Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?

Gregorio Bettiza
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the Religion and IR Blog

Samuel Huntington’s theory that post-Cold War world politics would be defined by the “clash of civilizations” has generated much debate in scholarly and policy circles since it first appeared on the pages of Foreign Affairs in 1993. One of the main controversies has revolved around the extent to which Huntington’s (in)famous thesis would come to shape America’s foreign policy and its War on Terror since the attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11).

Some like Paul Avey and Michael Desch have suggested in a 2014 International Studies Quarterly article that Huntington’s ideas have had scarce purchase among US national security policymakers and, by implication, little impact on American foreign policy. Through the use of surveys, Avey and Desch found that across a range of theories which policymakers where most familiar with, Huntington’s clash of civilizations was the one they exhibited the greatest skepticism towards and influenced their work the least. (Other theories policymakers were surveyed on included: democratic peace theory, mutual assured destruction, population centric COIN, structural realism, expected utility.)

Others, especially critical scholars often drawing on Edward Said’s concept of orientalism, have tended to reach dramatically different conclusions. Within this scholarship the clash of civilizations is generally understood as a shared discourse that percolates across all levels of American society, from Hollywood productions to the corridors of power in Washington DC, consistently categorizing Islam and Muslims as the new post-Cold War ‘other’. The War on Terror is then understood as an enactment of these discourses on the world political stage. Continue reading “Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?”