A discourse on World War III that could be hyperbole


Besides the serious consequences of an unlikely nuclear confrontation between the West and Russia, there are other inhibiting factors

Besides the serious consequences of an unlikely nuclear confrontation between the West and Russia, there are other inhibiting factors

Amid signs of a further escalation in conflict levels, vis à visWith the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war – and the accompanying new rhetoric of an even wider conflagration in prospect – concerns about the possibility of World War III have been ratcheted up several notches. In recent days, what is even more evident is that both sides seem intent on expanding the scope of the conflict rather than trying to end it.

Battle cry and response

Last week, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), bolstered by the perceived success of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression, upped the ante again by promising additional packages of lethal weapons to Ukraine (amounting to several million dollars), which the West had so far refrained from supplying to Ukraine.

Again, in what can only be seen as a battle cry, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at a meeting of 43 NATO and other nations (which took place held at U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Europe) said what happened was a demonstration of the determination of nations around the world to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.

Russia’s response was equally threatening. Asked about the prospect of a Third World War, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the risk, including the possibility of nuclear war, was not negligible and the situation should not be under estimated. Mr. Lavrov added: “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through its proxy, and is arming that proxy.” He added that “war means war”.

Russia’s implicit threat to use nuclear weapons cannot be ignored. Mr Lavrov is not the only one talking about nuclear weapons, as former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has also warned Sweden and Finland (which are currently not NATO members) that if they decide to join the US-led military alliance, Russia would not hesitate to deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles to deal with the threat this posed. He added ominously that in such an eventuality, there would be no more talk of a nuclear-free Baltic.

The use of nuclear weapons is taboo

All the signs are therefore far from reassuring and the fears of a nuclear holocaust seem very real. Yet, it would be premature to come to the conclusion that a third world war, accompanied by the use of nuclear weapons, is imminent. A fact stands out loud and clear, to know., that since 1945, and despite the occasional “saber-braking” of the nuclear powers, the use of nuclear weapons has remained taboo.

Since the first two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons has only multiplied. Nuclear weapons are also no longer the monopoly of one power. A nuclear attack by any of the major nuclear powers – Russia, the United States or China – would result in instant retaliation. Again, the nuclear balance today is unfavorable to the West, as Russia and China together have greater combined nuclear power than the West. More precisely; if both sides were to engage in a nuclear conflict, there would be no winners, and it could only result in nuclear armageddon.

Besides the severe consequences of a nuclear standoff, there are other inhibiting factors that make World War III an unlikely prospect. A current reality is that there are many degrees of separation when it comes to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, between the views of the West and many other countries around the world. Again, not all countries agree with the West on the extent of Russian perfidy in the context of Ukraine, and this segment includes significant swathes of the emerging world. Even some non-NATO countries in Europe remain skeptical of the rationale for US support for Ukraine, and buy into the idea that the ultimate goal is to restore global belief and faith in the authority and power, and to make “America Great Again”. . There is even less support for the hackneyed theme that Russia today represents the “evil empire”. A latent fear among these uncommitted countries is that fully supporting the West, and allowing it to act as judge, jury and executioner, could create problems for many of them in the future.

Europe’s real concern

European countries are also concerned about the costs of the war, specifically the cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the conflict. There are many little-known facts in this context about what a protracted conflict between Russia and Ukraine could mean for Europe and the world that are worth mentioning. For example, Ukraine and Russia are generally referred to as the “breadbasket” of Europe. A prolonged conflict would have serious consequences for Europe in terms of food security. Moreover, Europe has yet to recover from the ill effects of a protracted novel coronavirus pandemic, and a protracted war could further damage economies there. As it stands, the WTO has cut Europe’s trade forecast to 3% from 4.7% for this year. Again, only two Ukrainian companies produce about 50% of the total global neon production. It’s an essential gas needed by lasers used in a chip production process known as lithography, “where machines carve patterns into tiny pieces of silicon.” Chip shortages are expected to lead to production cuts in the audio, computer and electronics sectors. Considering all of this, a third world war is hardly the preferred choice for most people, even more so in Europe.

Signs of Russian restraint

There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foray into Ukraine was a grave mistake – a point made by many Western leaders, and a few others as well. However, Russia has not since shown the same degree of “recklessness” that could cause a wider conflagration. An example of this which could be mentioned, and which could have led to a serious situation, is the restraint of Russia following its largest loss of warship in wartime since the Second World War (during which one sailor died and 27 are reportedly missing). That Russia showed restraint even after the world learned that the missile cruiser had been hit by a Ukrainian anti-ship missile speaks volumes. To much of Europe and the West, Russia’s response seemed surprisingly muted. Continued such restraint is a matter of conjecture, but for now it indicates Russia’s reluctance to expand both the area and the intensity of the conflict.

For now, Russia is focused – or at least seems more interested – in breaking up Ukraine, now that Ukraine’s NATO membership has been put on the back burner. Moscow is currently watching large swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine, and appears to have given up on its plans for the time being to “conquer” all of Ukraine and make it part of Russia. If Russia persists in its current thinking, it would mean that Russia is not interested in getting drawn into a Third World War. For their part, most European countries – unlike NATO and perhaps the United States – believe that they can continue to live with the new order of things.

The problem with this last objective is that it conflicts with the desire of the United States and NATO to exploit the current war situation in Europe to weaken Russia militarily and politically, and incidentally to politically decapitate Mr. Putin by undermining his authority and position. This explains the intensity with which the United States mustered its capabilities – and those of NATO – to resist the Russian invasion of Ukraine and inflict permanent economic and political damage on Russia, and diminish it militarily. . This would meet at least two main objectives which dominate American thinking at the present time: to revitalize the United States-NATO partnership to make it the bulwark of European security and to restore the image of the United States in Europe as in the world.

It’s ‘understated and sweeter’

Current thinking in Europe seems more in line with a softer approach. The re-election of French President Emmanuel Macron has been a source of relief and satisfaction for the United States and Europe, but the show of force by the far right is causing much thought in ruling circles in Europe and underlines the importance of taking a sober approach to political issues, avoiding all or part of intemperate movements. Yet, many unknowns will still need to be addressed. The West, and in particular the United States, remains committed to expanding NATO and, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, is also likely complicit in the recent announcement by Sweden and Finland of their desire to join the NATO. Being well aware of Mr. Putin’s mindset, it’s almost as if the West is daring Russia to react.

Both the West and Russia need to exercise caution and caution in negotiating the many minefields that abound. The West should be grateful that Mr. Putin has not yet emerged as a Joseph Stalin, but at the same time they should realize that there is no Churchill, De Gaulle and FDR. [Franklin D. Roosevelt] on their side.

MK Narayanan is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, a former National Security Advisor and a former Governor of West Bengal


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