In a column in the Toronto Sun, Candice Malcolm asks: “Are we heading toward another World War?“
My short answer is “No, but …“
I have said, several times, that there are three danger zones:
- First: In the South China Seas there is a danger that a US military commander could misinterpret or misunderstand a Chinese action or reaction and take a military action which would cause a serious downward spiral. I regard this is improbable but not impossible;
- Second: Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS or some similar group could perpetrate an outrage, on American soil, that would demand a massive, punitive and exemplary response which could bring Russia and America into direct military conflict. I regard this as possible but also unlikely; and
- Third: President Putin might overreach early in the new Trump administration because he, Putin, seriously misjudges the natures of president elect Trump and his senior officials. They, the Americans, may wish some sort of rapprochement with Russia while they deal with other priorities but they are very, very unlikely to allow the Russians to try to, for example, reconnect Kaliningrad with, say, Belarus, through Lithuania or Poland. I regard the the possibility of Russian miscalculation as high and the consequences as being severe.
Ms Malcolm mentions all three when she observes that “As tensions rise around the globe, from Europe to Syria to China, it’s starting to feel like we are on the cusp of an unstoppable catastrophe.”
But her focus is on another, more recent, event. She says that: “In particular, there is reason to be concerned about the escalating tensions between Turkey and Russia … [because] … The Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was assassinated Monday. He was shot and killed before a live audience, by a special ops member of the Turkish police force. The assassin was standing behind the ambassador — he looked like a member of the secret service. It could have easily been a scene from a James Bond film. After he murdered the ambassador, the assassin stood in front of the crowd and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “we die in Aleppo, you die here” … [and] … Russia and Turkey are both involved in the Syrian civil war, backing different factions and occasionally colliding .. [but] … This isn’t the first sign of escalating tensions between these two regional powers. A little over a year ago, in late November, 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian military jet for supposedly violating Turkish airspace and crossing into Turkish territory. At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin called it “an ambush” and a “stab in the back by terrorist accomplices.”“
Possible, in my view, but unlikely, because, militarily, Turkey is a tough nut to crack. It has a large and fairly capable army and there are no easy, simple, direct Russian approaches … the logistical support of an invading force would be very, very difficult, especially for the Russians who are weak (compared to Western armies) at logistics and maintenance.
The more likely courses for Russia are either:
- To stab at Kaliningrad and hope that the attack can succeed before NATO can respond, hoping, again, that a fait accompli will be accepted; or
- Russia might try to mount a very, very limited attack on Istanbul, hoping, again, by fait accompli, to force Turkey to surrender the Bosporous.
Either could succeed, with a little bit of luck and sufficient Western disunity and timidity. But either would be a significant strategic defeat for the US led West and so, I expect, the President elect Trump and NATO would not roll over, instead they would mobilize and secure a hard and harsh military victory and either return Kaliningrad to Poland and/or Istanbul to Turkey.
But this is where the danger comes: if NATO defeats Russia in the West then China may feel emboldened to attack from the East with the aim to splitting Russia into a European state and several (East of the Urals) Asian states, all, more or less loosely, subservient to China. Russia might go nuclear, causing more deadly and massive Chinese retaliation and the West might also intervene giving us, indeed, a world war in Eurasia.
My guess is that despite the minimal efforts of military laggards like Canada, NATO will mount a credible deterrent force in Eastern Europe … sufficient to persuade Putin to rattle his sabres and restart the Cold War but not to actually try to win anything. Equally, I guess that the Russian military will dissuade Putin from doing anything much, beyond sabre rattling, near Turkey, too.