Anyone who has been following what has been happening in eastern Europe, the Middle East, or the South Pacific lately would, of course, find the sabre-rattling tendencies rather worrying.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but ask the question: Is there a global conflict on the horizon?
It seems insane, right? Why would anyone even think of such a thing? Two world wars were already two more than anyone wanted.
Yet, as insane as it might seem to be speculating, the world now doesn't look so different from it did prior to the world wars. In fact, anyone who studied that period of history will find some eerie similarities.
The first such comparison to be drawn is the military build-up. Prior to the outbreak of World War I (WWI), Britain and Germany were engaged in a fierce arms race, with both sides constantly upgrading their arsenal to the latest technology available at the time. This culminated in the construction of the dreadnought battleship by the Royal Navy, which was later copied by its rivals with designs of their own.
Similarly, today, great powers constantly try to outdo each other to see who has the latest and most potent weapons, and are certainly not afraid to show them off. This, in and of itself, should be worrying enough. However, the parties in the arms race didn't always operate in isolation, but rather cooperated in strategic alliances to deter rivals.
Is there any difference between then and now?
Who can forget late last year when the US, UK, and Australia announced the formation of the tripartite pact known as Aukus? The whole idea behind this is that it should serve as a deterrent to Chinese ambitions in the South Pacific. This looks oddly similar to the Entente Cordiale that was signed shortly before WWI to deter German ambition.
The Chinese, of course, didn't take very kindly to this and responded by calling the three States paranoid. Yet the actions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) might actually provide justification for such a show of force by Aukus.
China has been known to aggressively increase their naval presence in the South China Sea as of late, while its air force has been conducting military drills in Taiwanese air space. The PLA has also been seen testing hypersonic missiles, which circle the world in orbit, pointing to its deadly accuracy.
The Western powers are not the only ones wary of China. Japan, since World War II (WWII), has taken an official position of pacifism, but given its geographical closeness to China, its current stance is anything but. Japan's self-defence force has developed to an advanced stage, with air and naval capabilities surpassing anything it has had since WWII. But what is worrying most of all is the influence of the far-right ultra-conservative Nippon Kaigi organisation among the Japanese ruling elite, which openly calls for Japan to drop all pretence of pacifism. This would make it an Asian military powerhouse once again, making the situation in East Asia more tenuous than it already is.
Not to be left out, India has also had its own contingency plans for dealing with China as it has recently purchased a series of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia and set them in strategic points that pundits claim are meant to fend off any Chinese attempts at an incursion.
And speaking of Russia, they are, at present, an even bigger problem for Western powers than China due to their actions in Ukraine. Currently, the entire eastern front of Europe is at a tipping point, with ever-growing speculation as to whether Russia will invade Ukraine. This is something that the US and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are rather wary of, as both sides are locked in a stand-off. The best hope anyone can have is that all sides can reach rapprochement before it gets to the point of no return.
According to the Russians, NATO expanding into Ukraine would violate an agreement with the Soviet Union that NATO would never expand eastward after the fall of the Iron Curtain. NATO, on the other hand, contends that no such deal was ever made and that Ukraine was a sovereign state, free to join whatever alliance it likes. This sore point is what leads to the security dilemma we have today as neither side is willing to relent as each feels threatened by the other.
Russia, for its part, has responded with a massive military build-up on the Ukrainian border. NATO, however, is not standing idly by as Britain and several other member states are already sending arms to Ukraine, while France is openly touting the possibility of a European Army to defend the continent.
The ambitions of EU and NATO have hit a major hurdle as, unlike Russia, the West is comprised of different countries with competing interests. Whereas French President Emmanuel Macron is all for a common defence force for the continent, new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is of a much different mindset.
Unlike most of NATO, Germany is not inclined to go to war with Russia as it would have too much to lose if the situation should deteriorate, given that it is one of the biggest recipients of Russian oil and natural gas, which means any stop to that supply would lead to a major downturn in Germany's lead as Europe's major manufacturing giant.
This scenario, one must admit, would make it different from the first two world wars as this time Germany would prefer the role of peacemaker rather than aggressor.
A comparison of the economic environment which existed during the periods of the first two world wars and now yields interesting results.
It is hardly a secret that following the end of the WWI the world fell into a Great Depression, which only ended when WWII began. The question of whether war is good or bad for the economy depends greatly on who is asking. The world economy as we know it now is a disaster, due primarily to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a downturn in many major economies, with economists predicting that the current depression will hit the levels seen during the Great Depression.
History tells us that, in the US, while the federal government tried to restart the economy through the New Deal initiative, what really got the economy moving again was the manufacturing capacity being expanded in the war and post-war period.
The US, as it stands now, is in a bad place economically, and unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, Biden's Build Back Better programme to restart the economy has indefinitely stalled in Congress. It would not be completely far-fetched to state that nobody really wants war unless he or she is part of the military-industrial complex, which some still think is mere conspiracy.
Yet, Democratic congresswoman and former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has stated point blank that this is exactly what is happening, and has referred to some of her colleagues as warmongers for pushing the narrative regarding Russian aggression. The prospect of war profiteering is horrendous to think about and yet, with everything going on, there are clearly rumblings of a shift in economic and political power on a global scale.
The pandemic, over the last two years, has paved the way for some changes in the system, but there is still the question of which country is truly the most powerful. The idealist in me tends to think that such a question can be settled peacefully, but the realist in me would not dare be so naïve, after all, as German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said, “It is not through speeches and debates that the questions of the day will be decided, but through iron and blood.”
The talk of a peaceful rise of China or the resurgence of Russia is interesting but, as history tells us, it is only through war that the global order will be so drastically reset. For example, the Napoleonic wars led to the rise of Europe and the congress system; WWI led to the fall of several centuries-old empires and the redrawing of the maps of Europe and the Arab world; while WWII cemented the dominance of the US and the USSR, gave us the UN and the Bretton Woods Agreement and Systems and, most importantly, led to decolonisation, which also resulted in a redrawing of the world map.
In all the halls of power there is talk of a “Great Reset”, one that they say is influenced by COVID-19, but is it far-fetched to surmise that this alone is not enough to justify such a reordering of the world system? Look back at WWII. The economy was changed as much as the politics, yet the Bretton Woods Agreement and System did not rise from the war but from the depression that preceded it. A great reset that looks at changes in the entire geopolitical structure might take a similar approach.
Much of this sounds hyperbolic, and I for one am hoping to be dead wrong on this, but I cannot help but look at the similarities and wonder.
At the start of 2022 the UN Security Council promised there would be no nuclear war yet, within weeks of this promise, countries started making aggressive moves that tips the world closer to just that. China has continued its aggressive moves in the South Pacific, while Russia does the same at its border with Ukraine, even while France and Britain continue to openly support Kiev's Government, and the US stands in the middle of it all threatening sanctions but doing little else.
This resembles what happened in the interwar period when the great powers signed the Kellogg–Briand Pact to limit armaments only for them to all turn around and violate said agreement.
And this aggression is not limited to the P5 nations — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. North Korea has continued to test their own hypersonic missiles, ignoring UN sanctions; Iran also continues to pursue its own nuclear agenda, refusing to renegotiate its nuclear deal; and Saudi Arabia continues to act as a foil for Iran in their rivalry for regional domination.
Given the aforementioned, the question remains: Is the world really heading for another war or is this sabre-rattling just that and nothing more?