreign Affairs published a series of considered ripostes. 

Fouad Ajami wondered how such an eminent political scientist as Huntington should cast aside the concept of the nation state quite casually and substitute the vaguer concept of «civilization» — especially, he argued, when at this stage of history even the most remote civilizations have been «made and remad» by the West (6). In the present absence of utopian ideals and newly evolving societies based on principle or belief, he went on, it would appear to be the case that members of the most remote societies want Sony rather than anything as abstract as civilizational models. Or, we might add, Coke and McDonald's: beyond its more obvious economic applications, the consumption of Coca Cola has been used by Freedom House to measure degrees of political freedom on a seven-point scale (7), while in a recent article in the Italian press, it was argued coherently that McDonald's refusal to provide a franchise for InterForst to make Palestinian Macs until 2001 was as good a prediction of the risks of conflict in the territories conceded to Arafat as any other (8). 

In another riposte, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick questioned Huntington's list of seven or eight civilizations, asking, for example, in what sense a continent largely settled by Europeans might be said to have generated a «Latin American Civilization», and what it means to speak of a «Confucian Civilization» in today's world (9). She provides a series of counter-example to the Huntington hypothesis, but also stresses the fact that Western science, technology and freed trade have created a much stronger unifying momentum than the differences between civilizations (10).

Robert L. Bartley presented a broader rebuttal, finding fault with the entire project of identifying cultural clashes and civilizations, and querying whether the greatest potential for conflict might not lie within rather than between them. He perceives the almost worldwide adoption of western values — often on the instigation of political leaders or a middle class which has studied or at least sojourned in the West — as an inevitable consequence of economic development. (11) His is a vision of a world civilization based upon instant information and economic interdependence, bound together with the essential human value of individual freedom. 

Thus a variety of ripostes were made, and its is difficult to disagree with Fouad, Kirkpatrick and Bartley on the many points of detail which they bring to bear on the basic hypothesis concerning «civilizational clash». Indeed, at what Huntington himself defines the «macro-level» his hypothesis is difficult to sustain. For the most obvious example of a recent conflict perceived as having serious implications for world order, the Gulf War of 1991, was a Muslim-Muslim conflict of the intra-civilizational kind that Bartley postulates. The world powers entered into that arena for reasons that had little to do with conflict between «Western Civilization». and «Islamic Civilization» and more to do with the business of oil.

Yet evolving politics and real-life events would appear to validate Huntington's argument — at least in a reduced and modified form. For instance, in a newly reconsidered «threat paradigm» presented to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1997, it is striking how it is the conflicts of values, interests and behaviour which define a potential threat. Potential competitors and adversaries may be: 

— Partners and allies, who generally share US values and interests, may be military allies but often produce weapons and technologies enhancing the capabilities of enemies; 

— Non-compliant competitors who do not conform to our values and interests, but are not military adversaries, 

— Renegade adversaries, who engage in unacceptable behavior frequently involving military force and violence. (12).

Such cultural dimensions are far from the concept of and ideological «other» set up as a permanent military threat - as indeed theetymology of renegade as an apostate from any form of religious faith, but especially a Christian who becomes a Moslem makes interestingly poignant (13). A similar cultural dimension emerged again in an interview given by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in January 1998, when she asserted that «new economic groupings are the 21st century's military alliances» (14). In this context the adjective «economic» evidently refers to such groupings as the EU, NAFTA, Mercosur and ASEAN, and is thus synonymous with «cultural» — though equally evidently not with Huntington's sense of civilizational». 

There is, therefore, I should like to contend, a case to be made for accepting Huntington's hypothesis for conflict as the «micro-level». For while it is true that the present concept of global politics presupposes the existence of some form of global order and world community, as Bartley would have us believe, local truth is sometimes much more important. 

In the past few years it has become commonplace to speak of a «global marketplace» and some form of «world community» (15); indeed, the concept has been institutionalised by the successive rounds of GATT, culminating in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round which transformed a provisional multilateral trading system into the permanent World Trade Organisation (16). The trend towards the de-territorialized nation state and enlarged transnational markets such as the EU also moves in the same direction. This supposedly global market is dominated by forms of international business English — especially in the telecommunications and information technology industries which render it feasible (17). There is clearly an English-language corporate world which can be identified in airlines, hotels and forms of food and beverage of global reach; there is also clearly an entertainment world nourished by Hollywood, and an information world driven by newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, magazines such as Time, and television stations such as CNN. Moreover, there is the quintessential English language medium of the World Wide Web, where around 85% of the content is in English and 54% of the users of this «world medium» are American (18). It is to these parallel US-driven worlds that Buzan and Segal refer to when they write of a «new Hellenism» (19). 

