Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but world War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Such a claim from such a credible source makes us want to think about something (anything) else. We’re looking at you, Miley Cyrus.
A global conflict in the modern era would make for one hell of a light show, and there’s a little anarchist inside all of us who would like to see it happen. But the greater part of us would rather have World War III remain a hypothetical construct.
Though, one can’t help but think that the most powerful forces in the world don’t represent the greater part of us. Every week another geopolitical domino falls, like clockwork. It’s a wonder that we haven’t seen a chain reaction yet. That’s how World War I began — subtly, as a culmination of isolated skirmishes that grew out of control. The absence of a Hitleresque boogeyman — or a catastrophe not even Miley Cyrus can distract us from — is no indication that we aren’t at the beginning stages of something truly, astonishingly horrific.
Put on your sad socks, this is going to be grim.
10. Russia’s Presence in Syria
At the time of this article’s writing, the Syrian skies are crowded with Russian fighter jets. It’s estimated that Russia has carried out at least 55 airstrikes over various ISIS camps.
ISIS is regarded globally as a manifestation of pure evil, so one might question why a Russian attack against them would be bad. One of several issues here is that Russia isn’t the only military presence in Syria — a faction of the U.S army is also stationed there, with their own agenda.
The differences between Russian and American military agendas in Syria are too vast to fit this entry, but an important (re: horrifying) factor here is that Syrian airspace has become crowded, and there’s an increasing risk of an air crash occurring between the two countries. It almost happened already — a U.S. F-16 fighter came within 20 miles of Russian warplanes. At the speeds they were travelling, the warplanes could have crashed within 30 seconds. An accident of that magnitude can potentially lead to a misunderstanding of intent that could snowball into a major conflict between the two superpowers and their global allies.
9. Water Scarcity
The water cycle on our planet is a closed system, meaning we always have the same amount of water. A closed system can sustain all species on the planet for billions of years, unless we contaminate the water. Guess what we’re doing.
It’s easy to understand why we have a water problem: the population is growing rapidly, putting a strain on our water supply (an increase in demand), and the amount of available water is being reduced by contamination and pollution (a decrease in supply). There are already several highly populated regions with relatively sparse water supplies, such as Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Water scarcity has yet to reach the Western world, and it’s in our nature to assume that if something hasn’t already happened, then it probably never will. But the planet’s water supply is being hit by the trifecta of a rapidly growing human population, an emergence of new water-intensive industries, and toxic production methods that show no signs of stopping. If current trends follow us into the coming decades, the amount of available water will drastically wane, and governments worldwide will do whatever it takes to secure water for their country.
8. Middle Eastern Terrorism
Since 9/11, the United States has had its eyes (and several thousand pairs of its military boots) on Middle Eastern countries, waiting to see if the terrorists would follow it up. They haven’t thus far, at least not on the same scale. But with the slew of threats from various terrorist organizations crossing the ocean regularly, it seems as though an attack can happen at any given moment.
Russia’s current airbombing over ISIS territories has the terrorist group demoralized and seemingly close to defeat. Whether this will lead to something peaceful remains to be seen, but there’s a looming possibility that another terrorist group will take ISIS’ place and respond to Russia’s merciless attack accordingly.
7. Food Scarcity
In the West, we view food scarcity as a distant threat, decades away, during which time we can surely figure out a solution. But food scarcity is already a reality for a staggering portion of the global population. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 842 million people in the world are currently undernourished.
The United Nations and World Bank claim there won’t be enough food for the global population by 2050. If the food shortage reaches a critical mass and whole nations face death by famine, countries will not hesitate to attack each other over food supply.
6. European Debt Crisis
The European debt crisis has been a haunting reality for Europe since 2009. Unemployment rates in Greece and Spain reached a staggering 27% in 2013. That same year, The Telegraph’s Daniel Knowles wrote, “Tensions between European countries unseen in decades are emerging.” Aside from the risk of conflict between economically struggling countries, there’s a much more immediate threat. If such high unemployment rates are not properly quelled — if citizens’ only means of staying alive is through looting, then the societal structure of entire cities may crumble.
5. Environmental Disasters
If you flew over California ten years ago, and boarded the same flight today, you would be seeing two vastly different landscapes. A 3-year drought has effectively dried out a staggering amount of the state’s water supply. Should the drought persist, it will reduce the food output and turn the citizens of California into climate refugees.
If the problem isn’t a scarcity of water, it may be an excess. According to Michael Klare, Author of Resource Wars: “Rising sea levels will in the next half-century erase many coastal areas, destroying large cities, critical infrastructure (including roads, railroads, ports, airports, pipelines, refineries, and power plants), and prime agricultural land.”
If an environmental disaster destroys a country, its populace will not simply evaporate along with the last traces of their water — they will need a proper place to stay, and if another country does not let them in they will have no choice but to break the door down.
4. North Korea is North Korea
North Korea’s antics both in and out of its borders are certainly bizarre, but a country so serious about nuclearization should by no means be taken lightly. Aside from the three nuclear tests they’ve conducted since 2006, North Korea is said to be developing a mobile ballistic missile that could potentially cross the ocean and strike the U.S.
Some believe that North Korea is all bark and no bite, that all of their provocations are carried out so that the global community will give them what they want in the hopes of keeping them stable. But that’s all speculation. North Korea is a wildcard, and the worst kind of wildcard — one with nukes.
3. Israel and Iran
Israel has been in a cosmically awkward position in the Middle East for millennia. These days, Iran is their greatest threat. According to former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, “Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel.” This is no secret — the commander of Iran’s Basij forces echoes the same sentiment nearly verbatim.
If the world knows that this is in Iran’s agenda, then Israel certainly knows it, too. Having the Bomb under their belt, and not wanting to risk waiting long enough for Iran to produce their own, Israel may take the extreme route and decide to wipe out Iran before they themselves get wiped out.
2. Mass Protests
The great Egyptian revolution of 2011 has proven to the world that directing a collective intention toward a singular goal can produce actual results. Since then, mass protests have sprouted practically everywhere, from China, to the United States — even Iceland. It would seem as though the masses of the world have learned that they are separate from their governments.
It’s an uplifting idea, but the powers that be don’t think too highly of it. Governments will always call in their military if mass protests pick up enough momentum to threaten political stability. If a revolution ever reaches a global scale, the military involvement would be likely to match it.
1. U.S. — China Relations
The complexities of the political relationship between the United States and China won’t be prodded with a rake here. Suffice it to say that their relationship is complicated, but not complicated enough for multiple publications (The Telegraph, International Business Times, Express) to claim that a war between the two is inevitable.
Thucydides, an ancient historian, offered an insight 2,400 years ago that neatly sums up the messy situation between the two countries. “It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable.” China is the modern Athens, and it grows closer to overtaking United States as a global superpower every day. If the tension between these two titans reaches critical mass, the conflict that ensues would likely span the globe.