World War III
World War III (WWIII, WW3 or the Third World War) is a term used to describe a worldwide conflict following World War II. The most common scenario, a hypothetical nuclear war between the superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, is widely used as a premise or plot device in books, films, television productions, and video games. However, some writers have applied the term instead to the Cold War, arguing that it met the definition of a world war even though there was no direct conflict between the superpowers.
World War I (1914–1918) was regarded as the "war to end all wars" and it was believed there could never be another global conflict. World War II (1939–1945) proved that to be false, and with the advent of the Cold War (1945–1991) and the use of nuclear weapons, the likelihood of a third global conflict became more accepted. It was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities in many countries. Scenarios ranged from conventional warfare, to limited or total nuclear warfare leading to the destruction of civilization.
|“||I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.||”|
- 1 Homeland security/civil defense plans
- 2 Military plans
- 2.1 Seven Days to the River Rhine
- 2.2 Operation Chrome Dome
- 2.3 Operation Unthinkable
- 2.4 Operation Behemoth
- 2.5 Operation Strikeback
- 2.6 Operation Deep Water
- 2.7 Operation Dropshot
- 2.8 Plan Totality
- 2.9 Exercise Square Leg
- 2.10 Exercise Swarmer
- 2.11 Exercise Internal Look
- 2.12 Exercise Reforger
- 2.13 Exercise Totskoye
- 2.14 Exercises Grand Slam, Longstep & Mainbrace
- 2.15 NATO Nuclear Sharing Programme
- 2.16 Exercise Able Archer
- 2.17 Desert Rock exercises
- 2.18 Letters of Last Resort
- 2.19 France's Warning Shot
- 2.20 Strategic Defense Initiative
- 3 Historical close calls
- 4 World War III as past or present tense
- 5 Fiction
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
Homeland security/civil defense plans
Continuity of government
Given the likelihood that any third world war could escalate to (or even begin with) a nuclear exchange, from the early days of the cold war it has been considered vital that countries which are potential targets for nuclear attack have a continuity of government (COG) plan in place, to ensure an orderly and clear line of succession in the event the head of state or government is killed in an attack.
The Continuity of Operations Plan of the United States works by having alternate or airborne sites that 'mirror' the main peacetime sites, the alternate sites being always on call or on short notice to activate, if a situation arises where they are needed. For obvious reasons, information on COG sites is classified, the below list is only what the press have managed to unearth over the years, and is by no means complete:
- Cheyenne Mountain, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) This is the permanent seat of NORAD. It was able to sustain nuclear attack up until the 1960s, however more modern ICBMs could destroy it, but only with a direct hit.
- Mount Weather. Alternate for: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (Used temporarily for Members of Congress in Sept. 2001, possible location of other executive branch COG facilities)
- Raven Rock Mountain Complex. Alternate for: National Military Command Center
- Looking Glass Plane. Alternate for: United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)
- E-4B Nightwatch, also known as the Doomsday Plane Alternate for: National Command Authority, Office of the Vice President of the United States, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
- Air Force One. Alternate for: National Command Authority, Office of the Vice President of the United States, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
- TACAMO Planes. Alternate for: United States Strategic Command. The TACAMO planes relay nuclear fire or ceasefire orders from the Nightwatch and Looking Glass planes to the Submarines and Bombers through VLF frequencies. They can also take over for the Looking Glass plane if it is destroyed. One TACAMO plane is always over the Pacific Ocean and one over the Atlantic Ocean.
As with the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation keeps its continuity of government information secret. However press speculation has focused on a few sites: Mount Yamantau has been the centre of much speculation. There has been major construction under the mountain from the 1960s and Russian officials refuse to discuss it.
