After the fall of the Soviet Union, political scientists scrambled to make sense of what the new world order would be like after the collapse. The best model was offered by Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations. The essential building blocks of the post-Cold War world, Huntington wrote, are seven or eight historical civilizations, of which the Western, the Muslim, and the Confucian are the most important.
The balance of power among these civilizations, he argued, is shifting. The West is declining in relative power, Islam is exploding demographically, and Asian civilizations -- especially China -- are economically ascendant. Huntington also argued that a civilization-based world order is emerging in which states that share cultural affinities will cooperate with one another and group themselves around the leading states of their civilization.
The West's universalist pretensions are increasingly bringing it into conflict with the other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China. Thus, the survival of the West depends on Americans, Europeans, and other Westerners reaffirming their shared Western civilization as unique -- and uniting to defend it against challenges from non-Western civilizations.
The greatest advantage of Huntington's civilizational model of international relations is that it reflects the world as it is -- not as one wishes it would be. It allows decision-makers to distinguish friends from enemies. And it makes it easier to identify the internal conflicts within civilizations, particularly the historical rivalries among the Arabs, the Turks, and the Persians for leadership of the Islamic world. The Clash of Civilizations is a classic that should be taught in every international relations and history class -- until a new world order emerges.