World War I and World War II were major conflicts that involved most of the powerful nations of the first half of the 20th century. These two massive bloodsheds have shaped the remaining half of the century and gave us the state of equilibrium between the two super-world powers that emerged from the end of World War II in 1945 – the United States and the Soviet Union.
While some political scientists proclaimed the end of history when the Soviet Union succumbed under the weight of the failure of communism and capitalism was left standing, this may not, in fact, be the end.
For a couple of decades, we all thought capitalism would be the answer. We wrongly thought a globalization fuelled by capitalism would eradicate poverty around the world. It can’t be denied that it raised living standards throughout the globe but it did so by creating an even bigger wedge between the rich and the poor.
We’ve experienced the biggest transfer of wealth in history as the top 1% hoard more assets, resources and money at the expense of the rest. When you combine this unrest with the existing potential areas of conflict, some claim we are on the brink of World War III.
Let’s see how that can happen while hoping it doesn’t.
15. North Korea
For decades the North Korean regime has been stuck in the Cold War age. Having a foreign enemy helps their propaganda machine, and, after having invested billions in a nuclear programme while there’s widespread famine in the country, North Korea is now actively threatening its enemies with nuclear missiles.
South Korea, Japan and the United States are the sworn enemies of Kim Jong-Un who may be desperate enough for attention to try something crazy. The provocations have intensified over the last 6 months and some sort of conflict may be unavoidable. Russia and China seem to be siding with the Western world in condemning the Pyongyang regime but their allegiance might speak louder in the case of a war.
14. China vs India
In 2014, China and India had an intense border dispute, and, as the two empires of tomorrow, their strategic priorities are bound to clash several times over the next few decades. Much like the United States and the old Soviet Union, these two will be interlocked in a battle for economic superiority in the long run.
The natural borders of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas should keep both sides happy for now, but China’s friendship with Pakistan will always be a source of discomfort for India. Similarly, India’s alignment with Vietnam and Japan will not be welcome in Beijing’s perspective.
13. Middle East
The situation in the Middle East has become so deeply convoluted, it’s actually positive in the sense that it still hasn’t brought on World War III. From the Israel and Palestine confrontation to ISIS, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Arab spring, the region is as volatile as it’s ever been.
With the United States and Russia interfering on opposing sides due to either their business interests or their shared Soviet past, the Middle East is teaming with civil war, religious fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing. For decades this region has been synonymous with the spark that may ignite the next World War. Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like a real possibility these days.
12. Russia vs NATO
From the recent confrontation in the ongoing Syrian civil war to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the suspicions surrounding Russian interference in the French and United States presidential elections, Russia seems to be hell-bent on fermenting foes in the West.
President Vladimir Putin’s domestic approval rates soar every time he makes a display of strength by either protecting an official Russian ally or reclaiming sovereignty of an old Soviet Union territory. This strategic behaviour has resulted in several clashes with NATO countries, with Russian aggression being met by economic sanctions. Until when will these suffice?
11. China vs America
While up until very recently, the United States global dominance remained relatively undisturbed. However, since China’s rise shows no signs of stopping, we must accept the reality of a world balance needs to be achieved between these two empires.
You could be forgiven for considering China’s rise is inversely proportional to America’s slow descend from the top but the relationship remains relatively stable. The two nations have shown recent signs of cooperation in economic matters and in attempting to defuse the North Korean threat. Having said this, North Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the South China Sea all have the potential to spark a localized conflict which may evolve into all out war.
10. Food Shortages
The conflict in Syria started after a severe drought brought on a generalized famine in the country. The resulting social unrest culminated in a civil war that seems to have no end in sight and it provides a good framework to analyze how a whole country can break down when there isn’t enough food.
Right now, a worldwide lack of food is obviously not an issue. However, as resources are depleted and our planet is used up while the human population grows exponentially, it’s not unreasonable to consider there might not be enough food to go around if a critical point is hit.
9. Lack of Resources
We’ve seen people go to war in order to increase their resources since the dawn of mankind. Countries have done it as recently as the United States invasion of Iraq, which is now well known to have been a ploy to gain control of the oil fields in the region, turning them over to American companies for profit.