Metro-2 is the informal name for a purported secret underground metro system which parallels the public Moscow Metro. The system was supposedly built, or at least started, during the time of Joseph Stalin and was codenamed D-6 by the KGB. There has been speculation that this secret metro may lead to COG sites inside Russia, given that in the event of nuclear war, an express subway system, being by nature deep underground, would be a far safer form of transportation for government and military officials than aircraft or surface vehicles, which would be vulnerable to blast waves and firestorms resulting from nuclear explosions. Additionally, the Soviet Union historically spent more of its nuclear budget on defenses than the United States (who put the bulk of their resources into submarines). The US military believed it was better to bluff with offense rather than defense, while the Russians believed they could survive a nuclear war, and built the elaborate underground facilities that would be crucial using such a strategy. Two destinations of this system are suggested to be the old KGB headquarters, now the FSB headquarters, at Lubyanka Square, and the second being regarded as an enormous underground leadership bunker adjacent to Moscow State University. Another alleged subterranean destination, apart from the aforementioned underground town at Ramenki/Moscow State University is Vnukovo-2 airport. Despite official Russian state ambiguity, it is speculated that many of the Moscow bunkers are linked by an underground railway line.
The primary British COG headquarters is at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. The Central Government War Headquarters was previously maintained in a quarry complex near Corsham, Wiltshire. The above-ground support facility was RAF Rudloe Manor.
The Centre d'Opération des Forces Aériennes Stratégiques (COFAS) is a hardened command centre for French nuclear forces at Taverny Air Base in Taverny, Val d'Oise. The alternate national command center is located at Mont Verdun near Lyon.
During the Cold War, the Klara skyddsrum ("Complete shelter" or "Klara bunker") was built underneath Stockholm. The bunker is designed to accommodate two thirds of the government and between 8,000 and 12,000 civilians in the case of a military attack on Stockholm. It is designed as a very large, two-story oval, with multiple entrances. During peace time, parts of it are used as a parking garage.
Many countries have a national emergency alert system to notify the public of danger quickly if there is no time to pass the information through standard news media.
HANDEL was the code-name for the UK's National Attack Warning System in the Cold War. It consisted of a small console consisting of two microphones, lights and gauges. The reason behind this was to provide a back-up if anything failed.
If an enemy air strike was detected, a key on the left hand side of the console would be turned and two lights would come on. Then the operator would press & hold down a red button and give the message: "Attack warning RED! Attack warning RED!"
The message would be sent to the police by the telephone carrier wave frequencies used for the speaking clock, who would in turn activate the air attack sirens using the local telephone lines.
Emergency Alert System
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national warning system in the United States put into place on January 1, 1997, when it superseded the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), which in turn superseded the CONELRAD System. The official EAS is designed to enable the President of the United States to speak publicly to the citizens of America within 10 minutes.
Most countries have one or several national emergencies laws that are ready to come into place in the event that a third world war turns nuclear, or even in the case of a conventional war.
- Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (United Kingdom)
- National Security Presidential Directive 51 (United States)
- National Emergencies Act (United States 1976)
- Emergency Powers Act (Ireland 1939)
- German Emergency Acts (Germany 1968)
- Emergencies Act (Canada 1988)
- State of Emergency in India
Although at present the notion of a Third World War remains in the realm of fiction for most of the civilian populations of the world, military planners have been war gaming various scenarios, preparing for the worst, since the early days of the cold war. Some of those plans are now out of date and have been partially or fully declassified:
Seven Days to the River Rhine
Seven Days to the River Rhine was a top secret military simulation exercise developed in 1979 by the Warsaw Pact. It planned for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe to stop at the River Rhine by the seventh day. Other plans by the USSR stopped only when reaching the French border on day nine. Individual Warsaw Pact states were only given their own part of the strategic picture, in this case the Polish forces were only expected to go as far as Germany. The Seven Days to the Rhine plan envisioned that Poland and Germany would be destroyed by nuclear exchanges. It was estimated that NATO would fire nuclear weapons behind the advancing Soviet lines to cut off their supply lines and thus blunt their advance. The plan literally envisioned Warsaw Pact troops marching over the nuclear wastelands of Germany, the USSR getting the maximum use out of them before they died of radiation sickness. While this plan assumed that NATO would use nuclear weapons to push back any Warsaw Pact invasion, it did not include nuclear strikes on France or the United Kingdom. Newspapers speculated when this plan was declassified that France and the UK were not hit in an effort to get them to withhold use of their own nuclear weapons.