And yet, as experts in marketing have discovered to their cost in the past, at the end of every global chain there must necessarily be a local link. Suddenly, the language breaks from business English through forms of business-pidgin to local language or dialect, and the global product fails to tally with local exigencies. This is the weak link in all global business, and is precisely the point at which ambitious global alliances such as those of the telecommunications industry (Concert, Global One and Unisource/World Partners) have fallen flat (20). It is the point at which «culture» impacts on the reach of globalization, the interface where conflicting values meet — sometimes agreeing on a common protocol which allows success, and sometimes not. 

I believe that if we confine the Huntington hypothesis to this micro-level of the cultural interface it can both help us to understand the historical reasons of present tension and be used to predict future areas of conflict. To illustrate this, I should like to look at two examples of cultural fault-lines rather more precise than Huntington's generic «civilizational» division between Western Christianity circa 1500 and the world of Orthodox Christianity and Islam: one of these fault-lines is in Europe, and the other in the Middle East. 

The first European example, what I describe as the «Garigliano Fault», runs across Italy near the River Garigliano between Rome and Naples; the second, the «Sarajevo Fault», follows a south-north line from Dubrovnik through Mostar and Sarajevo to Budapest. These defining fault-lines each represent an area of friction between cultures which has generated conflict over the centuries. Their history is as much characterised by a list of battles as by the cultures which came into conflict: is it no more than a coincidence that a battle which had little to do with local conflict such as that at Montecassino in 1944 should take place little more than a cannon-shot from the site of the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321BC between the Roman and Samnite armies, on the frontier zone of the Byzantine Empire, the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, and near the Muslim raiding community on the Garigliano, and also on a line identified by Desmond Morris as a crucial demarcation between the major categories frontiers, and the very European gesture? (21) I believe that each of these events andpresence of so many historical conflicts in a fairly small area, was generated by the underlying cultural fault-line. Something vital, and local, happens there. It is a real frontier reflecting deep and specific cultural values, not simply an abstract line drawn by pioneers or colonial administrators. That it should be the key area of the present-day North-South divide in Italian economics and politics indicates that it might well be the scene of future conflict - and therefore worth attempting to understand. 

The deep structural conflicts along the Sarajevo Fault have been written up so frequently in the past few years that it barely needs re-evocation - except perhaps to assert how obvious the possibility of conflict was with the break-up of Yugoslavia. For the forces behind the momentum of Serbian expansionism, Croatian nationalism and Slovenian secessionism were simmering there for all to see; the exploitation of cultural and religious divides, and consequent purges, were perfectly predictable (22). It seems to me an excellent example of failing to study and understand the deep cultural conflicts of the past, for the simmering tension was tangible to anyone who travelled through the fault-line area. In the 1970s, on a car journey from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo, this distinction was obvious: straying just a few miles east or a few miles west of a rough north-south line, language, clothes, attitudes towards visitors, religious faith and architecture could be strikingly different; driving through the forests from Dubrovnik to what was then called Titograd provided an even more striking contrast between cultures - something which in the closely melded heart of Europe was - and is - harder to find. 

In a similar way, it is easy to draw up cultural fault-lines for the Middle East: for example, the «Ismalli/Druze fault-line» running from Egypt to Lebanon, the «Shi'a/Sunna fault-line» running along the Persian Gulf from Iraq to Oman, and what we may label the «Red Sea fault-line». Together, these faults define a highly volatile area which contains about 8% of the world's population but has since 1945 accounted for some 25% of armed conflict in the world. 

Historically, the first of these fault-lines has generated most conflict, from the medieval Mamelukes and Ismai’lis to the tribulations of modem Beirut; an alternative name for pan of its length might be the «Palestinian Fault-line». In the same way, the 1991 Gulf War began at the northern end of the Shi'a/Sunna fault-line, and it is by no means impossible that the present stability of Oman at the southern end of this fault-line should be threatened in the event of the end of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said's twenty-eight-year reign - given both the high number of frustrated immigrant workers and the presence of a historically turbulent Ibadhi majority (around 75% of the population). 

Indeed, the problem - and fascinating possibility - is to identify the precise interface at which future cultural conflict might occur. 

For in my personal experience fanaticism is never homogeneous. During the so-called revolution in Iran, for example, I was travelling through some of the most remote south-eastern provinces at the height of tension in early 1979 - when Western citizens were being air-lifted from Tehran. The variety of receptions accorded myself and my travelling companion in that nation painted with a single stroke by those who observed it from a distance (23) was in a sense more disconcerting than the danger. Travelling into Baluchistan, and then north along the old Anglo-American military supply road from Zahedan to Birjand - where Second World War milestones were then still visible -in one village we would be welcomed, asked for news, and treated as honoured guests; in the next we might be attacked by shovel-waving men battering the car-roof or turned away by gunfire. Again, the pressing need was to comprehend the local interface. This was culture diversity honed to an essentiality worthy of Occam. 

