FOR the past seven decades, since the end of World War II, global leaders, defence policymakers and military experts have speculated about how, when and where World War III will happen. The when and where is immaterial today; given the hundreds of hot and dangerous spots across the globe, it can happen anytime, anywhere. The how, though, is still relevant. During the Cold War, it was felt that the new global war would be instigated by one of the two superpowers, America or the Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis was a prime example of this mindset.
After the Soviet break-up, the focus shifted to rogue elements, who could access nuclear weapons from the disintegrated Communist regimes to spark a world war. Later came the theory of the clash of civilisations—Christianity versus Islam—which initially popular, was later discredited, and then revived in recent years. During the Second Gulf War, the thinking was about weapons of mass destruction, be it biological, chemical or nuclear. There was also talk about a global cyber or technological war that could lead to a global economic meltdown.
In the second decade of the 21st century, it is clear that World War III will be inspired and characterised by three factors—an aggressive attack on national currencies, capture of nations’ natural resources, and either direct or indirect terror-like military strategies. The trio can conspire to bring nations to their knees, and force them to bow to the diktats of nations, or elements, that are able to realise such objectives. In fact, a look at events over the past two decades is enough to prove that such conspiracies are already being enacted.
There is now a clash between currencies to gain global primacy—dollar, euro, yuan, and possibly the rupee—over the next two decades. The US, Europe, China, India and others have joined an aggressive and neverending race to acquire global natural resources in Africa, central Asia, Latin America, and even some of the developed nations. At the same time, while the smaller countries and informal global groups have resorted to direct terror tactics, developed ones like the US, France, Russia and China are using their military strengths to terrorise the world.
What was till a few years ago seen as disparate global trends have converged into an umbrella strategy that can lead to World War III. Imagine a nation, or a global group, that can crystallise a vision to combine currency warfare with the battle for natural resources, and underline it with terror tactics to achieve the first two objectives. Imagine the combination between Al-Qaeda or IS (Islamic State), George Soros, the legendary currency speculator, China with its single-minded focus to capture global natural resources, and Russia with its military strength.
In effect, imagine an America that uses its political, diplomatic, military and corporate clout to wage an overt and covert war not just in Iraq or Syria, but across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Substitute America with Russia, China, or even the IS, and one can visualise the character and contour of World War III. It will not be about religions or territories. It will be about a nation’s or group’s ability to effect a grandiose combination of different kinds of naked powers.
Over the past three decades, entire nations, even continents, have capitulated to attacks on their currencies. Speculators and traders, whether cajoled by vested national and global interests, or for sheer greed of profits, have forced governments to accept their scheme of things. They have shoved and pushed regimes across the globe to adhere to their visions and blueprints. Currency warfare has become one of the best ways to push the world to the brink of a global war. Even the most powerful currencies, be it the dollar, pound or euro, are not safe anymore.
The turbulent 1990s witnessed waves of attacks on various global currencies. In the early years of the decade, hedge funds, either led or violently aided by the legendary Soros, launched a virulent war on the British pound. Apparently, Soros made a billion-dollar profit as the pound fell and lost its relevance.
It forced Britain and Italy to opt out of the newly formed European Monetary System, a precursor to the grand European Union. The hedge funds wrecked the foundations of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, which was a critical pillar of the Union.
THE late 1990s saw the onset of the Asian currency crisis, which was engineered by currency speculators, possibly backed by interested nations. As currencies across East Asia, including Malaysia, spiralled into an unstoppable free fall, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, questioned the motives of the speculators. According to a paper by RawiAbdelal and Laura Alfaro, Mahathir called Soros—the former thought the latter was behind the currency crisis—a ‘moron’. Soros said Mahathir was a “menace to his own country”.
It turned out to be a classic ‘Market versus Mahathir’ interaction, where the market-backers felt it was important to discipline errant governments, and the rulers felt that the idea that the market will discipline government is sheer nonsense. It was a case of who will decide what is good for a nation—external forces or nationalistic ones. It was a narrative where a country had to decide whether it would accept the diktats of western interests, or adhere to its notions of right and wrong. In the end, apart from Malaysia, other East Asian nations accepted the market.