Operation Chrome Dome
Operation Chrome Dome, initiated in 1960, was one of several United States Air Force Cold-War era airborne global alert duties or programs in which B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft armed with thermonuclear weapons were assigned targets in the Soviet Union on schedules guaranteeing that a substantial number of them were flying and fueled for their missions at any given time. Bombers loitered near points outside the Soviet Union to provide rapid first strike or retaliation capability in case of nuclear war.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, with the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of WWII and the unreliability of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, there was a serious threat to Western Europe. In April–May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable, thought to be the first scenario of the Third World War. 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.
Operation Behemoth was a massive Soviet naval exercise in 1989 by the Russian Northern Fleet. The exercise involved a feasibility test for a simultaneous launch of all 16 R-29RMU Sineva liquid-fueled missiles (which each carry four independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) from a Delta Class Submarine, an ability that would be deadly in a surprise nuclear first strike off an enemy coastline, cutting the warning time from 20–30 minutes as with ICBMs to perhaps 5 minutes or less. The launch attempt failed in exercise Behemoth 1. Two years later exercise Behemoth 2 was held where the attempt was repeated. All missiles successfully launched at the same time. The entire launch took less than 4 minutes.
Operation Strikeback was a major NATO naval exercise held in 1952 simulating a response to an all out Soviet attack on NATO. Operation Strikeback involved over 200 warships, 650 aircraft, and 75,000 personnel from the United States Navy, the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, the French Navy, the Royal Netherlands Navy, and the Royal Norwegian Navy. As the largest peacetime naval operation up to that time, military analyst Hanson W. Baldwin of the New York Times characterized Operation Strikeback as "constituting the strongest striking fleet assembled since World War II."
Operation Deep Water
Operation Deep Water was a 1957 NATO naval exercise held in the Mediterranean Sea that simulated protecting the Dardanelles from a Soviet invasion. By controlling this bottleneck in a war situation, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would be prevented from entering the Mediterranean.
This exercise featured a simulated nuclear air strike in the Gallipoli area, reflecting NATO's nuclear umbrella policy to offset the Soviet Union's numerical superiority of ground forces in Europe. Operation Deep Water also involved the first units of the United States Marines Corps to participated in an helicopter-borne vertical envelopment/air assault operation during an overseas deployment.
Operation Deep Water opened with a simulated atomic air strike in the Gallipoli area on 25 September 1957 and culminated with the landing of 8,000 U.S. Marines at Saros Gulf near Gallipoli, Turkey, from a 38-ship amphibious task force led by flagship USS Pocono, on 29 September 1957.
Operation Dropshot was the 1950s United States contingency plan for a possible nuclear and conventional war with the Soviet Union in the Western European and Asian theaters. At the time the US nuclear arsenal was limited in size, based mostly in the United States, and depended on bombers for delivery. Dropshot included mission profiles that would have used 300 nuclear bombs and 29,000 high-explosive bombs on 200 targets in 100 cities and towns to wipe out 85% of the Soviet Union's industrial potential at a single stroke. Between 75 and 100 of the 300 nuclear weapons were targeted to destroy Soviet combat aircraft on the ground.
The scenario was devised prior to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was also devised before Robert McNamara and President Kennedy changed the US Nuclear War plan from the city killing countervalue strike plan to 'counterforce' (targeted more at military forces). Nuclear Weapons at this time were not accurate enough to hit a Naval base without destroying the city bent around it, so the aim in using them was to destroy the countries industrial capacity in an effort to take the steam out of their war economy.
The plan envisioned a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union with 20 to 30 atomic bombs. It earmarked 20 Soviet cities for obliteration in a first strike: Moscow, Gorki, Kuybyshev, Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Saratov, Kazan, Leningrad, Baku, Tashkent, Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Magnitogorsk, Molotov, Tbilisi, Stalinsk, Grozny, Irkutsk, and Yaroslavl.
