World War 3 – Is it a possibility in the 21st Century?

Wars have been such a common theme in recorded history that it’s easy to assume that there is something inherent about human nature that makes them inevitable.

Look at any war in the history of wars. It will without doubt be characterised by at least a few commonalities. And having seen two debilitating World Wars (not to mention one Cold one) in the last century, it’s both terrifying and mind-blowing to consider the future of mass worldwide conflict.

Here’s a discussion on the most potent indicators of a coming World War 3.

World War 3 – Is it a possibility in the 21st Century?

1. The Oil crisis

While it may be convenient to think that wars are fought by politicians, it’s important to develop a deeper understanding. Wars are fought over resources, and oil is the hottest resource of the century. With international attention on the sale and prices of oil in the last few years, and with the effects of the political unrest that tends to be so prevalent in oil-producing countries, oil is being pigeonholed as a resource. In areas of conflict, particularly ISIS-controlled territory, the sale of crude on the black market has become a huge source of revenue – in fact this has further pushed oil prices lower, as OPEC and other bodies struggle to compete with the black market. Consequently, many countries are getting ready to start delving heavily into their stocks of oil. With all the embargoes and sanctions, as well as proxy tactics of manipulation to secure control over this lucrative industry while it lasts, political tensions are never far away from a discussion on oil.

The most important influence in the oil industry of course, is the lack of it. Industry experts have been predicting that the phenomenon known as ‘peak oil’, when oil production finally hits a peak and starts declining, is expected in the next decade. This will force global dependence very suddenly onto other forms of energy, particularly nuclear, which will further complicate international relations.

To add perspective, here’s how the oil industry is changing rapidly. As offshore deposits get depleted, shale oil reserves of US, Iran, Saudi, Russia and other countries have become an important consideration. Techniques like fracking, which have become highly controversial because of their environmental impact as well as chances of causing seismic disturbances and earthquakes, are now being discussed. As all these oil giants rush towards domination of the shale oil situation, there could be a huge fluctuation in oil prices. On the demand side of things, the largest consumers of oil (India and China) are facing various economic troubles of their own. At the same time, these countries are fully aware of their huge reliance on oil, and are making swift moves to shift their dependance to other forms of energy. Thus, the demand of oil in the future is uncertain, even while producer nations struggle to dominate production.

At the crux of it – World Wars 1 and 2 began with one country offering an ultimatum to another. World War 3 could well begin with an ultimatum on the oil situation.

2. North Korea hydrogen bomb test – NK vs SK

One of the major wells of tension in the international arena is the growing influence and potency of the Hermit Nation of the 21st century – North Korea. With its rocky relationship with South Korea, Japan and erstwhile allies Russia, North Korea has gone on to establish itself as a wild card in international politics. Under their enigmatic and unpredictable dictator Kim Jong Un, they have ignored sanctions, trampled all over the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and continued to be aggressors at their small but dangerous borders.

Most surprisingly, North Korea appear to live in a strange bubble in the arena of politics, where they appear to believe that the strangest justifications for their behaviour will be accepted. In the recent testing of their supposed satellite launch, which most experts believe to be a pretext for the testing of a nuclear warhead – North Korea has stuck staunchly by its story.

As recently as August 2015 – North Korea has been preparing for all-out war with its neighbour, South Korea. The moment this conflict comes out into the open, the risk of it going nuclear is tremendous, especially given North Korea’s flamboyant antics in the past. Further, South Korea possess powerful allies in US and Japan. This is one conflict that is just waiting to explode.


ISIS has been such a notable player in recent times that speculations have already arisen that the extremist group has its eyes set on an eventual World War to establish an Islamic State of the World. However, most important to note is their ingenious use of propaganda, gore, and appeals to emotion to sway a huge mass of people towards their cause – something very characteristic of extremist regimes like the Nazis and the Fascists, who caused World War by themselves.

