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Clash of civilizations: An empirical examination

Phillip J LaSala, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Samuel P. Huntington's clash of civilizations argument has generated substantial scholarly and journalistic interest, has had at least some influence upon policy makers in the United States and elsewhere, and has provided a plausible explanation of post-Cold War events. In essence, Huntington argues that the end of Cold War unleashed civilizational forces that shape global conflict and cooperation during the post-Cold War period. An expansive qualitative literature has frequently criticized this provocative framework, but a definitive empirical examination has not been done. The problem this dissertation addressed was to determine how well Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis explains conflict within and between states in the post-Cold War period. This study derived 13 hypotheses based upon Huntington's thesis, and employed univariate statistical tests that were supplemented in some cases with multivariate regression analysis. It evaluated interstate conflict using the Kosimo and Armed Conflict data sets, and examined intrastate conflict using the Minorities at Risk and State Failure data sets. This combination of data encompassed a broad range of violent and nonviolent conflict, and facilitated an examination of the relationship between civilizational membership and conflict frequency, intensity, and escalation that are at the heart of clash of civilizations argument. This study examined a temporal domain—spanning 1980 to 2001—that included a roughly equal number of Cold War and post-Cold War years. This design facilitated a comparison between the two time frames to determine whether or not civilizational influences had in fact changed global patterns of conflict. Overall, this study fails to corroborate Huntington's civilizational framework vis-à-vis either inter- or intrastate conflict, and it warns decision makers to avoid foreign policies based upon a civilizational perspective that may be misleading at best, and may foster unnecessary conflict at worst. ^

Subject Area

Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations

Recommended Citation

LaSala, Phillip J, "Clash of civilizations: An empirical examination" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3098170.