Has World War III already begun?
That’s not a facetious question meant to grab attention. It’s a legitimate question.
It’s often the case that momentous events begin in small ways and expand out of control. In retrospect, it seems obvious that war was inevitable. But at the time, it’s not obvious at all. Events might seem disconnected and it’s far from obvious that war is inevitable.
Historical hindsight is 20/20.
World War I was not called that at the time. It was called the Great War. It was only when World War II arrived that the name World War I was applied.
And how should we think about the beginning of World War II? Most historians date it from the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Still, many Americans date the war from Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war on Japan.
But the Chinese can be forgiven for saying both dates are wrong. The Chinese look to the invasion of Manchuria by Japan on Sept. 18, 1931 as the real start of World War II.
A Matter of Perspective
The point is that both the start and finish of world wars and other major conflicts are not quite as cut and dried as historians would have it. It’s often a question of culture and perspective.
This brings us to the current state of the world. Has anyone raised a banner or made a declaration that World War III has begun? No. Is it often the case that there are brushfire and proxy wars going on in several parts of the world that don’t pose any clear danger of coalescing into a global conflagration?
The answer is yes.
The wars going on today are not all small and some are quite large. More importantly, they directly or indirectly involve great powers such as the U.S., China and Russia and important secondary powers, including nuclear powers such as France and Pakistan.
Moreover, the stakes are high including the future of NATO, control of Eastern Europe, control of Middle East oil and the global supply of uranium. More urgent than the current status of these conflicts is the likelihood of escalation leading to nuclear war with no reverse gear.
Let’s review these critical conflicts briefly. In doing so, keep in mind that we may be in a period such as the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) that presaged World War I, or the Japan-China wars (1931-1937) that presaged World War II.
The genii may already be out of the bottle.
Ukraine is the obvious place to begin. Russia is winning the war decisively. The Ukrainian counteroffensive was annihilated on June 6 and re-annihilated after a reboot of the offensive again in late July. Ukraine is now using light infantry tactics since their armor has been blown up by Russian mines and artillery and left burning on the battlefield.
The “wonder weapons” including Patriot missile batteries, HIMARS artillery, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Leopard tanks, Challenger tanks and Storm Shadow cruise missiles have all been destroyed by some combination of Russian hypersonic missiles, anti-aircraft defenses and artillery or mines, or have been disabled by GPS signal jamming and other forms of electronic warfare.
Ukrainian combat dead are estimated at over 200,000 and all for nothing.
Ukraine has no chance of winning the war, but the war may escalate anyway. Biden’s team does not want to admit a humiliating defeat. They do want to keep the war going until after the 2024 election to help Biden’s reelection chances. After that, Biden (if he wins) will ditch the Ukrainians just as he ditched the Afghanistan people in August 2021.
Keeping the war going means more aggressive acts in the Black Sea (possibly involving Romanian vessels; Romania is a NATO member), providing 155 mm cluster munitions (that mainly kill children when they don’t detonate as intended) and massing Polish troops (another NATO member) on the border of Belarus, which is in a treaty alliance with Russia. Poland has its own designs on western Ukraine as a revival of the Polish-Lithuanian federation that lasted from 1569-1795.
If Russia is pressed to sink a Romanian warship or if Poland moves into western Ukraine, you have a pretext for triggering Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which would lead more or less directly to World War III, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Biden doesn’t care about any of this and U.S. warmongers like Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are cheering it on.
Side-by-side with the kinetic war in Ukraine are the financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia. Biden has threatened to keep these sanctions in place “as long as it takes,” which could mean years the way the conflict is proceeding.
These sanctions have had no impact on Russian behavior or the Russian economy, but they have badly damaged the EU and the status of the U.S. dollar as a trusted store of value. These economic costs for the West will grow with the passage of time.
The Fight for Uranium
Another conflict with escalatory potential involves the state of Niger, located in the Sahara desert. A recent military coup d’état overthrew the elected government several weeks ago (although the coup leaders contend the election was fraudulent). Some surveys show that the military junta enjoys broad popular support.
Niger is France’s largest supplier of uranium, while France is one of the largest builders of nuclear power plants in the world. France desperately needs to restore order in Niger, including forcing the junta to step aside and reinstate the elected government.
France has special forces including the French Foreign Legion ready to intervene. However, France does not want to proceed unilaterally, and is trying to recruit African allies to join the invasion.
The most significant regional grouping is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes both Francophone states like Senegal and Côte D’Ivoire and important Anglophone states such as Nigeria. France is recruiting ECOWAS to participate in its invasion of Niger.
ECOWAS members are divided on the idea. In any case, ECOWAS action would require approval of the African Union and possibly the United Nations as well as weeks of mobilization. So no military action is likely for several months at the earliest.
There’s no evidence that Russia was involved in the Niger coup, but Russia certainly stands as a major beneficiary. Russia is the other large manufacturer of nuclear power plants in addition to France.
Russia gets its uranium from inside Russia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics. (Russia also owns large amounts of U.S. uranium deposits obtained in a deal authorized by Hillary Clinton in exchange for huge donations to the Clinton Foundation).
If Russia can cut off France’s access to Nigérien uranium, it will tighten its hold on global uranium supplies and enhance its position as a provider of nuclear power plants.
There is some talk now (not confirmed) that Russia may offer support to the Nigérien coup, including possible deployment of the Wagner Group mercenary army. That would greatly complicate any plans for French or ECOWAS involvement.
Again, we would have the specter of Russia (via Wagner) and France (a NATO member) squaring off in a war for uranium in the Sahara desert. The escalatory potential is obvious.
By the way, the bloodthirsty Victoria Nuland visited Niger recently and was not warmly received. She departed the country empty-handed. No doubt she left some threats of U.S. support for the French behind.
A Presage To The Third World War?
There are many other hot zones around the world including Taiwan, the South China Sea, Syria, and North Korea. Pakistan is perhaps the most dangerous because there is a rising conflict between the elected Prime Minister Imran Khan (now in prison and removed from office) and his supporters on the one hand, and the military on the other.
Chaos in Pakistan is inherently threatening at a global level because it is a nuclear armed power in a continual standoff with the nuclear armed India.
Perhaps these conflicts will resolve themselves in the fullness of time. Perhaps not. For now, they are individually threatening (because of escalation) and bear an eerie resemblance to the confluence of conflicts that presaged the two greatest wars in history.
History may not repeat itself, but it sounds like it’s beginning to rhyme.