In fact, the nature of ISIS propaganda films has been compared to the cinematographic techniques of Western filmmakers, with the appeal having been noted to extend far and wide. Many countries – from Russia to Indonesia, India to France – have seen reason to worry about their citizens getting radicalised and prompted to join the extremist militants.

A further cause for worry is the amazing growth of pro-ISIS sentiment over the internet – Twitter and Facebook being just a few of such media. Through these modern channels of communication, ISIS has established itself as far more potent than past terror outfits like LeT or Al Qaeda. It is able to create a much more real threat of sleeper cells and indigenous terror outfits acting in accordance with their orders.

The worst part is – ISIS are sworn enemies of the US, UK, Russia, and the entire rest of the non-Islamic world. Consequently, there is no scope for dialogue with them, nor is there any hope that ISIS will saturate its agenda and stop at some point. This conflict sees no resolution but for prolonged armed conflict and a huge need for developing tolerant thinking.

4. Russia’s aggression – Ukraine, Syria and the proxy wars

While it can’t entirely be faulted for it, Russia has learnt little from the excessive drama of the Cold War. Even today, it plays intelligent power games, fronted by the intimidating Putin, a figure who has risen and never fallen in Russian politics. Many argue that the entire Russian administration is dominated by Putin, is more of a dictatorship than anything else.

Most importantly, Russia has been a model of calculated aggression in the recent past, with a scramble to maintain allies in strategic locations. They have also had a careful watch on American allies and their military and defence moves, and frequently make use of their veto power to reject UN policy that is against their interests.

For example, Russia vetoed all resolutions of the UN to investigate the human rights violations by the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. Russia has been a consistent ally of Assad’s regime, which many, including Obama, have deemed to be ‘unacceptable for the future of Syria’. However, Russia continues to be aggressive in its support of al-Assad, beginning bombing strikes against the Syrian rebels in 2015, and providing them with huge arms contracts. Russia’s military bases and naval ports in the Syrian region are a key concern for the mighty country.

Even in the case of Ukraine, Russia has been openly aggressive in matters of protecting its allies. When the US-backed anti-Russian movement in western Ukraine began to gain momentum, the pro-Russian people of eastern Ukraine, in a region called Crimea, began to receive huge amounts of support, both military and financial, from the nation. Finally, Russia annexed Crimea by February 2014.

Clearly, Russia is willing to escalate conflicts when it feels its interests are threatened, and because of the huge clash of egos, a time could soon come of an ultimatum which will not be accepted.

5. India-Pakistan conflict

In a game of pointing fingers that has lasted nearly 60 years now, India and Pakistan fail to see any resolution to the serious issues of State-sponsored terrorism and the Kashmir partition. The Muslim-majority Pakistan has seen several regime changes in its time, with a heavily powerful military that is often accused of running the entire state. Further, terror outfits like LeT and the Taliban are known to enjoy easy access to shelter and arms in Pakistan, with several terror training camps allegedly being located in the hilly north-eastern tracts of the country.

The religious polarisation and multiculturality, particularly of India, and the manipulation of religious and communal sentiments by most politicians, create a toxic atmosphere in India as well, particularly as the victim of a large number of high-profile terror attacks like the 26/11 invasion of Mumbai and the 2006 train bombings.

Furthermore, there are often tensions at the border of the two countries, with soldiers from either side opening fire on each other at regular intervals, and of killings occurring from time to time.

The atmosphere is indeed explosive, and many in each of the nations believe that a war is inevitable. In such a situation, Pakistan would be reluctantly aided by its longtime ally, the US, as well as by China, India’s largest competitor. On the other hand, India has maintained good relations with Russia, as well as several arms and oil trade deals, and these would pull Russia into the conflict as well. The situation could very well blow out of control.

6. Iran – a nuclear power

Iran has recently established itself as a nuclear power, having directly violated the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This move has been of great concern to most Western powers like the US, UK and France. Iran’s great proximity to regions like Iraq and Syria, which are facing mounting political instability and increasing rebel and terrorist activity, is a further cause for concern.

