In ‘The Clash of Civilisations' Samuel Huntington described how in the aftermath of the Cold War civilisational identity was remaking the global order. It was widely praised, and widely criticised too - for such inconvenient truths as the fissure he traced between the Orthodox and Western worlds (in places where the European Union would prefer to detect cohesion), and in particular his assertion that ‘Islam has bloody borders'.
A dozen years on, we prefer to talk about a newly-globalised world, with power defined not by cultural or religious affinity but by connectedness. As Anne-Marie Slaughter (now Director of Policy Planning in the State Department) argued in an article in Foreign Affairs at the beginning of this year, "In a networked world, the United States has the potential to be the most connected country". She termed this 'America's edge'.
At the same time, international affairs analysts compete to broaden the traditional understanding of ‘security' to embrace almost every conceivable kind of human ill - from climate change to pandemics to energy and food shortages. Yet all humankind shares an interest in solving such problems as climate change - and even though the distribution of costs and effort will be fiercely disputed, such challenges demand international cooperation.
Much more intractable are the traditional security threats, those characterised by a malign human intent and by the desire of one group of people to dominate, coerce or damage another. Because, even in today's global village, it is other people who continue to pose the greatest risks, geography still matters, and security continues to depend on who your neighbours are and how you rub along with them. Thus it is that among Europeans, anxiety about the potential threat Russia could still represent declines with the distance from Russia's borders to the Atlantic. Anne-Marie Slaughter herself notes the benefit the Americas enjoy from ‘the protection of two wide oceans'.
Geography has dealt Europe a mixed hand. As globalisation redistributes power to the East and South, Europeans can congratulate themselves on being a relatively safe distance away from whatever ructions may accompany the rise of powers like India, Brazil and, especially, China. Happily, the prospect of major conflict in the straits of Taiwan seems less and less likely. But if ever this hope is belied, Europeans can - and will - keep their heads down.
Europe is, on the other hand, bordered to its south and east by two great regions - civilisations, indeed - which give cause for concern. Neither Russia nor the Islamic world is, thus far, adapting well to globalisation. The economies of both remain over-dependent on oil and gas exports - exacerbating the problem across the wider Middle East of how to find employment for ballooning populations of young adults. Russia, too, faces real demographic difficulties, though in the other direction as the Russian population is projected to shrink by as much as 10% over the next 15 or 20 years.
So not only will Europe's neighbours be under stress, but also there is a lot of history between us. In the case of Russia, this has been defined most recently and most powerfully by 40 years of Cold War. With the Muslim world, the record of religious conflict and of reciprocal invasion and occupation stretches back 1,300 years to the arrival of the first Islamic army in southern Spain.
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Nick Witney is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and was formerly the European Defence Agency's first Chief Executive.
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