Fat Man and Little Boy – these innocuous sobriquets, were given, in a vicious irony, to two specimens of the most detrimental weapons ever developed by human beings. The world shook on August 6 and 9, 1945, when the 2 atomic bombs were dropped by B-26s, incinerating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and bringing Imperial Japan to its knees in unconditional surrender. As a testament to its destructive power, a few minutes of nuclear destruction had hastened the end of probably the most brutal war in history. The war had been won, but at a horrible cost. By some estimates, 60 million people – 3 percent of the world’s population in 1940 – had perished in World War II (WW2).
What surfaced from the debris pile was a New World Order, led by a new, undisputed power: the United States of America. Seven decades after liberal democracy triumphed over facism and subsequently, Communism, that World Order has precariously held the peace. Conflicts haven’t discontinued, but a global war with the Great Powers as belligerents definitely has not occurred.
It would be foolhardy to assume that another World War has been averted just out of the sheer goodness of the hearts of the PTB. If you ask a realist, nuclear deterrence is the surest safeguard against the world descending into another Great War. To put it into point of view, the effect of the atomic bombs dropped on those fateful days in August, 1945, equalled 15 (Little Boy) and 21 kilotons (Fat Man) of TNT. The nuclear weapons presently, such as Castle Bravo, have the explosive power of 15,000 kilotons of TNT. It is this scale of thermonuclear warfare that has guaranteed global peace to date.
Maybe the prime lesson of history is that we, as a species, tend not to learn lessons from history. Human folly is the only constant in our brief history on Earth. The US-led World Order has proved to be durable post WW2, even vanquishing the once-mighty USSR. But it is definitely not the “End Of History,” as the likes of Francis Fukuyama would lead you to assume. In the years since the end of the Cold War, new players have surfaced that may disturb the global balance of power. Can diplomacy forestall war? Will we, as a species, have the ability to survive if the worst of our nuclear nightmares are actualised?
Recent developments have not been very inspiring. History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme. This melancholy poetic logic is being played out in international events of late, and the situations eerily appear like the events that preceded WW2. Some of them are as follows:
A lesser war before a greater war (the Spanish Civil War and the Syrian Civil War).
The Spanish Civil War
It forwent WW2 by less than a decade and, based on many historians, was a prelude to it. The Spanish War would prove to be a battleground between the forces of liberalism, Communism and fascism – a tournament that would be battled on a colossal scale in WW2.
As is the case in the Syrian conflict, foreign powers were backing rival factions in Spain to further their own ulterior motives. What was basically a civil war, blew out of proportion and became a harbinger of a larger catastrophe to come. Bashar al-Assad, much like General Franco of civil war-era Spain, is holding on to Syria by the skin of his teeth, backed by his outside allies. What began with crowds in Damascus, clamouring for more say in their governance during the Arab Spring, has mutated into an international cesspool.
The Russia-China-Iran Nexus
Russians have a proud military history of vanquishing juggernauts such as Napolean’s army and the Third Reich. The end of the Cold War was meant to downgrade its status from a global superpower to a regional one. Under Putin’s presidency, it has again began to throw its weight around in international relations.
The annexation of Crimea in 2014; depriving Europe of its supply of gas; and, more recently, its military appearance in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad only verifies that Russia seeks a bigger role in international affairs. The U.S. is limited by a treaty to come to the aid of Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Baltic states, who actually are members of NATO, when needed. The numerous missile defence sites dispersed across Eastern Europe are designed to strike back in case of a Russian attack. The Cold War still gives off hot fumes at the faultline of Eastern and Western Europe.
Not to mention that Russia has the second biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. If the Cuban Missile Crisis is any guide, a stand-off involved with nuclear weapons with its arch rival, the U.S., isn’t really something beyond the realm of possibility. Saner heads won in the past, but would the same be the case if such a meltdown takes place again? In light of recent events, there is no comforting response.
China – The Return Of The Dragon
Much like nature, power also abhors a vacuum. China has displaced Imperial Japan as the rival to the United State’s hegemony in the Pacific. The Chinese ‘miracle’ is possibly the greatest comeback story in history. After years of being embarrassed during the colonial period, struggling through civil wars and Japanese occupation during WW2 and the loss of millions of lives during Chairman Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping have brought in China into a new golden age. ‘Capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ – a euphemism for a regulated market economy under Communist Party rule – has been the drive that has pushed China into the centre stage of global politics.
The prosperity generated by the Chinese miracle has also had positive knock-on effects on its armed forces. No longer does it have the army of peasants of the Mao era. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest sized standing army in the world. Couple that with the modernising of its navy and air force, and you have a powerful claimant for superiority in the Pacific.
Until currently, the Chinese have practiced pragmatic diplomacy, prioritising coexistence over confrontation. But there are 4 chief purposes that may modify this policy in the coming years, namely: disputes with Japan, the status of Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula.