Exercise Square Leg
Exercise Square Leg was a UK civil defense exercise to plan for a full strategic nuclear attack on both military and civil targets. The plan called for evacuation of city dwellers into rural regions in Scotland, northern England and central Wales (East Anglia and the Welsh coast being definitive targets) upon warning that nuclear warfare was likely. The exercise was critiqued for being overly fatalistic, estimating Soviet weaponry to be in high yields in every strike, rather than the more likely mixed yields.
Exercise Swarmer (1950) involved training for an invasion of the continental United States by enemy forces with defending forces counterattacking the 'enemy incursion' via a massive airlift behind enemy lines. The counterattack involved establishing an airhead, involving over six hundred transport and fighter aircraft, and airdrops of over 3900 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and the 11th Airborne Division.
Exercise Internal Look
This exercise was designed to quickly deploy forces assigned to the US Central Command to the Iranian border to halt a Soviet invasion of the Middle East. It has since been adapted to the post cold war world in a number of ways from halting Russian intervention in the middle east to logistical feasibility studies for US action in Iran and Iraq.
Exercise Reforger (from return of forces to Germany) was an annual exercise conducted, during the Cold War, by NATO. The exercise was intended to ensure that NATO had the ability to quickly deploy forces to West Germany in the event of a conflict with the Warsaw Pact.
The Warsaw Pact outnumbered NATO throughout the cold war in conventional forces, especially armor. Therefore, in the event of a Soviet invasion, in order not to resort to tactical nuclear strikes, NATO forces holding the line against a Warsaw Pact armored spearhead would have to be quickly resupplied and replaced. Most of this support would have come across the Atlantic from the US and Canada.
Reforger was not merely a show of force—in the event of a conflict, it would be the actual plan to strengthen the NATO presence in Europe. In that instance, it would have been referred to as Operation Reforger. Important components in Reforger included the Military Airlift Command, the Military Sealift Command, and the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
The Totskoye nuclear exercise was a military exercise undertaken by the Soviet army to explore defensive and offensive warfare during nuclear war. The exercise, under the code name "Snowball", involved an aerial detonation of RDS-4 nuclear bomb as powerful as the two bombs used in the American nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The stated goal of the operation was military training for breaking through heavily fortified defensive lines of a military opponent using nuclear weapons. An army of 45,000 soldiers marched through the area around the epicenter soon after the nuclear blast. The exercise was conducted on September 14, 1954, under the command of Marshal Georgy Zhukov to the north of Totskoye village in Orenburg Oblast, Russia, in the South Ural Military District.
The test was designed as proof of new Soviet military doctrine that nuclear war can actually be won, and the tactical usage of atomic bombs can support conventional warfare (contrary to Joseph Stalin's beliefs that it can only be used behind enemy lines - against cities or factories - but it's useless on the battlefield). It was also meant to disprove the opinions of current Soviet premier, Georgy Malenkov, that nuclear war cannot be won by any of its participants.
Exercises Grand Slam, Longstep & Mainbrace
Main Articles: Exercise Longstep, Exercise Grand Slam, Exercise Mainbrace In January 1950, the North Atlantic Council approved NATO's military strategy of deterring Soviet aggression. NATO military planning took on a renewed urgency following the outbreak of the Korean War in mid-1950, prompting NATO to establish a "force under a centralised command, adequate to deter aggression and to ensure the defence of Western Europe". Allied Command Europe was established under General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. Army, on 2 April 1951. The Western Union Defence Organization had previously carried out Exercise Verity, a 1949 multilateral exercise involving naval air strikes and submarine attacks.
Exercise Mainbrace brought together 200 ships and over 50,000 personnel to practice the defence of Denmark and Norway from Russian attack in 1952. It was the first major NATO exercise. The exercise was jointly commanded by Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic Admiral Lynde D. McCormick, USN, and Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Matthew B. Ridgeway, U.S. Army, during the Fall of 1952.
