The human race has experienced two devastating world wars and the race is not ready to experience one more. Although another world war is neither hoped nor acceptable by the general human race, the developing incidents in South China Sea, Arctic region, Europe and Middle East indicate that the military superpowers may impose on human race another of such devastating wars.
South China Sea
China has long claimed a large swath of South China Sea as its own territory and has been constructing an artificial island in the region. On the other side, with the backup from the U.S., some of China’s ASEAN neighbours (especially Philippines and Vietnam) started to move towards claiming territories in South China Sea that are also claimed by China. China has indisputably stated its claim in three official documents: (i) the 1947 Location Map of the South China Sea Islands released by the Kuomingtang government in Nanjing, (ii) the 1958 Declaration of the Government of New China on the Territorial Sea and (iii) the 1992 Law on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. These documents state that the disputed islands are part of the sovereign territory of China. Despite such evidences in China’s favour, the relevant neighbours have been firm on their claims that are broadly encouraged by the joint militarily drills with the U.S. and the U.S. military presence in the region.
South China Sea is a major maritime trade route, with trillions of dollars in global trade passing through the disputed area each year, including over a trillion dollars from the U.S. alone. That is why, the region is of utmost importance to the U.S. Throughout 2015, the U.S. had involved in highly provocative and inflammatory conducts against China in South China Sea. In an instance, the U.S. sent its naval ships within the 12 miles of a Chinese-controlled isle, while in another instance it sent military aircraft over the disputed territories. China initially reacted to such provocations only by condemning and protesting the incidents in press-conferences. However, China saw the U.S. actions as intrusions into its own territory and deliberate provocations. Chinese Naval Chief Wu Shengli warned, “If the U.S. continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war.” Such a warning is the reflection and outburst of increasing tensions that might take the shape of military conflict in no time if such sensitive incidents are not handled properly. A simple military error in the disputed waters between the two sides may lead to a military conflict of a large scale. Since the economies of many countries around the world are well connected with China and the U.S., these countries would somehow be dragged into this conflict, and hence, we might witness another world war in our small, yet way too polarized, planet.
The Arctic region is located around the North Pole and surrounded by landmasses of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the U.S. Since the Arctic region was “inaccessible” until the end of 20th century because of the layers of thick ice, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of this (21st) century. However, ice are melting rapidly in the Arctic region because of the global warming, clearing this ice-covered region from ice. With the rapid melting of ice in the Arctic region, the long-isolated region is becoming a more accessible zone for commercial fishing, fresh water, minerals, coal, iron, copper, oil, gas, and shipping. Thus, the region is increasingly catching the world powers’ attention and the aforementioned five Arctic countries are in rush to exploit all these opportunities from the region. Such circumstances have given rise to plenty of disputes among the aforementioned five countries.
In the prevailing scenario, all the Arctic countries, which are involved in the territorial and maritime disputes among themselves, have been moving towards militarizing the region in order to acquire each of their respective objectives in the region. Norwegian foreign secretary Jonas Gahr Stoere and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper already expressed their eagerness to earn a better hold of their claimed territories and increase military presence in the region. In 2011, Canada conducted large-scale military exercises in the region.
In August 2015, the U.S. permitted Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, which falls within the periphery of Alaskan Arctic. The U.S. Coast Guard” has already deployed sophisticated ships, aircrafts and other maritime assets in the Alaskan Arctic for the duration of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. Through such presence, the U.S. is not only trying to exploit energy resources of the Arctic region, but also trying to keep its military presence deep inside the region.
On the other side, in 2007, Russia has already moved to restore a Soviet-era military base and other military outposts in the Arctic. In early 2015, Russia exercised Arctic military patrols from its Northern Fleet, involving thousands of servicemen with several surface ships, submarines and aircrafts. More interestingly, Russia is currently planning to jointly explore for oil in Russia’s Arctic fields with China, which is increasingly becoming a strong military power besides being an economic giant. Through such move, Russia is trying to make sure that Russia has a rising military power like China involved into its stake in the Arctic region so that such cooperation favours Russia at the time of escalation of any military conflict.
Such militarization of the region is likely to increase with almost all the countries urging for increasing their military deployments and exercises, and there appears little hope & opportunity for any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement) regarding the disputes. It can be well presumed that without any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement), the current non-hostile debate over the Arctic could turn into a violent confrontation. If the disputes over the control of the Arctic resources are not resolved quickly, it could turn into a larger military conflict that would not just involve the Arctic countries, but would also drag a larger part of the world into this conflict, leading to a world war.
A referendum, as promised by British Prime Minister David Cameron, is due regarding Britain’s (precisely the UK’s) membership of the European Union (EU); the same EU that was formed in order to ensure, among several reasons, peace in Europe and avoid wars among the European neighbours.
Britain’s exit from the EU may pave the way for other EU member states to follow suit. Such an exit might bring about a serious power-imbalance in greater Europe. In such a scenario, there is the likelihood that Europe will become bipolar and would become a fragmented territory.
In recent times, Britain has been attempting to create a “northern league” consisting of European countries with “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes. All the probable northern-leaguers – namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Britain itself – share a common desire to restrict the power of the EU. With the attempt of forming such a bloc or alliance, Britain is perhaps trying to restrict the expansion of the EU and to divide the existing EU in order to serve Britain’s own hegemonic interests.
After leaving the EU, if Britain makes its move towards institutionalizing the “northern league” and also joins the non-EU trade bloc European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bi-centric Europe would emerge — one led by the France & Germany under the banner of the EU and the other led by Britain.
One of the two European blocs that might emerge out of Britain’s exit from the EU may lean towards, or align with, the Sino-Russian side of global geopolitics in confronting the other side that would avail the backing from the U.S. With such two opposite blocs in Europe, further division, cold relations, conflicts, wars and proxy wars are the only possibilities. The conflict of interests between – (i) the Western bloc (led by the U.S.) and the Eastern bloc (led by the former Soviet Union) during the cold war period and (ii) the Saudi-Iran regional rivalry – led to a number of proxy wars. Therefore, it would not be unprecedented if the two spreadheads of the two future European regional blocs, one led by the France & Germany and the other led by Britain, fight between themselves through proxies. However, a direct war between these European spearheads is most likely to spread all over the world (world war), similar to what we have seen in the previous two world wars that started as European conflicts only to turn into world wars.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran in order to make accessibility to the region risky for Russia and China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts think that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then get the U.S. embroiled into it and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from lower global oil price.
The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances are at one side of the Syrian conflict; the other coalition involves Assad regime, Iran, Iraq and Russia. Although two major powers – Russia and the U.S. – are involved in this conflict, a Russia-U.S. direct confrontation is unlikely. No UNSC member can fight another UNSC member as per UN provisions. However, such international provisions never matter when conflict of interests reaches the height and heat of confrontation goes out of control. But, what would really keep these two powers away from fighting each other are not the UN provisions, but the reality that both are nuclear armed states and a war between these two nuclear-powers means total annihilation of not only these two major powers but also a larger part of human race and earth’s landmass. However, the possibility of a war between these two military superpowers is not totally out of the cards and any such conflict between these two powers would, for sure, drag rest of the world into it.
It seems our globe does not lack reason to engage in chaos. The two world wars initially were European conflicts that turned gradually into world wars. For sure, the start of another war between any two major powers would drag the world into it. Another world war would mean the landmasses, waters, environment and, most importantly, living species including human being would became the targets of war machines of the global military elites – jeopardizing the peace and stability of our globe.
Bahauddin Foizee is lecturer at DCLE (centre of University of London), and legal associate in a law firm. He writes on global affairs.