Japan and China have a negative history. The humiliation of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and atrocities such as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’ during WW2, are still significantly embedded in the Chinese psyche. Territorial conflicts on the Senkako/Diakyou Islands fired up nationalist fervour on both sides, in 2015. The argument is far from settled.
Another equally powerful argument is between China and Taiwan. China views Taiwan a runaway province and abstains to recognise its independence. China has, time and again, suggested that military reprisal could be on the cards if Taiwan seek for full-scale independence.
Things don’t look encouraging on the Korean peninsula either. North Korea, a fellow Communist state armed with nuclear weapons, has historically had China’s support, while South Korea, a capitalist democracy, enjoys U.S. backing. Ruled by a capricious leader, North Korea has not shied away from stating it would deploy nuclear weapons at any given chance. A war between North and South Korea could conveniently embroil both the U.S. and China. This has occurred before – in the Korean War, in 1956.
America is bound by a treaty to get involved militarily in case either South Korea, Taiwan or Japan are attacked. On the surety of Americans coming to their aid in time of battle, the Japanese do not even maintain a standing army. That leaves 3 potential flashpoints that could bring about armed conflict between the two most powerful nations on the planet.
Last but not least, China claims its territorial right on self-designated swathes of the South China Sea, while America contends that vessels of all nations have rights of free passage in those waters. A current ruling in opposition to China by an international tribunal in The Hague, in favor of the Philippines, has only heightened the Chinese resolve. While this argument may be remedied by diplomacy in the future, it is a very telling illustration of the territorial ambitions of a rising China.
The Iran Factor
Ayatollah Khomeini once famously stated, “America is the Great Satan.” This terse statement could very well summarise US-Iranian relations since the Islamic Republic came into being in 1979. Having one of the biggest oil and gas reserves in the world has converted into real power for Iran, and US-imposed sanctions have not been able to implode the current regime as designed. Iran has supported proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah in opposition to Israel. It has been wielding related influence in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts. For all intents and purposes, Iran is a power-broker in the most energy-rich region of the world.
In spite of a landmark treaty between America and Iran in 2015, where it was decided that Iran could only carry on with nuclear enrichment for civilian purposes, there still is dichotomy from both sides. Just recently, Iran permitted U.S. fighter jets to utilize Iranian bases and air space.
The worst-case scenario, if it ever comes to that, would be if the Iran deal became useless, and Iranians started again their nuclear weapons programme. In such an event, it is almost sure either the U.S. or Israel would kick off aerial strikes on believed nuclear sites if not a full-scale ground invasion. Such a conflict would very well engulf the whole Middle East, as Syria has well exhibited. It’s worth bringing up that Israel almost launched an aerial attack on suspected Iranian nuclear sites until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu relented under pressure from the top military brass at the last minute.
All of these rising powers have not been functioning in isolation throughout. Over the past few years, a China-Russia-Iran axis appears to be growing, which threatens the Great Power status of America. Joint military exercises, economic integration initiatives such as the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, have produced this shift a reality. The spheres of influence of Iran, China and Russia are the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea and the continental region, respectively. America’s hegemony is dependent upon countering their rising influence in the future.
Then, there are hypothetical situations that may possibly cause or exacerbate ongoing conflicts. What role would global terrorism play in the global balance of power? Every day appears to bring to the fore new terror outfits inflicting destruction on all parts of the globe. A terrorist outfit getting hold of nuclear technology is a nightmare predicament. Just to illustrate, Baghdadi, the self-anointed caliph of IS, has clearly signalled willingness to utilize nuclear technology.
Turkey is currently the proverbial dark horse in global matters. The Syrian conflict has virtually and metaphorically bled into neighbouring Turkey. It has been a key NATO ally (and also the only Muslim country in the alliance). After the failed coup effort, it has held a livid stance in opposition to the U.S. and its European allies, namely Germany, and at this point the Netherlands. Currently, it straddles both the Russian and US-led camps in an indecisive position. No matter which way Turkey leans in the future, it will have massive ramifications on global power relations.
Finally, how will global warming – now an recognized fact – disentangle in the coming decades? Changing climatic behaviour would doubtless have a massive effect on international affairs. The famous prognostication that, in the future, nations will go to war for water rather than oil appears highly likely.
Even with this backdrop, it could be regarded alarmist to forecast that another global war is predictable and to get ready for apocalypse. But since we do not learn from history, we are often condemned to repeat it. In the decades after WW2, diplomacy, globalisation and nuclear deterrence could have made another global war less probable. But 70 years is just a mere blip in the grand canvas of history. A single bullet from a crazed lunatic’s pistol, which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, was the kindle that ignited World War I. It would be foolhardy to believe such callous stupidity might never be repeated.
Are you prepared for the real New World Order? Make no mistake about it. There are Those who will go to the extremes to make the Prophecies Manifest.
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