The United States, UK, Canada, France, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Netherlands and Belgium all participated.
Exercises Grand Slam and Longstep were naval exercises held in the Mediterranean Sea during 1952 to practice dislodging an enemy occupying force and amphibious assault. It involved over 170 warships and 700 aircraft under the overall command of Admiral Carney. The overall exercise commander, Admiral Carney summarized the accomplishments of Exercise Grand Slam by stating: "We have demonstrated that the senior commanders of all four powers can successfully take charge of a mixed task force and handle it effectively as a working unit."
The USSR called the exercises "war-like acts" by NATO, with particular reference to the participation of Norway and Denmark, while the USSR was preparing for its own military manoeuvres in the Soviet Zone.
NATO Nuclear Sharing Programme
NATO operational plans for a third world war have involved NATO allies who do not have their own nuclear weapons, using US nuclear weapons as part of a general NATO war plan, under the direction of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander.
Of the three nuclear powers in NATO (France, the United Kingdom and the United States), only the United States has provided weapons for nuclear sharing. As of November 2009[update], Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are still hosting U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO's nuclear sharing policy. Canada hosted weapons until 1984, and Greece until 2001. The United Kingdom also received U.S. tactical nuclear weapons such as nuclear artillery and Lance missiles until 1992, despite the UK being a nuclear weapons state in its own right; these were mainly deployed in Germany.
In peace time, the nuclear weapons stored in non-nuclear countries are guarded by U.S. airmen though previously some artillery and missile systems were guarded by US Army soldiers; the codes required for detonating them are under American control. In case of war, the weapons are to be mounted on the participating countries' warplanes. The weapons are under custody and control of USAF Munitions Support Squadrons co-located on NATO main operating bases who work together with the host nation forces.
As of 2005[update], 180 tactical B61 nuclear bombs of the 480 U.S. nuclear weapons believed to be deployed in Europe fall under the nuclear sharing arrangement. The weapons are stored within a vault in hardened aircraft shelters, using the USAF WS3 Weapon Storage and Security System. The delivery warplanes used are F-16s and Panavia Tornados.
Exercise Able Archer
Exercise Able Archer was an annual exercise by the United States Military in Europe that practiced command and control procedures, with emphasis on transition from just convention operations to chemical, nuclear, and conventional operations during a time of war.
Able Archer 83 was a five-day North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) command post exercise starting on November 7, 1983, that spanned Western Europe, centered on the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Headquarters in Casteau, north of the city of Mons. Able Archer exercises simulated a period of conflict escalation, culminating in a coordinated nuclear attack.
The realistic nature of the 1983 exercise, coupled with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the anticipated arrival of strategic Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some members of the Soviet Politburo and military to believe that Able Archer 83 was a ruse of war, obscuring preparations for a genuine nuclear first strike. In response, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. This is known as the 1983 war scare.
The 1983 war scare is considered by many historians to be the closest the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The threat of nuclear war ended with the conclusion of the exercise on November 11.
Desert Rock exercises
Desert Rock was the code name of a series of exercises conducted by the US military in conjunction with atmospheric nuclear tests. They were carried out at the Nevada Proving Grounds between 1951 and 1957.
Their purpose was to train troops and gain knowledge of military manoeuvres and operations on the nuclear battlefield. They included observer programs, tactical manoeuvres, and damage effects tests.
Letters of Last Resort
The letters of last resort are four identically-worded handwritten letters written by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the commanding officers of the four British ballistic missile submarines. They contain orders on what action to take in the event that an enemy nuclear strike has destroyed the British government and has killed or incapacitated both the Prime Minister and the "second person" (normally a high-ranking member of the Cabinet) whom the Prime Minister has designated to make a decision on how to act in the event of the Prime Minister's death. In the event that the orders were to be carried out, the action taken could be the last official act of Her Majesty's Government.
