Mon Mar 3rd, 2014 at 04:33:55 AM EST
In summer 1993, Samuel Huntington wrote in an (in)famous essay:
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. ...
The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. ...
... The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.
Huntington emphasized the hypothetical nature of his idea with that ? at the end of the essay's title. Two decades later, what can events currently unfolding in Ukraine say anything about this hypothesis?
front-paged by afew
By 1996, Huntington had expanded it into a book which he published as The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He had dropped the question mark from the title but framed his idea in scientifical language:
Paradigms also generate predictions, and a crucial test of a paradigm's validity and usefulness is the extent to which the predictions derived from it turn out to be more accurate than those from alternative paradigms. A statist paradigm, for instance, leads John Mearsheimer to predict that "the situation between Ukraine and Russia is ripe for the outbreak of security competition between them. Great powers that share a long and unprotected common border, like that between Russia and Ukraine, often lapse into competition driven by security fears. Russia and Ukraine might overcome this dynamic and learn to live together in harmony, but it would be unusual if they do."
A civilizational approach, on the other hand, emphasizes the close cultural, personal, and historical links between Russia and Ukraine and the intermingling of Russians and Ukrainians in both countries, and focuses instead on the civilizational fault line that divides Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine, a central historical fact of long standing which, in keeping with the "realist" concept of states as unified and self-identified entities, Mearsheimer totally ignores. While a statist approach highlights the possibility of a Russian-Ukrainian war, a civilizational approach minimizes that and instead highlights the possibility of Ukraine splitting in half, a separation which cultural factors would lead one to predict might be more violent than that of Czechoslovakia but far less bloody than that of Yugoslavia.
These different predictions, in turn, give rise to different policy priorities. Mearsheimer's statist prediction of possible war and Russian conquest of Ukraine leads him to support Ukraine's having nuclear weapons. A civilizational approach would encourage cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, urge Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons, promote substantial economic assistance and other measures to help maintain Ukrainian unity and independence, and sponsor contingency planning for the possible breakup of Ukraine.
When he wrote that, the Ukraine had already given up its nuclear stockpile (previously the third largest in the world) according to the Trilateral Statement by the Presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States signed in January 1994. But John Mearsheimer's essay, "The case for a Ukrainian nuclear deterrent" [pdf], had appeared in the same 1993 September issue of Foreign Affairs as Hungtington's, and perhaps Huntington sensed that Western policies could still revert to a "statist" approach to Ukraine as opposed to a "civilizational" one that his theory implicitly advocated.
After the Trilateral Statement and the removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, how much did Western policy "encourage cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, urge Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons, promote substantial economic assistance and other measures to help maintain Ukrainian unity and independence, and sponsor contingency planning for the possible breakup of Ukraine"? I can't say. However, is it possible to separate that question from the prediction that Huntington laid out: i.e. that the Ukraine will split in half along the cultural line between "Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine", and if so, what would that tell us about Huntington's political scientific "hypothesis", if anything?
My own guess is that Hungtington's theory is roughly correct, and that the reasons for the current turmoil and god forbid imminent war in Ukraine (something along the lines of Syria) are ultimately due to the country sitting along the cultural fault-line in that country in a world driven more and more by "civilizational" forces rather than national or ideological forces. However, I am skeptical that this situation will afford a useful test case for generating evidence either for or against that theory. Reality may be much messier than the simple alternatives Huntington laid out. What if Ukraine both splits up and gets into a war with Russia? What if Ukraine splits up and the Pravyi Sektor takes control west Ukraine: fascism is the offspring of Western civilization, would Huntington count such a development as evidence for his theory? And if Russia does get involved militarily, will it be primarily to protect ethnic Russian populations and social cohesion both in the Ukraine as well as Russia itself from the undermining influence of and aggression by the West? Or simply to protect its own national security by strengthening its power against a new Ukrainian state that it cannot control per the "statist" paradigm? Not sure whether the two explanations can be disentangled.
Wonder what Huntington would say if he were still around to see this "test case" that he specifically wrote about play out.
Just noticed that National Journal had a brief article about this two days after this diary was posted:
Ukraine and the Clash of Civilizations
How Putin is proving a 20-year-old idea to finally be correct.