In fact, Iran has begun to assert itself in the international arena, openly violating certain clauses, ignoring sanctions, and actively participating in armed conflict by aided rebels Syria (as a Sunni nation, they oppose the Shia minority government of al-Assad).

Further, as the first Gulf country to embrace nuclear technology, an alternative to oil, Iran has incurred the wrath of major oil players like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In this situation, Iran is quickly becoming a lone player looking out for its interests, and facing increasing hostility from surrounding countries as well as the rest of the world, it could soon be provoked into a rash move.

In such a situation, given the already incendiary environment in the Gulf, it will be hard to contain the damage.

Clearly, Iran is a country that is out to assert itself in the Middle East, and it has proven in the past that it is unafraid of US sanctions or Russian meddling. As a potent possessor of nukes, Iran could well be willing to escalate conflicts if any blatant act of aggression against it is made.

7. USA – Interference in other countries’ politics and mission to control resources

USA’s economic downturn and reliance on arms sales

The USA has been facing a slowdown economically, and that’s no secret. What adds dimension to this picture is the fact that the US is the largest seller of arms in the world, clocking over $10 billion in 2013 as per a report titled Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2007-2014. This is a whopping 1% of the GDP for that year.

Even more importantly, arms lobbies in the US Senate hold a tremendous influence. Many of the most powerful lobbyists who form pressure-groups are either employees or founders of defence giants like BAE Systems and Insight Technology.

Further, statistics suggest that the arms race is hugely beneficial to the US GDP, and in particular to those powerful persons who head the various defence corporations. Some studies have directly linked the ISIS conflict with a GDP boost due to arms exports. Other allegations suggest that the US manipulates NATO decisions into strategies that will cause it to sell more arms.

Thus, at some level, it appears that powerful people in the US are benefiting from the sale of arms, and that any decisions that spell an ultimate end to global conflict would not be in the interests of the country’s decision makers. This further comes into question when one considers the how the US has at times been willing to enter armed conflict on little to no evidence (bioweapons in Iraq under Saddam Hussein) and at other times refuses to intervene even with huge evidence of human rights violations (Syria).

Apart from the clear benefits to the dwindling US economy from the boost in arms, services, and other goods consumed during wartime, the US has also consistently tried to maintain maximal control over key resources in the world. Obviously, in recent times, this has been oil. Because of this, it is often believed that the US has no real aims of establishing peace – it only aims to wage calculated war, particularly war that can win it control over more resources. Even today, we see a huge amount of backlash against the US for being an ‘interfering agent’ which only acts in its own interests. Countries like Iran, Russia, China, North Korea as well as some South-American countries have established annoyance with the US’s insincere motives and constant interference. Given these dubious motives of the most powerful country in the world, a situation could well arise where the US finally miscalculates and makes a move that sparks a global conflict. The situation is further complicated by the current status of ISIS, Russia and North Korean agitation against the US.

8. China’s aggressive policies and economic slowdown

The Chinese economy has been shocking the rest of the world with its sudden dip in growth rates. In fact, China recorded a 25-year low in GDP growth in the year 2015.

China has consistently been an aggressive nation, threatening military action and issuing ultimatums and stern warning against countries like Tibet, India, Taiwan, North Korea and the US. Particularly in the South China Sea region, China remains unchecked in its aggression, and is often able to impose its will in a manner very similar to bullying. Recently, due to some misunderstandings, there was aggression between China and the USA in the South China Sea, and this itself has flared up relations between the two powers.

As China has so far been the largest producer of goods in the world, but now that its economy seems to be getting sluggish and its aggression unchecked, the clash of egos between it and countries like India, US and North Korea, could easily get out of hand. In such a situation, China will be the last party to try to settle matters through peaceful talks – particularly with its sizeable military and access to nuclear weapons.

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