The letters are stored inside two safes in the control room of each submarine. The UK submarines do not have the same code-locked PAL systems that the US nuclear forces use. Reports indicate that each set of letters differs depending on the Prime Minister, but the Navy advises the incoming prime minister that he has three broad choices:
1. Instruct the submarine Captain to conduct a massive retaliatory strike on the aggressor. 2. Instruct the submarine Captain to place the submarine under allied command. This would involve sailing to the United States or Australia, or some other UK ally, and placing the submarine at that countries disposal. 3. Instruct the submarine Captain to use his own judgement. The Prime Minister may choose any other option, or permutation of options, in his own absolute discretion.
The letters contents are never revealed in the media and are destroyed unopened at the end of each Prime Ministers term.
France's Warning Shot
The French military were well aware from intelligence sources during the cold war that some Soviet invasion plans called for stopping at the Rhine, others stopping at the French border, and still others at the Pyrenees. Since the French military judged that a full-scale invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies was unlikely to be stopped by conventional armaments, these short-range nuclear missiles were meant as a "final warning" (ultime avertissement in French) which would tell the aggressor that any further advances would trigger a nuclear armageddon upon its major cities and other important targets. The idea was to fire a small yield nuclear missile at a low population area close to the advancing Soviet lines, to demonstrate that France was indeed willing to use its nuclear weapons. If this warning was not heeded, France reserved the right to use tactical nuclear weapons on the advancing Soviet troops (using Pluton or Hadès missiles, or Dassault Mirage IV jets using Air-Sol Moyenne Portée missiles) or to launch a full strategic nuclear attack on the USSR using their Redoutable-class submarine, thus destroying the USSR's ability to sustain war by destroying its war economy, manufacturing base and military bases. While this policy saw a lower profile with the end of the cold war, President Chirac reasserted it in 2006. The French IRBM force has now been scrapped but they retain an air and sea nuclear deterrent.
Strategic Defense Initiative
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983,. In the later part of his Presidency numerous factors (which included watching the 1983 movie The Day After and hearing through a Soviet defector that Able Archer 83 almost triggered a Russian first strike) had turned Ronald Reagan against the concept of winnable nuclear war, and he begun to see nuclear weapons as more of a wild card than a strategic deterrent. Although he later believed in disarmament treaties slowly blunting the danger of nuclear weaponry by reducing their number and alert status, he also believed a technological solution might allow incoming ICBM's to be shot down, thus making the US invulnerable to a first strike. However the USSR saw the SDI concept as a major threat, since the SDI, unilaterally deployed, would allow the US to launch a massive first strike on the Soviet Union without any fear of retaliation.
The concept was to use ground-based and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was set up in 1984 within the United States Department of Defense to oversee the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Historical close calls
With the development of the arms race in the 1950s, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered possible. Among the historical events considered potential triggers for a nuclear conflict are:
- 25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953: The Korean War, a war between two factions trying to control the Korean Peninsula: a communist one supported by China and the USSR, and a capitalist one, supported by the UN and the United States. Many people believed that it would escalate into full-scale war between the three superpowers. CBS war correspondent Bill Downs wrote in 1951 that, "To my mind, the answer is: Yes, Korea is the beginning of World War III. The brilliant landings at Inchon and the cooperative efforts of the American armed forces with the United Nations Allies have won us a victory in Korea. But this is only the first battle in a major international struggle which now is engulfing the Far East and the entire world." He repeated this belief on ABC Evening News while reporting on the USS Pueblo incident in 1968.
- 15–28 October 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, which could have precipitated a Third World War. The crisis peaked on 27 October, 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).
- October 6–25, 1973: The Yom Kippur War, also known as the Ramadan War, or October War, began with Arab victories. Israel successfully counterattacked. Tensions grew between the U.S. (which supported Israel) and the Soviet Union (which sided with the Arab states). American and Soviet naval forces came close to firing upon each other. Adm. Murphy of the U.S. reckoned the chances of the Soviet squadron attempting a first strike against his fleet at 40 percent. The Pentagon moved Defcon status from 4 to 3. The superpowers had been pushed to the brink of war.
