British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Ethnic Minorities and the Clash of Civilizations: A Quantitative Analysis of Huntington's Thesis

a1 Department of Political Studies, Bar Ilan University.


Samuel Huntington's ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis has sparked considerable debate. Huntington argues that post-Cold War conflicts will revolve primarily around civilizations. This article uses the Minorities at Risk dataset to provide a quantitative element to the civilizations debate, which, thus far, has been based mostly on anecdotal arguments. The article focuses on whether there has been a rise in both the quantity and intensity of ethnic conflicts between groups belonging to different civilizations since the end of the Cold War. Overall, the analysis reveals several problems with Huntington's argument. First, Huntington's classification of civilizations is difficult to operationalize. Secondly, civilizational conflicts constitute a minority of ethnic conflicts. Thirdly, conflicts between the West and both the Sinic/Confucian and Islamic civilizations, which Huntington predicts will be the major conflicts in the post-Cold War era, constitute a small minority of civilizational conflicts. Finally, there is no statistically significant evidence that the intensity of civilizational ethnic conflicts have risen relative to other types of ethnic conflicts since the end of the Cold War.


a I would like to thank Ted R. Gurr, for his insights, advice and criticism, as well as the staff of the Minorities at Risk project, without whom this work would not have been possible. I would also like to thank the Journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights. The author alone is responsible for any errors of fact or interpretation that remain. All statistics presented here were generated using SPSS for Windows 9.0 using data from the Minorities at Risk Phase 3 dataset, the Minorities at Risk Phase 1 dataset and additional data collected by the author. The full Minorities at Risk dataset is available at the Minorities at Risk website at The additional data used in this article is also available separately at the Minorities at Risk website. The author can be contacted by e-mail at The author wishes to point out that this article was completed before 11 September 2001.