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Business News/ News / World/  Is world heading for World War 3? Decoding 'aggressive cold war', 'regional' war in Middle East and Ukraine
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Is world heading for World War 3? Decoding 'aggressive cold war', 'regional' war in Middle East and Ukraine

Is this the beginning of World War 3? If not, is this likely to happen soon? Defence experts decoded the meaning of the ongoing conflicts around the world, including that in the Middle East.

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 57th brigade closes his hears as a self-propelled howitzer fires in the direction of Russian positions at the outskirts of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, April 21, 2024. (REUTERS)Premium
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 57th brigade closes his hears as a self-propelled howitzer fires in the direction of Russian positions at the outskirts of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, April 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

Is the world on the brink of World War 3? This speculation turned rife as soon as Iran launched a “retaliatory" attack on Israel on April 13. Defence experts believe that the current situation is not World War 3 but rather an “aggressive cold war" or a “regional war". 

Experts shed light on when World War 3 can officially be declared.

In the past two or three years, various parts of the world saw conflicts that killed thousands and left millions homeless. One such conflict is currently on in Ukraine, which Russia calls its “military operation". And another is happening in Gaza, where Israel has launched an outright war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

But the list doesn't end here. It also includes the recent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, an armed conflict between Iran and Israel, and that between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Amid this, another war front is expected between China and Taiwan in upcoming years.

When warfare occurs to such an extent across the world, can this be concluded as the beginning of World War 3?

The answer is no.

Lieutenant Colonel JS Sodhi (Retd) said a world war is said to have started when “superpowers" or the “world geostrategic power" get involved in a war physically. These powers, he said, are Russia, the USA and China. “Unless they get involved in the war, it won't be termed World War 3," he told Mint.

He noted that none of these three “superpowers" are currently involved in warfare. He further described the current conflicts as “regional conflicts" that remain confined to the Middle East region.

Meanwhile, Major General (Dr) Shashi Asthana defined the ongoing situation as an “aggressive Cold War" and not a world war. “Presently, we are going through a phase of aggressive Cold Wars, and that's a mixture of aggressive Cold War 1 (between the USA and Russia) and Cold War 2 (between America and China)."

He explained Cold War 1, referring to “contact-kinetic warfare" (bombardment with missiles and drones) between Russia and Ukraine. 

General Asthana said, “Indirect warfare is between NATO and Russia in terms of proxy war, information war, diplomatic war, economic war and cyber war. That the dimension of Cold War 1.0."

“Now, Cold War 2.0 is between America and China, in terms of various trade wars, posturing and show of forces in Indo-Pacific regions. This is the age of multidimensional war," he explained.

General Asthana added that a war is not only two armies fighting. “It is a war between two comprehensive national powers," he said.

So, when exactly is World War Three possible?

Both Lt Col JS Sodhi and General Asthana said that a world war is highly unlikely. But when asked in what situation it is possible, here's what they said:

Lt Col JS Sodhi said a world war is possible when three superpowers - Russia, China and the USA get involved. “None of these three countries or global geostrategic powers will be involved in any war," except in case “it suits their national interests", he said.

Speaking about the involvement of nuclear weapons, General Asthana said, “Everybody knows nuclear war is going to be very destructive. So Russia and America are not likely to get into a nuclear war, but nuclear threats will continue to get exchanged."

He also shed light on the “extreme conditions for World War 3 to happen." He said it would be possible when certain red lines were crossed.

In General Asthana's opinion, these "red lines" are crossed in case:

1. NATO decides to put a nuclear weapon in Ukraine

2. If Russia says its survival is threatened

3. If America decides to give tactical weapons to Taiwan

“These triggers can perhaps escalate the conflict to a much more serious war. But no one has crossed red lines," General Asthana said.

But the world may be divided into two blocs...

General Asthana, however, noted that “if all things are put together," the world has been divided into two blocs. He said one bloc is America and NATO — its limited support to Israel and major support to Ukraine.