- 26 September 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. A retaliatory attack was prevented by Stanislav Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, who realised the system had simply malfunctioned (which was borne out by later investigations).
World War III as past or present tense
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, involving the United States, NATO, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. 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 he considers World War III to be history. "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."
Others have claimed that the world has changed, that war has changed, and thus World War III will not be a conventional or even nuclear war, as had been imagined in the Cold War. Some claim that the War on Terrorism is World War III, with September 11 being the 'Pearl Harbor' that dragged the United States into a terrorism fight, as the UK and Israel were already fighting, in a similar way to World War II. On the 24 May 2011 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, host Lawrence Kudlow, discussing a book by former deputy Under-Secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, accepted the view of the Cold War as World War III, adding "World War IV is the terror war, and war with China would be World War V."
World War III is a common theme in fiction and art.
Many media concerning a Third World War portray the war as being fought with nuclear weapons, with some even portraying multiple major exchanges that result in anything from entire continents being wiped out (as in The Last Ship) to utter annihilation of the human race (as in On The Beach). However, some, such as The Third World War: The Untold Story and Red Storm Rising, portray a conventional war where the pressure by regional military commanders on the side losing at that time to use tactical nuclear weapons grows as the story goes on. With most WWIII fiction being written during the Cold War, when a U.S.-Soviet conflict was seen as a very likely scenario, this tends to be the focus of most books and movies on the subject.
With the end of the Cold War, despite the public perception that such a war is now unlikely, the genre continues to grow. Some video games, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 have speculated on the emergence of a Second Cold War after a new ultranationalist Russia emerges. Other works, including the Fallout video game series and books like Invasion speculate about a future war between the U.S. and China after the latter becomes a global superpower, others like Arc Light portray an unstable post-Cold War Russian Federation being the subject of a military coup, during which a series of accidents and misunderstandings trigger a nuclear strike by the Russians, with the U.S. retaliating, and both nations locked in a war neither of them want.
The changed post-Cold War world and the changed perception of the likelihood of various threats have caused some Cold War stories to be re-imagined for the post-Cold War age. The Last Ship by William Brinkley has been adapted to a TV series of the same name, with the plot changed to a global pandemic rather than a nuclear exchange, whereas the 2012 remake of Red Dawn scraps the Soviet Union entirely and is set in more contemporary times, having been written and rewritten to feature China and an increasingly militant North Korea, respectively, as the antagonistic invaders.
- The Third World War: The Untold Story by General Sir John Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking, and explores the pressure by regional military commanders to use nuclear weapons.
- Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective. The only World War III novel where there is no Western victory (excluding Hackett's alternate ending).
- Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising has the Politburo vote for a declaration of war against NATO forces following an Islamic terrorist attack on a Soviet oil facility, which cripples Soviet oil production and threatens their economy.
- The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crisis that culminates in a third world war involving nuclear and biological weapons.
- Trinity's Child by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare. This book was highly acclaimed and is considered a "must read" by readers of the genre.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to World War III.|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: World War III|
- Calaprice, Alice (2005). The new quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-691-12075-7.
- Continental US Fallout Pattern for Prevailing Winds (FEMA-196/September 1990)
- United States Department of Defense (1991). Military forces in transition. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Defense. p. 40. ISBN 0-16-035973-2. ISSN 1062-6557. Retrieved 2011-06-13.
- "Global Security. Secrets 'Metro'-Style Source Cited on 'Nuclear Bunkers,' Subway Links Claim Moscow Kuranty in Russian No. 17, 30 Apr-6 May 97 p 11".
- (English) Jonathan Walker (2013). Operation Unthinkable: The Third World War. The History Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-7524-8718-2.
- British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff, Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 002 (11 August 1945). "Operation Unthinkable: 'Russia: Threat to Western Civilization'" (online photocopy). Department of History, Northeastern University. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 28 June 2008.
- Baldwin, Hanson W. (22 September 1957). "100 Fighting Ships in Vast Exercise". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
- Time Inc (1957-10-07). LIFE. Time Inc. p. 56.