But it is the third of these fault-lines which harbours the most potentially dangerous conflicts. We have lately seen a series of conflicts in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia which witness the strength of under-lying cultural passion as race, religion and culture clash together with ferocity equal to that of the better-known situation in Bosnia. But just beyond lies an even greater threat as the situation in Africa's largest nation comes to a head: Sudan in particular must remain under special observation for many years, with its explosive mixture of 70% Sunni, 39% Arab, 5% Christian, and 25% various indigenous religions. If large-scale conflict deriving from cultural clashes can be predicted anywhere in the world today, then it must be in Sudan; it is also likely that the area around this fault-line could expand towards the South and East into Kenya and Tanzania - so that these countries warrant more attention and a better attempt at understanding them than is often the case. 

It is precisely to such heightened understanding based on deep cultural analysis, and. a consequent ability to foresee and possibly forestall conflict, that Huntington's hypothesis might lead us if we were to allow it full reign in this modified form. Given the impetus to instant action which present-day technology and information systems furnish any well-armed group, traditional strategies and negotiation techniques are placed under severe pressure. It becomes paramount to defuse potential conflict before it occurs — or at the very worst while it is beginning. If not, a relatively trivial affair such as Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait might rapidly escalate into conflict on a world scale; a rather superficial misreading of the real power of Ayatollah Khomeini in his Parisian exile in January 1979 — and of the seeds of revolt in the previous autumn — led to problems which have still not been resolved. Was it really impossible to foresee what happened in both these cases? I do not believe so. It seems to me that greater understanding at the level of the local cultural interface could have improved both understanding and reactions in these cases, and that greater efforts should be made to predict similar conflicts in the future. In this sense, at the micro-level, Huntington's hypothesis can teach us something useful. 



1. For example, Paul Kennedy, in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, New York: Random House, 1987, pp. 347-73. 

2. See Henry Kissinger, in Diplomacy, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994, especially the concluding pages of the chapter on 'The End of the Cold War'. pp. 799-803. 

3. For example, Robert L. Bartley, in his reply to Samuel Huntington, 'The Case for Optimism', The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate, New York: Foreign Affairs, 1996. 

4. Samuel P. Huntington, 'The Clash of Civilizations?', Foreign Affairs 72 (1993), 22.49. 

5. Huntington. op.cit. p. 29. 

6. Fouad Ajami, ‘The Summoning’, The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate,  New York, Foreign Affairs, 1996, 26-35.

7. The Economist, 20 December 1997, p.123.

8. Enrico Franceschinion ‘Peace and McDonalds’, La Repubblica,26-7-1991.

9. At this point, in fact, Huntington’s argument smacks of Toynbee’s seven civilizations still ‘alive’ from his total of 21.

10. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, ‘The Modernizing Imperative’, The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate,  New York, Foreign Affairs, 1996, 50-53.

11. Robert L. Bartley, ‘The Case for Opitmism’, The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate,  New York, Foreign Affairs, 1996, 41-5.

12. Lieut.-Gen Patrick M. Hughes (Defense Intelligence Agency), Statement for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 7 February 1997.

13. from Spanish ‘renegado', 1583 [OED].

14. Interview given to US News and World Report, 19 January 1998. 

15. Recent examples may be found in several contributions to John Baylis and Steve Smith's The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

16. The final act was signed at Marrakesh, 15-4-1994. Provisions of the Uruguay Round included a 40% reduction in trade barriers over the period 1995-2000.

17. Indeed the first WTO agreements were on telecommunications (15-2-97). 

18. See the Internet Industry Almanach, March 1988.

19 Barry Buzan & Gerry Segal, Anticipating the Future. London: Simon & Schuster, 1998. 

20. 55% of 36 multinational companies in one important survey identified their main point of difficulty with global carriers in problems of local quality and local repairs, Coping With Global Telecom, Forrester Research,1-12-1996.

21. Desmond Morris, Peter Collett, Peter Marsh, Marie O'Shaughnessy, Gestures: their origins and distribution, London Jonathan Cape, 1979. 

22. Cf. Laura Silber & Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia, London: Penguin, 1996. 

23. Most foreign correspondents worked in the Tehran Intercontinental; one that I know of wrote his reports from Beirut.

'Cultural Diversity and Global Politics', in Nuove Prospettive per la Sicurezza Mondiale?, a cura di Fabrizio Ghilardi, Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 1998