After the East Asian crisis came the Russian rouble collapse. In the late 1990s, Russia’s leader, Boris Yeltsin, was unable to appoint a Prime Minister that he wanted as the currency downfall led to deeper economic crisis in Russia. In the end, Yeltsin had to accept nationalistic demands, and appoint a Prime Minister who was a compromise candidate. Yet again, a former superpower almost lost its economic freedom, and had to fight to regain its clout. It took almost two decades for a smaller Russia to become a recognised global force in 2015.
The 21st century witnessed an epic currency battle, the kind that can easily lead to World War III. It was a tussle between the dollar, which had dominated global currencies for several decades, especially after World War II, and the fledgling euro, a European currency that was born in 1999. In the initial period, the euro lost out to the dollar. From 1 euro=$1.2, the euro slumped to 83 cents within months. But suddenly things changed. A slowdown in the US economy, slump in its share prices, and 9/11 forced investors to shift from dollar to euro.
However, the crucial support for the euro came when the largest oil producers decided that they wanted their income from crude sales to be designated in euros rather than dollars. First, in November 2000, Iraq told the United Nations that its earnings from the Food-for-Oil programme should be in euros. Iran, another America-hater, converted half its foreign exchange reserves from dollar to euro. North Korea, which was among America’s top-most enemies, too said that it wouldsoon shift to the euro. These shifts could have proved cataclysmic forthe dollar.
In the early part of this century, the dollar was so powerful that half of the global exports, two-thirds of all the official global foreign exchange reserves held by various nations, and four-fifths of global foreign exchange transactions were denominated in dollars. As nations bought dollar assets to save their incomes, the inflows helped America. If the nations, especially those who earned huge amounts from sale of oil, decided to shift to the euro, they would sell their dollar assets, which would force the dollar down. It would mark the end of the dollar hegemony.
Several experts felt that this was one of the reasons for America’s second attack on Iraq. It wasn’t really about weapons of mass destruction, but it was an attempt to preserve the dominance of the dollar too. As Outlook wrote in 2003, “Once (George) Bush gains control over Iraq’s oilfields, he can pressure OPEC to fall in line. He can then send signals to unfriendly nations—including oil producers like Russia and importers like China—to stick with the dollar. The US can also play the stick-and-carrot game with Saudi Arabia, whose switch is critical in the currency war.” The objective: prevent oil producers and global importers to shift from the dollar to euro.
Battle for natural resources
AFTER World War II, most of the nations in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia turned their backs on Western hegemonies like the US and European countries. Over the next few decades, natural resources assets, especially in oil and gas, and minerals, were nationalised, or appropriated from the western companies. A wave of nationalised capitalism set the tone for ownership of natural resources. This forced American and European firms to seek new agreements with nations, or seek new opportunities in uncharted territories.
World War I
Also known as the War to End All Wars, and the Great War.
It was one of the deadliest conflicts in historyDuration: 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks (July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918)How did it end:The fighting stopped after a general armistice was agreed upon and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by both sides.Cause:Differences in foreign policies. Immediate cause was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. After the assassination, Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia stepped in to defend Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia to protect Austria. This led France to declare war on Germany. Germany invaded Belgium. This caused Britain to declare war on Germany—all in just a few days.
Fought between: WWI was fought between the Allied Powers (France, Russia, United States and Britain) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria). In total, 30 countries were involved in the conflict. Italy, once part of the Triple Alliance
with Germany and Austria-Hungary, fought on the side of the Allies.
Conflict zone: Europe, Africa, Middle East, Pacific islands, China and coastal South & North America. Majority of the fighting took place in Europe along two fronts: the western front and the eastern front. The western front was a long line of trenches that ran from the coast of Belgium to Switzerland. A lot of the fighting on this front took place in France and Belgium. The eastern front was between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria on one side and Russia and Romania on the other.
Strategy: Soldiers fought largely in trenches during the war. Thousands suffered from stress, known as shell-shock. The British and French trenches were squalid, whereas the German trenches were luxurious in comparison, with bunks and decent cooking facilities.
Major Battles: A lot of the war was fought along the western front. The armies hardly moved. They just bombed and shot at each other from the trenches. Some of the major battles included the First Battle of Marne, and the Battles of Somme, Tannenberg, Gallipoli, and Verdun.
Casualties:More than 70 million military personnel participated in one of the largest wars in history. Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died and another 21 million were wounded as a result of the war. Over a million soldiers were killed in the infamous Battle of the Somme alone—about 30,000 in just one day.