- "Emergency Call". TIME. 30 September 1957. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- "All Ashore". TIME. 1957-10-07. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
- S. Filshtinsky (1957). "NATO Autumn Manoeuvres". International Affairs (Minneapolis-Moscow, USA-Russia) 11 (3): 96–97. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
- "Pocono". DANFS.
- Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod, "To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon's Secret War Plans", Boston, South End Press, 1987, pp. 30-31.
- Newsweek, Volume 35, Issues 14-26.
- Hagerman 1997, p. 379.
- Totskyoe exercise. Measures of safety (Russian) by Sergei Markov
- Viktor Suvorov, Shadow of Victory (Тень победы), Donetsk, 2003, ISBN 966-696-022-2, pages 353-375. The challenges official record of Georgy Zhukov as a flawless military leader. The chapter about Totskoye nuclear exercise is mostly based on open publications in Russian press, such as Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), an official newspaper of Russian Ministry of Defense, and Literaturnaya Gazeta
- "Fifty five years ago Zhokov tested nuclear weapons on people (Russian) This link provides old video records of the actual nuclear exercise." (in Russian). podrobnosti.ua. 2009-09-20. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Lord Ismay. "Chapter 3 - The Pace Quickens". NATO the first five years 1949-1954. NATO. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
- "Chapter 4 - The Pace Quickens". NATO the first five years 1949-1954. NATO. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
- "X" (July 1947). "The Sources of Soviet Conduct". Foreign Affairs 25 (4): 575–576. doi:10.2307/20030065. ISSN 0015-7120. JSTOR 20030065.
- Time, September 29, 1952
- "NATO Ships Enter Baltic Sea" - Sydney Morning Herald, p. 2
- Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn (March 2010), NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Dilemma, Royal United Services Institute, retrieved 2010-03-16.
- Der Spiegel: Foreign Minister Wants US Nukes out of Germany (2009-04-10)
- John Clearwater (1998), Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal, Dundurn Press Ltd, ISBN 1-55002-299-7, retrieved 2008-11-10
- Hans M. Kristensen (February 2005), U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe, Natural Resources Defense Council, p. 26, retrieved 2009-04-02
- Hans M. Kristensen (February 2005), U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe, Natural Resources Defense Council, retrieved 2009-04-02
- Hans M. Kristensen (5 October 2007). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe After the Cold War". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
- Benjamin B. Fischer (2007-03-17). "A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare". Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-13.
- Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 85–7.
- Beth Fischer, Reagan Reversal, 123, 131.
- Pry, War Scare, 37–9.
- Oberdorfer, A New Era, 66.
- SNIE 11–10–84 "Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities" Central Intelligence Agency, May 18, 1984.
- John Lewis Gaddis and John Hashimoto. "COLD WAR Chat: Professor John Lewis Gaddis, Historian". Retrieved 2005-12-29.[dead link]
- Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 87–8.
- Pry, War Scare, 43–4.
- Federation of American Scientists. Missile Defense Milestones. Accessed March 10, 2006.
- Downs, Bill (March 1951). "World War III in Asia?". See Magazine.
- Downs, Bill (25 January 1968). "The USS Pueblo incident". ABC Evening News with Bob Young. ABC Evening News. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
- Hoffman, David (10 February 1999). "I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut". Washington Post.
- Shane, Scott. "Cold War's Riskiest Moment". Baltimore Sun, 31 August 2003 (article reprinted as The Nuclear War That Almost Happened in 1983).
- Norman Podhoretz:World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
- World War III? | Macleans.ca – Canada – Features. Macleans.ca. Retrieved on 26 December 2011.
- Right-wing media divided: Is U.S. now in World War III, IV, or V? | Media Matters for America. Mediamatters.org (14 July 2006). Retrieved on 26 December 2011.
- Langford, David (1981). War in 2080 : the future of military technology. London: Sphere Books. ISBN 978-0-7221-5393-2.
- 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 93-81411-51-4.