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Possible scenarios Flashpoints on the globe

“Once started, religious strife has a tendency to go on and on, to become permanent feuds. Today we see such intractable inter-religious wars in Northern Ireland, between Jews and Muslims and Christians in Palestine, Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and in many other places. Attempts to bring about peace have failed again and again. Always the extremist elements invoking past injustices, imagined or real, will succeed in torpedoing the peace efforts and bringing about another bout of hostility.” Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, addressing the World Evangelical Fellowship in 2001.

ALBERT Einstein was once asked what he thought the future wars-more so World War III-would look like. This is what he had to say, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Ironically US Army Chief of Staff Gen Omar Bradley also had a similar comment to make in a discussion with some bigshots about future wars and how they would be fought.

“General, the newspapers tell us that World War III will be fought with atomic bombs, supersonic planes and a lot of new weapons. These are great strides, but how about World War IV? Is it possible to get any newer and fancier weapons than these?” one of the men asked.

“I can give you the exact answer to that question… If we have World War III, and then World War IV will be fought with bows and arrows,” General Bradley replied.

Every war brings destruction and needs a spark. For a conflict to escalate into a global war, the interest of more than a few great powers must clash. World War I started after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand; the Seven Years War was sparked by fighting between the French and British along the Mississippi river. The combatants rarely start a global war on purpose but do not always realise that small sparks could lead to bigger conflagrations.

The words ‘World War 3’ trended on social media worldwide as tension rose over Turkey shooting down a Russian jet over its airspace recently. Let’s look at the possible sparks which could explode the world and cause World War III. What might spark such a war, and how would it escalate into a global conflict? Here are five potential scenarios: none likely, but all possible.

The ever-changing battlelines in Syria are becoming even more complex. Russian air strikes could any day lead to a tug of war between Russia and the US. Will it lead to a deeper conflict, is the big question. An accidental confrontation between NATO and Russian aircraft could lead to bad tactical decisions. This could get ugly, as France, Russia, and the United States have very different views about how the future of Syria should look. Serious fighting between external powers in Syria could quickly draw in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and potentially spread to other parts of the globe.

India and Pakistan could go to war for any number of reasons. Incidents of unprovoked firing across the Indo-Pakistan border have been going on for years. India and Pakistan have fought three wars with each other, still the possibility of yet another conventional war is not ruled out. If it is only a regional war, then its effects might be less severe but if some global powers step in, it could lead to a fullscale nuclear conflict in case Pakistan suffered a serious defeat in conventional war.

Infiltrations and subversive activities by Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups are a routine irritant that India has been tolerating for long. Interventions in Afghanistan by either country could be another bone of contention. The 1971 Indo-Pakistani War nearly had both the US and China involved in the conflict on behalf of Pakistan. But over the past few years, the US has grown closer to India even as it continues to sell weapons to Pakistan. It is unclear, at this point, how the US would respond if China intervened on Pakistan’s side in a war with India.

Russian miscalculations in Ukraine
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine started on February 22, 2014, when the government of then pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich collapsed. Nearly two years have passed since then. The United States, Europe and Russia have thrown the Ukrainian situation into turmoil and caused bloodshed to spread further in the former Soviet state. Putin-backed rebels, supported by Russian forces, could drive further west in Ukraine to create a land corridor to join up with Crimea. That triggers deeper economic sanctions from the US and the European Union and forces them to accelerate military support to the government.

THE situation is rife with opportunities for miscalculation, and a mistake on either side could produce a militarised confrontation. Much depends on how NATO countries decide to respond to Russian moves in Ukraine.

China vs Japan in East China Sea
Both China and Japan claim to own the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and have deployed military forces in its vicinity. Both are not prepared to back off. The islands are close to key shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds, and there may be oil reserves in the area. The United States is bound by treaty to defend Japan. If a conflict between China and Japan erupts, the United States may also get involved. China might feel compelled to pre-empt US intervention by an attack on American military installations across the region. The US has already had a number of uncomfortable confrontations with Chinese naval and air units in the South China Sea.

In the event of a US-China war both Japan and India might feel the need to intervene. Russia might or might not stay out. This could throw the entire Asia-Pacific into chaos.

Communist China and Russia vs United States
If the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper is to be believed, a “US-China war is inevitable” over rights of passage and artificial islands built in disputed territory. Almost 74 per cent of Chinese think that their military would win a war against the US, according to a 2014 poll by the Perth US-Asia Centre. Many Chinese officers are believed to be suffering from “peace disease”-a term for those who never served in combat.

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