Around 11 per cent of the population of France was killed or wounded during the war. About 116,000 Americans were killed, even though the US was only in the war for about 7 months.
- It was the first major war where airplanes and tanks were used.
- Dogs and Pigeons were used to carry messages in capsules attached to their body. Dogs played a role in carrying telegraph wires while about 500,000 pigeons carrying messages were dropped by parachute behind enemy lines.
- An unofficial truce was declared on Christmas Eve in 1914. Both sides sang Christmas carols and played matches on that day in no-man’s land and exchanged food and souvenirs. The ceasefire was known as the Christmas Truce and sentries on both sides had orders to shoot any soldier carrying weapons.
- Cannons and artillery were found to be extremely loud—explosives used to destroy a bridge in France could be heard 130 miles away in London. Hence, many new weapons like the famous Big Bertha, a 48-tonne gun capable of firing shells over 9 miles away, were invented. It took several hours for over 200 men to assemble the gun.
- Tanks—The first tanks invented by the British were called “landships.” Some of them, called male tanks, had cannons while female tanks had machine guns.
- Ninety per cent of the 7.8 million soldiers from Austria-Hungary were either injured or killed.
- A terrorist group called the Black Hand was responsible for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand.
- Marie Curie helped to equip vans with x-ray machines that enabled French doctors to see bullets in wounded men. These vans were called “petites Curies”, meaning “little Curies.”
- Allies won.
- The German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires ended.
- Transfer of German and former Ottoman Empire colonies to other powers.
- New countries emerged in Europe and the Middle East.
Then came the China wave. By the end of the first decade of this century, it was clear that China was into aggressive acquisition of global natural resources. According to a 2010 study by Theodore H Moran, “Backed by the Chinese government, Chinese companies have been acquiring equity stakes in natural resources, extending loans to mining and petroleum investors, and writing long-term procurement contracts for oil and minerals. These activities have aroused concern that China might be ‘locking up’ natural resource supplies, gaining ‘preferential access’ to available output, extending ‘control’ over the world’s extractive industries.” One of the prime examples of such control was in Africa. According to venturesafrica.com, “Across Africa, the growing presence of Chinese investments in economy and infrastructure is evident. In the last ten years, various state-owned firms… have become major investors in Africa with China being the single largest bilateral source of annual foreign investment in Africa.” However, what was unique about China was its alternative and innovative attempts to forge close links with African nations. For example, “in sports, China’s investments in Africa, popularly termed ‘Stadium Diplomacy’, has been focused on infrastructural developments which has and will, inevitably in the future, result in marked improvements in certain sports.”
World War II
WW II was the bloodiest conflict in human history. The world was in a state of “total war.”
Duration: 6 years 1 day (Sept 1, 1939 to Sept 2, 1945).
Germany started an unprovoked attack on Poland. In retaliation, France and Britain declared war on Germany. Japan was already at war with the Republic of China. Many of the world’s countries got involved.
How did it end: WW II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. On 8 May 1945, the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender, about a week after Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
Causes of World War Two: One of the long-term causes of the war was the anger felt in Weimar Germany over the Treaty of Versailles and inability of the League of Nations to deal with major international issues. Hitler wanted to push the boundaries and see what he could get away with. His first major transgression was his defiance of the Versailles Treaty. In 1936 Hitler’s Nazi Germany re-occupied Rhineland, forbidden by Versailles. Hitler was determined to expand east. Czechoslovakia and Poland were his next targets. Hitler referred to the Munich Agreement as a “scrap of paper”.
Fought between: The Axis [(Germany, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, Nov. 1940), Hungary (Nov. 1940), Romania (Nov. 1940), Bulgaria (March 1941)] and the Allies [Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, USSR, Yugoslavia]
Major Battles: WW II was fought on different frontiers such as Russia, the Pacific Ocean, Western Europe and China. Some of these battles were Battle of Khalkhin Gol, Battle of Britain (air battle for England), Invasion of Poland, Operation Barbarossa (Case Barbarossa), Battle of Moscow, Battle of Stalingrad, Invasion of Normandy, Battle of Okinawa, Battle of Berlin and Battle of the Bulge.
Casualties: Over 60-80 million people, about 3% of the 1940 world population (2.3 billion), were killed.
- About 70 million people fought in the armed forces of the Allied and Axis nations.
