We should have seen it all coming. The civil war and the underlying tensions rocked Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula should be no surprise to us. Indeed the unprecedented rise of Islamic extremism and the foundation of an organisation like ISIS, along with the independence and anti-EU movements in Britain, along with many other global issues were predicted with remarkable clarity back in 1996 in 'The Clash Of Civilizations.'
Its author, Samuel P. Huntington claims that the issues of the future will be found in the differences between several modern civilizations, where competing interests, cultural differences and geographical borders meet. The West will be in relative decline, challenged chiefly by growing Sinic, Islamic and Orthodox cultures which will reshape the balance of power in the international order. He may not have foreseen specific events, but his savvy combination of statistical analysis and political theory provide us with nuanced predictions of many of the most pertinent global issues in 2014.
The obvious tension between Western and Eastern Ukraine including Crimea is highlighted with fascinating detail, raising the possibility of 'the western part of the country seceding from a Ukraine that was drawing closer and closer to Russia.' This movement, he claimed, would rely on strong and effective Western support, something that the EU has been keen to provide since. He also draws note to a previous attempt by the Crimean people to annex themselves from Ukraine in 1992 and attempts to join Russia, facts that were subsequently ignored by the media in their coverage of Russia's annexation. The 'civilizational fault line' between pro-European and pro-Russian Slavs, identified in voting patterns can be seen today in the two sides of Ukraine's civil war.
The rise of an increasingly radical Islam in the Middle East is also developed in various segments of the book. While the Arab Spring protests might have brought heart to Western ears, the failure of democracy movements and the growth of radical Islamic alternatives should not have surprised us, given that 'the general failure of liberal democracy to take hold in Muslim sociteties is a continuing and repeated phenomenon for an entire century.' The growing control of Hamas is attributed as a key cause for the disturbingly cyclical Arab-Israeli conflict, with Gaza sitting on fault line between two cultures. Most intriguingly, he raises the possibility of political fundamentalist Islam not bound by geographical boundaries, describing ISIS in all but name.
At home, Huntington's prospects for the future can be found in our tabloids. 'Westerners increasingly fear that they are being invaded not by armies and tanks but migrants who speak other languages, worship other gods, belong to other cultures, and, they fear, will take their jobs', he writes in a statement that sounds like a Daily Mail column for intellectuals. He is also too astute to note that this is not racism, but a xenophobia concerned with protecting native culture, following the loss of a single Western identity in the Cold War. British hostility to Europe and George Osborne's belief that we can excel on the world stage seem symptomatic of this.
The details throughout the book are extensive, albeit not perfect. What it offers though, aside from intellectually interesting predictions, is a world politics concerned with the long term. His emphasis on demographics and economics as the grounding of changes across the world provides us with a scientific, rational model with which governments and international bodies should not merely assess crises but prepare for future problems in advance. There are no ideological slogans or quick fix solutions designed to win elections, but a measured approach to global issues, focusing on long term outcomes with his development of a theory of relations between civilizations.
Rarely do you assume an author has had access to a crystal ball when conducting their research, but both the broad brush strokes and many of the details of 'The Clash Of Civilizations' could well have been written yesterday. The future it describes has become our present and the challenges it raises will continue to define the global order for decades to come.