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Will there be a World War Three?

The Week UK logo The Week UK 26/01/2023 The Week Staff
Vladimir Putin Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images © Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images Vladimir Putin Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Ukraine fears Russia is preparing a ‘final push’ offensive as first anniversary of the invasion looms

As tensions ramp up between the West and its antagonists, fears are growing that proxy wars could develop into wider armed conflict.

Russian officials have warned of a “new level of confrontation” in Ukraine after Germany agreed to supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

The conflict in Ukraine is not the only potential flashpoint involving major powers.

Russia

The promise of tanks for Ukraine suggests Western nations are “not concerned about breaching Russian ‘red lines’”, said Nick Paton Walsh, CNN international security editor. “The long-held belief is crumbling that some elements of Nato assistance to Ukraine could risk provoking a nuclear power too far.”

It also suggests these Nato members are “less concerned about being attacked by Russia itself in the imminent future” as they were “handing over weapons they would urgently need in the event of such a conflict”.

In a sense, they are “calling Putin’s bluff” over his threat of nuclear retaliation, said the UK’s former Navy chief, Lord West.

“Remember the Great Patriotic War,” he told the i news site, once German tanks are “being used… to fight against ‘Mother Russia’, you can just see how that is quite emotive”, so “that’s a danger in terms of winding up tension”.

The Ukrainian president is “likely to focus now on equipping the Ukrainian air force with more technologically advanced fighter jets”, said the BBC. However, “many Western governments remain opposed to such a move - fearing the aircraft could be used to strike targets inside Russia”, sparking possible retaliation.

North Korea

North Korea’s recent vow to expand its nuclear stockpile has also increased fears of a global conflict. Hours into the New Year, supreme leader Kim Jung Un called for an “exponential increase” in his regime’s nuclear arsenal, in a sign of “deepening animosity” towards the US, South Korea and Japan, said The Guardian.

In the same address, at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, he described South Korea as “our undoubted enemy”, which was “hell-bent on an imprudent and dangerous arms buildup”.

Earlier, Pyongyang had fired a ballistic missile off its east coast, “starting 2023 as it had ended the previous year, when it conducted a record number of weapons tests”, said the Guardian.

This included a ballistic missile over Japan. The intermediate-range rocket flew 4,600km (2,860 miles) – the longest distance ever travelled by a North Korean missile – over northeast Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

“Security dynamics in Northeast Asia have become increasingly volatile with China’s growing military threats and in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said The Washington Post. Pyongyang has “drawn closer to Russia, while Japan’s relations with Russia have deteriorated”.

Iran

Uncertainty also surrounds efforts to stop Iran from joining the nuclear club.

The US began long-awaited talks to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal in 2022, three years after Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement. Iran responded to the withdrawal with “a public, step-by-step ramping up of the machinery used to enrich uranium – the nuclear fuel needed for a bomb”, said NPR

The two nations “have resolved some of the thorniest stumbling blocks in negotiations”, said Politico’s defence reporter Lara Seligman. But whenever talks appear to be on the brink of an agreement, “actors on both sides try to disrupt them”, national security expert Joe Cirincione told the site.

Iran’s recent suppression of protests and arming of Russia poses a dilemma for the West. And, in Britain, doubts have again been raised over the deal after the execution of a British-Iranian dual citizen, Alireza Akbari, on Saturday. Reports on Sunday “suggested that Britain is reconsidering its support for the deal”, said The Times.

China

Although China hasn’t “employed large-scale military force against an adversary since its 1979 war with Vietnam”, it gets “pride of place as security challenge number one” for the US, wrote Michael E. O’Hanlon for the Brookings Institution.

To be sure, Beijing “deserves most of the blame for today’s unsettled Indo-Pacific region”, with its “big military buildups” and threats towards Taiwan, said Hanlon. But he suggests US foreign policy and assessments of its rival might also be “overhyping the China threat in a way that could raise the risks of war”.

Tensions “dramatically escalated” last year after former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, said CNN. US President Joe Biden later met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit China early next month for “continued discussions related to one of America’s most complicated and consequential relationships”.

Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, analysts fear that “Moscow and Beijing will be driven closer as the United States casts both issues as a struggle between authoritarianism and democracy”, said The New York Times

Although “there are a multitude of differences” between Ukraine and Taiwan, “both embattled democracies sit next to much larger, nuclear-armed military powers” whose leaders have “made it clear that they do not see their neighbours as sovereign states”.

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