- Finland never officially joined either the Allies or the Axis and was at war with the Soviet Union at the outbreak of World War II. In 1940, Finland joined forces with Nazi Germany to repel the Soviets; however, in 1944, Finland joined the Soviets to oust the Germans.
- Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Sweden were neutral in the war.
- The Soviet Union lost the most soldiers—more than seven million.
- Approximately six million Jews died in Nazi concentration camps.
- Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier still fighting the war, was found by a search party on Lubang island in the Philippines in March 1974. After being convinced that the war was over he was flown to Manila and formally surrendered to President Ferdinand Marcos. Onoda died on January 16, 2014, at the age of 91.
- Beginning of nuclear and conventional arms race. The atomic bomb invented during World War II is still a problematic leftover from World War II.
- Many countries in Europe and Asia were divided.
- Cold War between the two remaining superpowers.
- Civil wars in dozens of places around the world.
- Soviet Union antagonised the United States and Great Britain by annexing the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and by making extreme reparations demands upon Germany, Hungary, and Poland. They also supported rebels in Greece, Turkey, and Iran, aided the Communist uprising in China. These actions led to a prolonged period of tension called the ‘cold war’ between the Western powers.
- Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated Europe was separated from the rest of the world by an “iron curtain.”
- United Nations was established and its charter was signed by 51 countries in 1945.
China built several football stadiums across Africa in a soccer-crazed continent. In most cases, China bore the entire cost of construction through concessional bilateral loans. In other cases, strategic partnerships were forged that enabled the building up of world-class football facilities. The recent rise of African nations in World Cup football tournaments can be attributed to the building of such assets that allowed citizens to watch world-class teams in action.
An article in The Economist noted, “Chinese firms are going global for the usual reasons: to acquire raw materials, get technical know-how and gain access to foreign markets. But they are under the guidance of a state that many countries consider as a strategic competitor, not an ally. As our briefing explains, it often appoints executives, direct deals and finances them through state banks. Once bought, natural resource firms can become captive suppliers of the Middle Kingdom.”
Now several other nations have joined the new global game. The ones which own the natural resources, like Australia and Latin America, wish to leverage their strengths to get the best out of competing nations like India and China. The ones which seek natural resources, like India and China, hope to do deals that will favour them. In some cases, India and China have joined hands in strategic partnerships to acquire natural resource assets.
Links with terror
Now add to the wars on currencies and battle for natural resources, state-sponsored terror, indirect form of militancy, and the rise of global groups that can control the economies of a nation or region. State-sponsored terror is not akin to what Pakistan does in India, but what America has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria. It is equivalent to the rise of Russia’s regional ambitions that have rejuvenated in the past year or so with its humungous rise in military expenditure. It is akin to China’s support of dictatorial regimes across continents, just the manner in which America and Britain did in the past few decades.
INDIRECT form of terrorism was perfected by Saudi Arabia over the past few decades as it reportedly exported jihad through donations, support to conservative educational institutions in the Islamic world, and covert aid to nations and groups that were keen to support militancy. This has happened for several decades but Saudi Arabia, and then Iran as the Shia competitor, took it to another level. Over the years, Pakistan tried to act as a Sunni counterbalance to Saudi Arabia, but the size of its nation and economy prevented it from usurping Saudi’s global objectives.
The rise of Al-Qaeda, and now the IS, are sure-shot examples of what independent groups can achieve, and aid in fuelling a global war. American- led efforts to neutralise and decimate Al-Qaeda were a form of a global war. The same is true with the globalised, though uncoordinated, attempts to eliminate the IS. But imagine if the IS, or the new form of Al-Qaeda, get support from several nations, as was, and is, the case with them. Until now, Europe and the US have prevented such focused strategy. But who’s to know what can happen in the near future.
Combine all the above three elements and one can imagine the face of World War III. It will be unlike what one has imagined so far. It will be completely different from the various theories that have emerged so far. It will be a combustible combination of economics, diplomacy, politics, militarian and terrorism. It will take a form that will be complex and difficult to unravel.
So finally it seems the flaring may happen along religious lines. Neither currency nor natural resource can possibly become the trigger.
The first light may come from terror, which is divided and conflicted around religion. So it is back to the clash of civilisations, or to be unfair to Samuel Huntington, the clash of civilisations versus cultures, or merely the clash.