Definitions

World War III

World War III

World War III (also WWIII, or Third World War) denotes a successor to World War II (1939–1945) that would be on a global scale, with common speculation that it would likely be nuclear and devastating in nature.

In the wake of World War I, World War II, the commencement of the Cold War and the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons, there was early widespread speculation as to the next global war.

This war was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from limited use of atomic weapons, to destruction of the planet.

Cold War

Some analysts and historians have suggested that the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought on a global scale by proxy combatants of the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. In a 2006 interview, US President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terror as "World War III".

Historical close calls

Before the end of the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed concern that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. In April-May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable; its primary goal was "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire." However, the plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.

With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered plausible. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. Other potential starts have included the following:

  • 1948: Berlin Blockade. Soviet military forces stopped all commerce into West Berlin which caused a humanitarian and political crisis. In response, Western allies sent in air lifts to supply West Berlin.
  • August 29, 1949: Soviet Union successfully conducted tests with nation's first atomic bomb, RDS-1.
  • 1950 – 1953: Korean War. General MacArthur planned to invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in eastern Asia.
  • August 12, 1953: Soviet Union successfully conducts tests of nation's first hydrogen bomb, Joe-4.
  • July 26, 1956 – March, 1957: Suez Crisis: The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel. When the USSR threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, the Canadian Ambassador to the UN Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and urged the British and French to withdraw. The Eisenhower administration, also fearing a wider war, applied pressure to the United Kingdom to withdraw, including a threat to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt. Lester B. Pearson later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
  • June 4 – November 9, 1961: Berlin Crisis of 1961
  • October 15 – October 28, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis: The conflict pitted the United States against an alliance between the USSR and Cuba. The USSR was attempting to place several launch sites in Cuba in response to the United States installation of missiles in Turkey. The United States response included dispersal of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers to civilian airfields around the United States and war games in which the United States Marine Corps landed against a dictator named "ORTSAC" (Castro spelt backwards). For a brief while, the U.S. military went to DEFCON 3, while SAC went to DEFCON 2. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 (piloted by Rudolph Anderson) was shot down over Cuba and another U-2 over the USSR was almost intercepted when it strayed over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights. See also: Vasiliy Arkhipov.
  • October 24, 1973: Yom Kippur War: As the Yom Kippur War was winding down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt's behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.
  • November 9, 1979: False "Soviet First Strike" Alarm: The US made emergency retaliation preparations after NORAD saw on-screen indications that a full-scale Soviet attack had been launched. No attempt was made to use the "red telephone" hotline to clarify the situation with the USSR and it was not until early-warning radar systems confirmed no such launch had taken place that NORAD realized that a computer system test had caused the display errors. A senator inside the NORAD facility at the time described an atmosphere of absolute panic. A GAO investigation led to the construction of an off-site test facility, to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
  • September 26, 1983: False "US First Strike" Alarm: Soviet early warning systems showed that a US ICBM attack had been launched. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in command of the monitoring facility, correctly interpreted the warnings as a computer error, even though this was against standing orders.
  • November 1983: Exercise Able Archer: The USSR mistook a test of NATO's nuclear-release procedures as a fake cover for a NATO attack and subsequently raised its nuclear alert level. It was not until afterwards that the US realized how close it had come to nuclear war. At the time of the exercise the Soviet Politburo was without a healthy functioning head due to the failing health of then leader Yuri Andropov.
  • January 25, 1995: Norwegian rocket incident: A Norwegian missile launch for scientific research was detected from Andøya Rocket Range and thought to be an attack on Russia, launched from a submarine five minutes away from Moscow. Norway had notified the world that it would be making the launch, but the Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to notify those monitoring Russia's nuclear defense systems.
  • June 12 – June 26, 1999: Pristina airport standoff: Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo.

Difficulty in determining a "World War"

The English term "World War" has only seen widespread use during one conflict — World War II. A German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of the war:

There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war the full sense of the word. Indianapolis Star September 20, 1914

This is the first known instance of the term First World War, which previously had been dated to 1931 for the earliest usage. The term was used again near the end of the war. English journalist Charles A. Repington (1858–1925) wrote:

[Diary entry, September 10, 1918]: We discussed the right name of the war. I said the we called it now The War, but that this could not last. The Napoleonic War was The Great War. To call it The German War was too much flattery for the Boche. I suggested The World War as a shade better title, and finally we mutually agreed to call it The First World War in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world was the history of war. The First World War, 1914–1918 (1920)

Known as The Great War in the 1920s, it ignored the Napoleonic wars as having the dubious honour of being the first to be called the "Great War" although it, like the Cold War, was a collection of coalition conflicts, and not a single continuous conflict as was the Second World War.

It may take years before another major conflict could be arguably recognized as a World War III. It should also be noted that serious wars before and after the first two world wars, even those closely associated with them, are not now treated as part of the larger conflict. These include the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1913 and the Polish-Soviet War from 1919 to 1921, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later China, the Spanish Civil War, the Italian invasions of Ethiopia and Albania, the 1938 German annexation of Austria (Anschluss), and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, the specific event where a future World War III begins may only be determined retrospectively.

Popular culture

World War III is also a common theme in popular culture. A vast apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the postulated execution and aftermath of World War III, several notable movies have been made based on World War III, and it is the topic of various comics, video games, songs, magazines, radio programs, newspapers and billboards.
I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.|30px|30px|Albert Einstein

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