Is World War 3 eminent? At no point since the early days of the Ronald Reagan administration has the United States been as close to a devastating, worldwide conflict as it is now, and events in Syria and North Korea make the apocalyptic scenario more real by the day.
Back in the 1980s, the U.S. had one clear enemy: the Soviet Union. These days, the Soviet Union is no more, but Russia, the heart of the old USSR, is doing an ample job standing in as America’s enemy, particularly under the leadership of nationalist demagogue Vladimir Putin.
— April Spivey (@a35362) April 13, 2017
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., another populist demagogue has his own hands on the nuclear button. What’s worse, Donald Trump is, as Slate writers Nate Jones and J. Peter Scoblic point out, unpredictable.
“With contradictory statements about both expanding and reducing U.S. nuclear forces, Trump has sown strategic uncertainty among friends and foes alike at a moment when the United States and Russia are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.”
What’s even more terrifying is the fact that both World War I and World War II both started as regional conflicts that built on top of one another until the entire world was at war. And just like the previous two world wars, there are plenty of regional conflicts in which the U.S. either is, or may soon be, involved, and all of them could easily devolve into World War III.
The (relatively) small, (relatively) oil-poor Middle Eastern nation seems an unlikely place to be the focal point for a global nuclear conflict. But as CNN notes, there’s more at play here than meets the eye.
The U.S.’ interests in Syria are mostly based on the War on Terror and stability in the region. Syria is, of course, a huge battleground in the War on Terror, and the biggest and most feared terror organization, ISIS, is, of course, quite interested in controlling the nation. The U.S. is more interested in seeing the Middle East remain stable, even if that meant turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crimes of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, on the other hand, considers Al-Assad an ally, bolstering Russia’s own fight against Islamist terrorism as well as maintaining a naval base in the region.
So last week, when Trump made the surprise decision to launch Tomahawk Cruise Missiles toward a Syrian airfield, those bombs landed uncomfortably close to Russian military troops and hardware.
— Inside Syria MC (@Inside_Syria) April 11, 2017
The fallout from the attack continues, as U.S. and Russian leaders scramble to try to work out a compromise to avoid further troubles in the region. But one thing is clear: The Syria problem is not going away anytime soon.
On the other side of the world, North Korea — which has long boasted of nuclear power while embarrassingly failing to back it up — continues to test nuclear weapons. Until the Trump administration, the U.S.’ approach to the regime has been to threaten sanctions as well as “wait and see.”
Those days appear to be coming to an end.
As Fox News reports, the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Vinson, toward the Sea of Japan (the body of water between Japan and the two Koreas) shortly after the latest round of North Korean nuclear tests. That’s a problem, considering that North Korea’s ally, China, also has vessels in the area.
— Victims of Communism (@VoCommunism) April 13, 2017
Does Trump Want War?
The problem with Trump isn’t that he wants war; it’s that it’s hard to tell what he wants. He’s at once inconsistent and unpredictable, as well as prone to flying off the handle.
As Slate explains, “Trump has sown strategic uncertainty among friends and foes alike at a moment when the United States and Russia are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.”
Meanwhile, regional conflicts play out in other areas where any wrong move by the U.S. could escalate into another World War. Trump has been accused of wanting to go to war with Iran – another Middle Eastern battleground that could draw Russia in – and the situation in Ukraine (another Russian entanglement) is far from resolved. Similarly, the Philippines, once a U.S. ally, is now governed by an unhinged dictator who is cozying up to China.
In other words, Donald Trump may not be specifically trying to start World War 3, but he may well be either too powerless or too power-hungry to stop it.
[Featured Image by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]