WW III hot spots
World War III can erupt in three hot spots: (1) South China Sea (also called West Philippine Sea) and East China Sea, (2) Ukraine, and (3) Middle East. In all these places, two or more of the nuclear powers—United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Israel and Iran—are major players.
South and East China Seas. China is building civilian and military facilities with “defense and offense… capabilities” in the Spratlys and other South China Sea islets, which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. It is reclaiming huge tracks of land in eight islets, including an airstrip in an 800-hectare reclamation.
In the adjacent East China Sea, China has a bitter confrontation with Japan. While it claims “undisputed sovereignty” and denies the applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in the Spratlys dispute, it alleges Unclos-recognized exclusive economic zones in this sea.
China also asserts sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) which are under the control of Japan. Oil and gas reserves are said to be underneath them. This dispute was aggravated on Nov. 23, 2013 when China announced an Air Defense Identification Zone or Adiz requiring all aircraft entering the zone (including the Senkaku) to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency and transponder information. Japan said it would not comply. If a Japanese plane defying the Adiz mysteriously crashes or disappears, violence could ensue.
Lately, the United States joined the fray, diverting 60 percent (from 40 percent) of its powerful navy to the South and East China Seas. A few days ago, it heralded the deployment to Japan of the largest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world, the USS Ronald Reagan, together with its complement of battleships, cruisers and destroyers.
Right now, the Chinese have not placed any offensive military installations, like missile silos, on the islets it is reclaiming. But if—repeat, if—it sends warships that carry missiles, nuclear warheads and other heavy weapons to these islets, the United States may declare a blockade, the way President John F. Kennedy did in October 1962 when the old Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev sent missile-carrying vessels to Cuba.
Fortunately, the Soviet leader backed off and recalled his warships just before they could be intercepted by the US Navy. Will the Chinese back off similarly? If they don’t, World War III could erupt in our backyard.
Russia and Ukraine. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and its neighbor, Ukraine (and other Soviet republics) became independent states. Since then, the two countries have had uneasy relations, with Ukraine veering toward the West and repulsing Russian overtures for economic and military pacts.
Despite Ukraine’s publicly known desire to join the European Union, Russia has not stopped its overtures. After all, about 20 percent of Ukrainians have Russian roots and prefer a union with their mother country.
Last year, after a controversial referendum, Russia annexed Crimea, a large peninsula at the southern tip of Ukraine. Later on, separatist forces, armed with Russian-made heavy weapons, fought the Ukrainian military and occupied huge areas of Eastern Ukraine, including the key cities of Donbass, Donetsk and Lugansk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko avows that the separatists are disguised regular members of the Russian armed forces, a claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin denies. Nonetheless, Russia stationed about 40,000 troops on the Ukraine-Russia border where they conduct war games, a grim reminder of its superior military might.
Amid sporadic fighting in Ukraine, British, French and other European leaders and US President Barack Obama urge a peaceful settlement of the dispute. But they have made clear their support for Poroshenko. World War III would be at risk if the Russian troops cross the border and openly help the separatists, or if an important military or political leader is slain.
Note that World War II began when Hitler blitzed Poland. And World War I was ignited after Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed by Serb militants. As a result, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and embroiled their respective allies in World War I.
The Middle East (ME) is complicated. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia supports the Yemeni government while Iran, its archenemy, arms the rebel Houthis. The United States backs its long-time Saudi ally with logistics and intelligence. But not with much else. Yet, the United States and Iran are together in assisting the ragtag Iraqi army’s struggle against the world’s most-heavily armed terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis).
So, too, to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and Israel (America’s staunchest ME ally), the United States is spearheading a 10-year move to lift trade sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran’s dubious vow to moderate its nuclear ambitions.
Hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so enraged at this US policy that he threatens to unleash a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran. If he does, the world will be plunged into a holocaust, because Iran can retaliate in kind.
The Saudis are also inconsolable at the United States’ offers of reconciliation with their archenemy. They demonstrate their disaffection in many ways, including the sudden decline of crude oil prices to discourage the United States from extracting its more expensive shale oil and to sell it at viable commercial prices.
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