Here’s Why It’s Too Late To Stop World War III

Written by David Anderson.

Picture this: Iran announces it has developed a nuclear bomb and threatens to use it against Israel. The United States, reacting with its usual military might, prepares for intervention, much like it did in Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Iran, unwilling to tolerate another Gulf war, seeks allies. As American forces mass at Iran’s borders, Russia, China, and North Korea express their support for Iran. Washington escalates, bringing in British forces. Russia, aiming to raise the stakes, expects the West to back down. However, with both sides on edge and leaders gambling on not striking first, disaster ensues. A nuclear standoff ends in catastrophe, marking the beginning of World War III.

Alternatively, consider China’s frustration over Taiwan. They initiate a military build-up, preparing for an invasion. The United States, entangled in domestic issues, watches anxiously. Japan, observing the tension between China and Taiwan, contemplates intervention. The United Nations condemns China’s actions, which China promptly disregards, proceeding with the invasion, hoping for a swift victory to deter others from intervening. The U.S. activates contingency plans to defend Taiwan, leading to an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons. North Korea and Russia side with China, and although there is no general nuclear strike, the conflict escalates, dividing American strategy between two theaters.

A New Kind of Global Conflict

Envision a different scenario: growing divisions between the democratic West and authoritarian states in Eurasia enter a perilous new phase. Both sides, wary of outright war, consider destroying satellite communications to cripple the other’s military and economic capabilities. Without warning, the West’s satellite system is attacked, causing massive damage to its networks. Amidst the ensuing chaos, no one claims responsibility, but anti-Western states are quickly blamed. Retaliation becomes difficult as communication collapses. Military mobilization is ordered across the West, but Russia and China demand a halt. Like in 1914, once set in motion, the wheels of war are hard to stop, leading to the First Space War.

These scenarios, while possible, are not probable. Predicting future wars can lead to dangerous fantasies, causing anxiety about security. Even the most plausible forecasts are often wrong. The advent of nuclear weapons has drastically altered the nature of global conflict. While history provides a framework for understanding war, its lessons are rarely heeded. The question of how a third world war might erupt haunts us more than ever. Current conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, Myanmar, and Sudan remind us of the persistent reality of war. Regular threats from Russia about using nuclear weapons suggest that these fears are not entirely unfounded.

The Persistence of War

To understand future wars, we must ask why we wage war at all. War has been a part of human history for millennia, predating even the first states. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists argue that early humans used violence for survival, protection, and resource acquisition. Although modern humans don’t have violence in their genes, early hominins likely resorted to it to defend against intruders, secure resources, and even prey on neighboring communities. This behavior became psychologically normative and biologically advantageous, embedding belligerence in human development.

However, other sciences view warfare as a product of settled cultures and political systems. By 10,000 years ago, evidence of warfare appeared worldwide. While early warfare wasn’t like modern war, it involved deadly raids, ritual encounters, and massacres, such as the Nataruk killings in 9th century BC Kenya. Tribal warfare in recent centuries also demonstrates that states aren’t necessary for violence, but war often led to the rise of warrior elites and cultures that glorified it, such as the Spartans, Vikings, and Aztecs. Throughout history, few cultures have remained untouched by war.

Wars are waged for various reasons: seizing resources, pleasing the gods, defending against threats, or extending power. This mix of motives has remained remarkably constant. Resource acquisition has driven wars from the Romans to the Japanese in World War II. Belief-driven wars span centuries, from early Muslim conquests to modern jihad campaigns. Security concerns, as noted by Thomas Hobbes, persist in an anarchic world without a common power to enforce peace. Frontiers, as seen in Ukraine and Gaza today, have always been flashpoints of conflict.

The pursuit of power is perhaps the most common explanation for war. Power Transition Theory, developed during the Cold War, suggests a constant race between major powers, which might end in war as one tries to surpass the other. This theory, once applied to the U.S. and Soviet Union, now fits U.S.-China relations. However, it has its flaws. Both World Wars began with a major power attacking a smaller one, dragging others into the conflict. This could happen with Taiwan, much like it is happening with Ukraine.

Power is a compelling explanation when considering ambitious leaders who drive their nations to war. Figures like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler mobilized their people for conquest, driven by hubris and self-belief. Such leaders make war unpredictable and dangerous, as their ambition often leads to vast, destructive conflicts. This historical pattern suggests that war, despite its long past, still has a future.

Our Take

The likelihood of another global conflict is alarming. The scenarios presented highlight how quickly tensions can escalate into full-scale wars, potentially involving nuclear weapons. As history shows, war remains a persistent element of human affairs, driven by complex motives and ambitious leaders. The current geopolitical climate, marked by conflicts and nuclear threats, suggests that the risk of a major war is not far-fetched. It is crucial for world leaders to recognize these dangers and work towards preventing such catastrophic outcomes.

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