The second bloc, he said, is Russia fighting directly, supported by North Korea and, to some extent, Iran (as Russia is using Iranian drone designs), with China giving dual support (economic support and raw materials, which can also be used for military purposes).

“Many countries are not keen on joining either of the two blocs and want to get the best of both sides; for example, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have relations with both sides," he said.

Decoding current worldwide conflicts: Can this situation escalate to World War 3?

The defence experts decoded the pattern of attacks currently occurring and concluded that the current situation is unlikely to escalate into World War 3.

The conflict between Iran and Israel is more about “signalling" and “sending a message" rather than being destructive.

According to Gen Asthana, “The internal problem of both these countries is that they don't want to look weak; they want to score a point over each other. Both of them are also conscious that if they hit each other's nuclear facilities, it is going to be a catastrophe."

Meanwhile, General Asthana asked how it was possible that nobody had been killed in the latest exchange of missiles and drones between Iran and Israel.

“...This is more of signalling and less of attacking to destroy. The intention is strategic signalling. To show that we are strong," he said while mentioning that both sides are capable of substantial destruction in the other country.

Lt Colonel Sodhi also said that Iran and North Korea use nuclear weapons to warn other countries to tell them that they will not think twice before launching a nuclear weapon, and that is what keeps other countries at bay.

“But I think that no country will use nuclear weapons, and if Russia wanted to use them, it would have used them a long time back," he added.

What would happen if World War 3 broke out? And why do powerful countries avoid entering a war?

“The major powers are not in the mood to get into a war," the experts said. At this point, the experts recalled the destruction caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They said the countries didn't want to indulge in a full-blown war as it would lead to the possibility of mass destruction, not just in terms of material but also financial.

General Asthana said he believed that America, China and Russia were not interested in a war. “Will China sacrifice itself for the sake of somebody else? No," he said.

He further explained the case of China. “Its economy is down; it's an authoritarian regime. For China, the European market and American markets matter. Why should they fight with America and Europe and spoil their entire economy," the retired general said.

Coming to America, "they know they don't have the capacity to fight Russia, China and Iran together. According to Lt Colonel Sodhi, Russia and China check-mated America and NATO.

“The power of Russia and China is more than that of NATO, which includes the USA, and the USA will not enter into a war that's limited to regional conflict," Lt Colonel Sodhi said.

The expert added that the US is aware of Russia's powerful weapons, so the US won't take any action at the cost of “risking Washington."

Lt Colonel Sodhi added that the US presidential elections are due in November. “It is not in a good economic situation," he added.

Meanwhile, European countries are getting Russian oil at double the price. “The moment the Israel war starts, the Gulf will get choked. The oil flow from the Gulf will be affected, and then imagine the economic implications, including that on India," General Asthana said.

Lt Col JS Sodhi said that Russia's interest is only in eastern Europe, which it wants to reclaim, while China's is to take Taiwan, islands in the South China Sea, and Arunachal Pradesh.

“None of these global geostrategic powers will get involved in any war other than the one that suits their national interests," Lt Col JS Sodhi said.

What happens next?

The defence experts said America will support Israel diplomatically. Iran will also not be keen on being involved. Iran knows that beyond a point, the attacks on Israel will threaten its existence. Only then will America get involved, and Iran doesn't want to get into a war with the Americans. “They have to be limited to their threshold," experts said.

Meanwhile, “Iran has some power that's keeping the Americans at bay," Lt Colonel Sodhi said while noting how the US made it clear that it has no role in the Israeli attacks on Iran.

Conclusion: Is the World War happening? When is it possible?

According to the experts, the current situation won't escalate into a world war. The conflict is only limited to “strategic posturing", and “kinetic actions are expected to continue" (drone and missile attacks).

Iran and Israel only want to show their strength and prove that they are not weak. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “was appearing too weak to his audience, so they wanted to do something. He targeted a place where there was no damage. Both Iran and Israel are playing down the attack. They don't want to look weak but send a strategic message," experts said.

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Published: 22 Apr 2024, 12:37 PM IST
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