The World War Three fixation


President Trump speaks to reporters Saturday during a brief stop at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The Trump administration sent a list of immigration policy priorities to Congress that includes overhauling the country’s green-card system, hiring 10,000 more immigration officers and building a wall along the southern border.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker has lent his voice to growing fears among sections of the world community that US President Donald Trump’s inflammatory utterances in relation to particularly North Korea are putting the world at risk of descending into a Third World War. These fears are understandable given that Pyongyang is now chancing its arm with intercontinental ballistic missiles of extraordinary range.

These apprehensions are compounded by the US President’s alarming verbal reactions to North Korea’s perceived non-cooperative behaviour. Trump is on record as implying that nothing short of military action could work in the case of North Korea.

Corker’s comment on the possibility of World War Three capped a verbal duel he had with Trump on some differences between the two figures on matters of a domestic kind. Among other things, Corker said that the Trump administration’s style of governance resembled a ‘reality show’.

At first blush it may seem that the threat of another World War is very real, considering the increasing hostility between North Korea and the US, which states are both nuclear armed and who apparently have behind them some firm and powerful allies. But are the global power configurations in place to trigger another World War? What are the essential features of a World War?

Since the air is somewhat thick with fears of an international military conflict in the Korean peninsula it is appropriate that the conceptual basis of a World War is re-examined to assess the possibility of a war on the lines visualized happening once again.

In the case of both World Wars which occurred there were very clearly two predominant alliances of states which pitted themselves against each other. In World War One, for instance, Britain, France, Russia (Up to mid 1917) the US and some lesser powers took on Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies.

In World War Two, the two broad alliances were – Britain, the US, France, the USSR and their allies on the one side and Germany, Italy and Japan, in the main, on the other. Since many of these major powers owned colonies in the Asian and African continents, the latter were compelled to involve themselves in the war on the side of their ‘mother countries’. Thus, the wars in question took on truly global proportions. Barring a few regions, the World Wars left their blighting imprint and impact on almost the totality of the world

The question is – is the contemporary world political order characterized by such mutually-hostile alliances of states that would lend to a present conflict, the defining features of a World War?

The answer is ‘no’. There are no alliance systems worth speaking of currently. The striking feature of the post-Cold War world is that global politics, or the international distribution of power, are characterized by multi-polarity as opposed to the bi-polarity of the decades that spanned the end of World War Two until the early nineties.

If the inter-war years were dominated by the US, the USSR and their respective alliance systems, that were locked in a struggle for global domination, such tightly knit alliance system are totally absent in today’s world political order. Currently, although the US continues to be the world’s number one military, economic and political power, its challengers are numerous and the latter are not at the helm of any visible, clearly definable international military alliances of the NATO and Warsaw Pact kind.

Accordingly, any World Wars of the kind we have had so far are not possible at present. But regional military conflicts are possible, but in this case too the probability of such confrontations occurring wide-rangingly are slim, considering that the possibility of nuclear arms being used in these conflicts are great.

The monumental human costs incurred by nuclear weapons are likely to prevent any antagonists from triggering armed confrontations of even a regional kind, although one cannot rule out the possibility of a pre-emptive military attack on North Korea. But here too, much thought and negotiations are likely to precede impulsive military conduct. But the world would have plenty of verbal jousts and sabre rattling between the US and North Korean administrations in the foreseeable future.

In case a decision is made by the US to deal with North Korea militarily, it may receive the support of South Korea, Japan and some states in the ASEAN bloc but it cannot count on having the collective and whole-hearted backing of the West. In fact, formations such as the EU and Britain, are likely to strongly caution against any precipitate US military action against North Korea.

Nor could North Korea expect China, for example, to rush to its assistance in the case of a military attack on it. China and Russia have been one with the rest of the UN Security Council thus far in bringing sanctions on North Korea and the latter’s political leadership would be naïve to ignore this fact.

The fundamental truth about international politics and economics today is that they are bewilderingly complex. A ‘black and white’ characterization of the world which was relatively possible in the inter-war years, is simply not possible today. Today, economics are primary and economic links are formed across regional and continental boundaries, irrespective of political considerations.

The post-Cold War world is defined by a spirit of pragmatism that treats with disdain even the slightest reference to political ideology. In fact, we live in an ideology-free world.

China is the world’s number one investor but she is not alone in penetrating the globe for economic opportunity. She is bound to have strong competitors for economic openings world wide in the Asia-Pacific. It will be in the interests of the totality of Southern states in particular to have a war-free world.

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