World War III
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World War III (also called WWIII or the Third World War) is a hypothetical successor to World War II (1939–1945). In the wake of World War I, World War II, the commencement of the Cold War and the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons, there was early widespread speculation as to the next global war. This war was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from the limited use of atomic weapons to the destruction of the planet.
Historical close calls
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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, with the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there was a serious threat to Western Europe. In April–May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable, the Third World War plan; its primary goal was "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire." The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.
With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered possible. Among the historical events considered potential triggers for such a conflict are:
- June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953: Before and after the entry of Chinese reinforcements into the Korean War, with the pushback of South Korean and UN forces, orders and scenarios were developed for the use of nuclear weapons. Supreme Commander MacArthur went so far as to declare he would invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in East Asia – one of the reasons he was removed from command by President Harry S. Truman.
- July 26, 1956 – March, 1957: In the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt in its confrontation with France, the United Kingdom, and Israel over its nationalization of the Suez Canal. Pressure was applied on the three allies by Canadian UN ambassador and future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize), and the Eisenhower administration (which threatened to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt and to impose sanctions on Israel).
- June 4 – November 9, 1961: Berlin Crisis of 1961 where the Soviets demanded a withdrawal of western troops from Berlin. It culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall.
- October 15–28, 1962: The Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation on the stationing of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, is often considered as having been the closest to a nuclear exchange. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 was shot down over Cuba and another almost intercepted over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights, and a Soviet submarine nearly launched a nuclear-tipped torpedo in response to depth charges (with the launch being prevented by an officer named Vasili Arkhipov).
- 1969: According to historian Liu Chenshan, at the height of the Sino-Soviet border conflict, Soviet officials drew up plans for a nuclear attack against China. The United States, however, refused to remain neutral in such a conflict, threatening to launch a full-attack against the Soviet Union in such an event.
- October 24, 1973: As the Yom Kippur War wound down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt's behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.
- November 9, 1979: The United States made emergency retaliation preparations after NORAD saw on-screen indications that a full-scale Soviet attack had been launched. No attempt was made to use the "red telephone" hotline to clarify the situation with the USSR and it was not until early-warning radar systems confirmed no such launch had taken place that NORAD realized that a computer system test had caused the display errors. A senator inside the NORAD facility at the time described an atmosphere of absolute panic. A GAO investigation led to the construction of an off-site test facility to prevent similar mistakes.
- September 26, 1983: A false alarm occurred on the Soviet nuclear early warning system, showing the launch of American Minuteman ICBMs from bases in the United States. The potential for an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its Western allies was prevented by Stanislav Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, who intuited the scale and recent system upgrades meant the system had simply had a malfunction (which was borne out by later investigations).
- November 2–11, 1983: Amid deteriorating relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the lack of a functioning General Secretary in the Soviet Politburo (due to Yuri Andropov's failing health), the Able Archer 83 military drill for NATO's nuclear-release procedures was thought of by some Politburo members as a ruse of war. Nuclear weapons and air forces were placed on alert in East Germany and Poland before the exercise ended.
Post–Cold War period
- January 25, 1995: A team of Norwegian and American scientists launched a Black Brant XII four-stage sounding rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range, with the goal of studying the aurora borealis. The rocket, which bore resemblance to a US Navy submarine-launched Trident missile, was detected by the Olenegorsk early warning radar station in Murmansk Oblast, Russia. The rocket's predicted trajectory, as well as its overall shape and appearance, led the Russian military to believe it was in fact a Trident nuclear missile launched from a US Navy submarine and aimed at Moscow. Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert, and Russian submarine commanders were ordered to go into a state of combat readiness and prepare for nuclear retaliation. The nuclear weapons command briefcase was brought to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who in turn activated his "nuclear keys" in preparation for a response strike. However, after a few minutes, Russian observers were able to determine that the rocket was heading away from Russian airspace and was not a threat, leading Russian military officials to demobilize. This incident was the first and only time in which a nuclear weapons state activated its nuclear briefcase and prepared to launch an attack.
- September 11, 2001: The September 11 attacks caused many to fear that World War III was imminent.
