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Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, $ 26

11:00 PM, Dec 8, 1996 • By ROBERT KAGAN
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Consider Huntington's assertion that his "civilizational paradigm" describes a new force in the post-Cold War world. How new is it? The end of the conflict between the Communist dictatorships and the capitalist democracies has led to an increase in the importance of "civilizational" issues as a force in international relations. World attention has turned toward problems like African tribal conflicts that had been festering all along but had seemed insignificant during the Cold War.

But "civilizational" influences were certainly at work before and during the Cold War. The Balkans was a case study of the clash of civilizations at the turn of the century, when the Russians feared a "Teutonic drive" to the south spearheaded by Austria even as the Austrians feared a Slavic drive spearheaded by Serbia. It is true that during the Cold War such concerns usually took a back seat, but they remained important -- think of the way Richard Pipes sought to explain Soviet imperial behavior by describing Soviet foreign policy not as a new phenomenon, but as a continuation of strains in the Russian character hundreds of years in the making. Huntington himself approvingly quotes Fernand Braudel's assertion that for anyone who seeks to be an actor on the international scene, "it 'pays' to know how to make out, on a map of the world, which civilizations exist today, to be able to define their borders, their centers and peripheries, their provinces and the air one breathes there." But Braudel made that point in 1980 -- at a time when, according to Huntington, the "civilizational paradigm" was not yet appropriate for understanding international behavior.

The new salience of "civilizational" issues in the post-Cold War era was really more a matter of perceptions than a colossal shift in the priorities of nations and individuals. And the new attention paid to such issues was also a bit of an intellectual fad. With the bipolar world de-poled and the strategic-studies industry in decline, many intellectuals shifted to the study of "tribalism" instead. In his Foreign Affairs essay, Huntington simply posited nine giant tribes, called them civilizations, and declared his new paradigm. (The nine "civilizations" he identifies in the book are " Western," "Latin American," "African," "Islamic," "Sinic," "Hindu," "Orthodox, " "Buddhist," and "Japanese.")

But for a new paradigm to be a "new paradigm," it must transform and revolutionize our understanding of the world, and so Huntington cannot just argue that the salience of cultural differences has increased in the post- Cold War era. He must boldly claim that tribalism on the grandest scale is pretty much all that matters today. The nation-state as the principal actor in the world is history, and international relations will never be the same.

The evidence Huntington cites for this radical shift in the way the world works is suspect. He lists 19 incidents from the first six months of 1993 that supposedly fit the "civilizational paradigm" -- everything from "the failure of the West to provide meaningful support to the Bosnian Muslims or to denounce Croat atrocities in the same way Serb atrocities were denounced," to "the voting, apparently almost entirely along civilizational lines, that gave the 2000 Olympics to Sydney rather than Beijing."

But was "the West's" failure to act in the Balkans motivated chiefly by disregard for the Muslim victims or by the more familiar fear of incurring casualties in any conflict that does not immediately threaten national security? Did Western nations vote against holding the 2000 Olympics in Beijing because it is an Asian capital or because it is the site of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the seat of power of an unrepentant dictatorship? Wouldn't the West have been happy to see the Olympics held in " Japanese" Tokyo or "Sinic" Seoul, as it had been in the past?

Huntington is not interested in such common-sense answers. Instead, he sets out in pursuit of those who claim that the universality of Western principles is being embraced by an increasing number of peoples of all races and cultures. One gets the sense, in fact, that Huntington has decided to dedicate himself to disproving the central thesis of Francis Fukuyama's now- legendary 1989 article, "The End of History?" -- that "we may be witnessing . . . the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy." In a new Foreign Affairs piece adapted from The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington calls Fukuyama's idea " misguided, arrogant, false, and dangerous."