NILRATAN HALDER |
Mar 10, 2022 10:31:19 p.m.
In his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Reshaping of the World Order, Samuel Phillips Huntington could not have been more correct in analyzing and forecasting political developments, the attacks of September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the small wars in Eurasia in the post-Cold War era. His assertion that the population explosion in Muslim countries and the economic rise of East Asia are leading to changes in world politics and the international order. Such developments not only challenge Western dominance, but also reject supposedly “universal” Western ideals. His in-depth analysis led him to identify the rise of China, which Huntington believed would be the most powerful force to ignite a global war of civilizations.
That Samuel Huntington was right on many counts is indisputable. But could he have had any idea of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Well, China is an ally of Russia but not yet embroiled in a war with Taiwan. Certainly, his aggressive posturing in the form of violating Taiwanese airspace and suppressing popular protests in defense of human rights and freedom of expression more than vindicated his view. But the Russian war being imposed on its smaller, weaker neighbor was perhaps the last thing he could imagine.
According to him, the world can be divided into eight major civilizations. Russia is in the orthodoxy category at number 5 and defined as a “torn” country like Turkey, Mexico and Australia—which have yet to create a defined identity. Well, the Sinic civilization led by China and followed closely by Vietnam and Korea is likely to pose the greatest challenge to Western civilization. With China’s emergence as a major economic and military power, inter-civilizational conflict over nuclear proliferation, immigration, human rights and democracy will only intensify.
In the announced conflicts, Russia does not appear but anticipated a coalition and a cooperation between the Islamic and Sinic cultures to work against a common enemy, the West. Indeed, this has happened to a large extent with bilateral cooperation between some countries in the Middle East and Africa, including some of the most divisive countries overrun by radical Islamists such as in Afghanistan. But there is no indication that the dominant partner of the former Soviet Union and China would jointly launch the greatest military challenge to the West. Soviet Russia may have disintegrated, but its military power is as enormous as that of a superpower. At this time, China has also grown in strength at the level of a military superpower, and their combined strength is a source of grave concern to the West.
In the book, the author identifies three contentious issues such as the West’s attempt to maintain military superiority through the non-proliferation of emerging powers with nuclear warheads, the promotion of Western political values such as the rights of people and democracy and finally, restrictions on the entry of non-Westerns. immigrants and refugees in Western societies. Such attempts and actions are considered cultural hegemony by non-Western countries.
The bipolar world, in accordance with Huntington’s views, no longer exists in the post-Cold War era and is gradually yielding to regionalism by virtue of common ancestry, religion, language, values and institutions or similar. Thus, regional organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU) and the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have emerged, reflecting economic and political alliances.
The new economic order would have counterbalanced each other if there had been no ambition for military and cultural superiority. But the military alliance and its continued expansion have made the issue complex and created mistrust in the leaders of the nations that suffered the most from World War II. A few opted for the dominant alliance, and the most powerful “torn” country without an alliance opted for a preemptive strike against Ukraine. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations has a twist in its tail. China stands alongside Russia as a force to be reckoned with and it is no wonder that China’s allies in the Islamic world are toeing the line. In this context, the fault line of civilization on communal and religious considerations was clearly exposed between Western and non-Western nations during the US invasion of Iraq. Significantly today, Chechen Muslim fighters are fighting for Russia in Ukraine.
Huntington may not have envisioned Russia as an aggressor, but his recipe for the West, America in particular, still proves highly relevant. He points to the internal and external challenges of the West. Internal challenges refer to the erosion of core values, morals and beliefs within the culture hitherto adopted by the West. External challenges relate to emerging cultural identities in the non-Western world. Both can be a cause of the decline of Western civilization. Thus, he argues convincingly for multicultural civilization. As America and the West must opt for the renewal of their common identity, they must be ready to accept and adapt to the growing powers and influences of different civilizations.
If adaptation fails, Huntington prophetically predicts, the West is destined to decline or clash with other civilizations. This will be, according to him, “the greatest threat to world peace and international order”. Russia, torn between its orthodoxy and the legacy of Soviet-era socialism, may have unleashed the proxy war on behalf of the non-Western camp. Residents of neutral countries are eagerly waiting to see how the conflict in Ukraine will end.