Much like the previous entry on this list, it’s not unreasonable to think that, in a world of scarcity, as some resources like oil, natural gas or coal run out, some countries will be willing to go to war in order to secure their survival. While food is indispensable, the same can’t be said for oil but we know all too well when money’s on the line the powerful elites don’t hesitate to send young men off to die.
8. Viral Epidemic
Biological warfare can be a very effective method to wage war on another country by attacking its population. Some conspiracy theories mention viruses like the H1N1 or the Spanish flu pandemic to have been the work of a powerful elite testing how they could weaken vast swathes of the population.
Presumably, this is just a conspiracy theory but it does help us view viral epidemics in a new light. These can be studied and weaponized in a laboratory by a power-hungry dictator who simply won’t care about the dangers of unleashing such a weapon on the population of a foreign enemy.
7. Ideological war
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was the perfect example of this type of conflict. By fighting several proxy wars on virtually every continent, capitalism and communism kept the world guessing when the end would come, from the end of WWII until 1991 when the Soviet empire fell.
Unfortunately, this ideological war is still very much alive. Yes, communism is all but dead but it’s last proponents still terrorize their populations in brutal regimes like North Korea and Venezuela. ISIS has shown the lengths it will go to in order to kill everyone who doesn’t surrender to their beliefs.
6. Tyrant’s rise to power
When Hitler rose to power under the guise of making Germany great again, few could have correctly ascertained the wave of death and genocide which swept Europe in a little more than a decade after he took power. Other evil leaders such as Stalin and Mao did not hesitate to starve and kill their own populations around the same time.
Our fascination with “strong leaders” who can lead us to glory is well documented, as are the atrocities committed by these dictators. The problem is when they have access to nuclear codes and the demented frame of mind which makes you think they might actually pull the trigger before they consider the full ramifications of their actions.
5. New World Order
This well-known conspiracy theory affirms the existence of an elite which operates in the shadows to advance their own agenda by strategically placing their people in the offices where the most important decisions are made. Their ultimate goal is said to be a totalitarian global government, a New World Order.
While this theory can be picked apart, we’d be fools to believe powerful people with an alignment of common interests wouldn’t use the means at their disposal to advance their own agendas. It’s said governments are toppled when they seek to disturb the international status quo by refusing to align with the interests of this secret group.
4. Economic dominance
It’s said money is the root of all evils. Pending other circumstantial considerations, countries are generally very happy to invade other countries if they believe it will result in a profit. The American invasion of Iraq is the perfect illustration of this intention.
What if an economic, cultural and military empire which seemed at one point to signify the very end of history came crashing down? What would the elites of that empire be willing to do to hold on to their power? Greed can be a very powerful motivator. The elites have shown us repeatedly they do not care about sending young men to die to secure their wealth.
3. Collapse of Western Civilisation
If Western civilisation were to collapse due to whatever reason (climate change, revolutions fuelled by growing inequality, etc) the resulting power vacuum and ensuing chaos would provide the perfect opportunity for a new cultural empire to be established.
The current global peace we currently experience would be thrown out of the window if countries thought they could increase their wealth, power or resources. Chaos creates opportunity and, in these circumstances, a war would be almost inevitable as nations would fight to get a bigger slice of the pie.
2. Terrorist access to nuclear weaponry
Much like the unpredictability of a mad dictator with access to nuclear codes, the possibility of a group of terrorists with a warmongering agenda being able to use some sort of nuclear weaponry should strike fear into our hearts.
Terrorists who are willing to kill for their ideology will stop at nothing to exert their power over others. Nuclear weapons exist and if they were to somehow secure one, they could very well use it to precipitate a global conflict. War has a way of getting out of hand.
1. Cyber warfare
As a war methodology, the potential of cyber warfare is still largely unknown because we don’t know exactly if and how it can be used to wage war on another nation. Perhaps it can be used to manipulate the minds of voters to sway them in the “preferred” direction in a key election.
The servers which run all of our lives can all be hacked by a foreign nation hell-bent on the destruction of our way of life. Bank statements, energy companies, water supplies, traffic lights, plane routes can all be hacked and changed to wreak havoc on the enemy.
We can’t know for certain but, if/when hackers are able to do this, a world war would become an easier event to trigger.
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