- December 13, 2001 – June 10, 2002: India and Pakistan engaged in a standoff prompted by a mass shooting at the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which the Indian government blamed on Islamic militant groups located in Pakistan. Following the shooting, more than 500,000 Indian troops were deployed along the Kashmiri Line of Control, which separated Indian and Pakistani sectors of the region. Pakistan responded by deploying more than 300,000 of its troops along the Line of Control. For months, tensions simmered, until May when a series of militant attacks and clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers increased tensions. On May 22, the Indian Prime Minister warned his troops to prepare for a "decisive battle". The United States ordered all non-essential citizens to leave India on May 31 and a summit called by Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to yield an agreement. The situation reached a fever pitch on June 5, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan would not renounce its right to strike first with nuclear weapons. On June 10, however, an agreement was reached and both sides began a process of demobilization over the next few months, with India removing its warships from Pakistan's coastline and Musharraf pledging to rein in Islamic militants in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
Norman Podhoretz has suggested that the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought, although by proxy, on a global scale, with the main combatants, the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries providing political, military and economic support while not engaging in direct combat.
Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared in The Wall Street Journal, a month after the September 11 attacks, that the struggle against terrorism was more than a law-enforcement operation, and would require military conflict beyond the invasion of Afghanistan. Cohen, like Marenches, considered World War III to be history. "A less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV," he wrote. "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map." In a 2006 interview, U.S. President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terror as "World War III".
On the July 10, 2006 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute For Public Policy Research (AEI), and said "some are calling the global war on terror something else, something more like World War III." But Ledeen responded that "it's more like World War IV because there was a Cold War, which was certainly a world war." Ledeen added that "probably the start of it [World War IV] was the Iranian revolution of 1979." Similarly, on the May 24, 2011 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, host Lawrence Kudlow, discussing a book by former deputy Under-Secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, said "World War IV is the terror war, and war with China would be World War V."
In 1989, CIA original operative, Miles Copeland, wrote that in the future, World War Three would occur when "Soviet Russia" dupes the United States and Israel into waging a self-destructive war with the Muslim/Arab world.
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World War III is also a common theme in popular culture. Who might start World War III and how it might start are perennial topics of discussion in press. A vast apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the postulated execution and aftermath of World War III, several notable movies have been made based on World War III, and it is the topic of various comics, video games, songs, magazines, radio programs, newspapers and billboards.
World War III has been the topic of countless games, movies, and books. World War III and its predicted aftermath continues to be portrayed in popular media around the world such as in recent video games Violent Storm, Metro 2033, Fallout, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Homefront, ARMA 3, and APOX and in anime such as the Ghost in the Shell and Mobile Suit Gundam 00 metaseries.
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- British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff, Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 002 (1945-08-11). "Operation Unthinkable: 'Russia: Threat to Western Civilization'" (online photocopy). Department of History, Northeastern University. Archived from the original on 2008-07-06. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
- Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Peter Foster (May 13, 2027). "USSR planned nuclear attack on China in 1969". Telegraph.
- CBC Digital Archives (news recording)
- David Hoffman (February 10, 1999). "I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut". Washington Post.
- Shane, Scott. "Cold War’s Riskiest Moment". Baltimore Sun, August 31, 2003 (article reprinted as The Nuclear War That Almost Happened in 1983).
- World War III? | Macleans.ca – Canada – Features. Macleans.ca. Retrieved on 2011-12-26.
- Bush likens 'war on terror' to WWIII. 6 May 2006. ABC News Online
- Right-wing media divided: Is U.S. now in World War III, IV, or V? | Media Matters for America. Mediamatters.org (2006-07-14). Retrieved on 2011-12-26.
- Miles Copeland: "But even with the help of the Israelis-especially with the help of the Israelis!-we couldn't defeat the Iranians, the 'Arabs', the world of Islam or the whole Third World if it should turn against us. We [the CIA] have reason to believe that Soviet strategists well understand this, and that the Third World War that they envision will be one of ourselves against shapeless forces of the Third World, with Soviet Russia ostensibly aloof from it...The U.S Government was sinking into exactly the dilemma that best suited the purposes of Moscow's Leninists as they've begun to blossom under Gorbachev. In materials easily available to the U.S government without recourse to espionage, they had made it clear enough that in their version of the Third World War the United States would be forced into a variety of situations in which it would feel compelled to play the role of a powerful nation but, for all the world to see on it television sets, it would in fact, be powerless." The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA's Original Political Operative, London: Aurum Press, 1989
- Calaprice, Alice (2005). The new quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-691-12075-7.
- Langford, David (1981). War in 2080 : the future of military technology. London: Sphere Books. ISBN 9780722153932.
- Pamidi, G.G. (2012). Possibility of a nuclear war in Asia : an Indian perspective. New Delhi: United Service Institution of India : Vij Books India. ISBN 9381411514.