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Five flammable conflicts: World War III in the making

Written by André Ken Jakobsson, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

It only takes a spark to ignite a global wildfire. If any lessons can be learned from World War I it is this:  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a seemingly unfortunate but relatively isolated incident, spiraled into chaos because of an intricate web of alliances and interests, not to mention the cheerful attitude displayed by all participants towards a short war that would end in glory. It was not to be and the echo of World War I shattered Europe again only 20 years after.

Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane last week could potentially be such a spark. When doing high politics sparks will fly all the time, just like when welding together strong support beams: It takes a lot of energy, it will blind you if you look directly at it and sparks flying from the process could burn the whole structure down. The necessary condition is that sparks need somewhere to go in order to light up this global wildfire.

Robert Farlay has been shedding analytical light on some of these flammable conflicts and their potential for sparks and escalation. Syria has potential major power conflict written all over it with Russian and Western warplanes taking turns at bombing rebel forces and ISIS warriors and with quite different objectives (Russia supporting the regime and the West calling for a change in regime). The mixture of France, Russia and the United States could escalate into an advanced game of chicken: “If any of the three decide to intervene in favor of their preferred factions, the situation could very quickly come to resemble a game of chicken, with airstrikes, no fly zones, and secure enclaves providing the points of conflict.  Serious fighting between external powers in Syria could quickly draw in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and potentially spread to other parts of the globe.”

Further flammable conflicts under consideration are India-Pakistan, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Ukraine. The complicated nature of these conflicts hold a certain amount similarity to the intangible high politics of Europe 1914. And for Farlay, they make him a little bit nostalgic for the more structured insecurity of the Cold War.

Read the full flammable analysis here.

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