Entering 2022, the world looks more dangerous than it has at any time since the late 1980s. Real conflicts of interest in Eastern Europe and the East China Sea have set the table for the first serious great-power conflict in decades. Crises in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and the Himalayas continue to smolder.
Here are the five most dangerous flashpoints for the eruption of World War III, in descending order of peril:
5 Places World War III Could Erupt: Ukraine
Easily the most likely flashpoint for great power war in 2022 lies along the border between Russia and Ukraine.
Over the past six months, Russia has steadily built up forces along the frontier as Kyiv, Moscow, and Washington have traded barbs. Russia’s immediate concerns involve the Ukrainian acquisition and use of Turkish drones along its border regions, along with a general increase in Ukrainian military power. Moscow’s long-range problem is its inability to reverse the Western orientation that Kyiv has adopted since 2014.
Russia has publicly argued that it wants to resolve the issues of Ukraine and of Russia’s relationship with NATO on a permanent basis. The United States and NATO have not responded positively to these overtures, but have notably failed to guarantee Ukraine’s security. If Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine things could get ugly quickly. Despite improvements in Ukrainian forces, most analysts expect that Russia would win quick victories along the border, potentially gaining access to the Ukrainian heartland.
Direct Russian military action would put immense pressure on the United States to respond in some fashion. However, the US can support Kyiv in several ways without direct intervention. This includes economic sanctions against Russia, cyberattacks against Russian infrastructure, the transfer of weapons to Ukraine, and the sharing of real-time intelligence with Ukrainian forces. The use of any of these tools, especially if they show some success on the ground, could lead to a confrontation between Moscow and Washington.
5 Places World War III Could Erupt: Taiwan
Over the past year, long-simmering US concern over the Chinese threat to Taiwan has seemed to come to a boil.
Chinese military capabilities have grown rapidly over the past decade, and now constitute a major obstacle against US intervention. At the same time, China’s military remains untested, and an amphibious assault across the Taiwan Strait would constitute one of the most sophisticated military operations in history.
The potential for miscalculation is immense. The United States maintained a studied ambiguity towards Taiwan for the past forty years as it developed a strong economic relationship with the People’s Republic of China. This “strategic ambiguity” was designed to remove the incentive for Taiwan to declare independence while not giving China an excuse to invade. Some in Congress have now called for an end to this policy, and for more full-throated support of Taiwan’s international position.
A war could begin in several different ways. China could launch a “bolt from the blue” attack designed to catch US and Taiwanese forces unawares. Alternatively, tensions in other aspects of the US-China relationship might convince Beijing of the likelihood of a change in the US stance towards Taiwan, leading to a pre-emptive attack. Finally (and least likely) Taiwan might attempt to make its independence an accomplished fact, which most analysts believe would incur Chinese military intervention.
In any eventuality, escalation would be difficult for either side to manage, and a fight over access to Taiwan could quickly degenerate into a general war.
5 Places World War III Could Erupt: Iran
Any honest appraisal of US policy towards Iran now recognizes that then-President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was a disastrous mistake.
The US effort to increase military and economic coercion against Iran has failed. Iran has stepped up its nuclear efforts while improving the sophistication of its missile forces and increasing its covert activities across the region.
Negotiations have thus far failed to restore the status quo, as the United States has stumbled over its inability to commit and Tehran has taken a tough attitude. If negotiations fail to bring Iran into some kind of a deal, the threat of military action lurks in the background. While the Biden administration doesn’t seem excited about the prospect of war, US allies in Riyadh and Jerusalem could try to trigger a confrontation. Similarly, if Iran comes to believe an attack is inevitable, it could pre-empt with all the tools it has available. Iran lacks committed great power backing, but a conflict in the Middle East could open opportunities elsewhere for Russia and China.
5 Places World War III Could Erupt: North Korea
The North Korea front has gone quiet over the last couple of years, as the DPRK has struggled too much with the covid pandemic to bother making much trouble internationally.
Japan, South Korea, and the United States have similarly been happy to let sleeping dogs lie, focusing on bigger international and domestic problems rather than trying to cut through the apparently intractable Korean situation.
To the extent that North Korea has made the headlines the news largely seems to be positive, with the US and Seoul coming to a mutual understanding on the prospects for a formal end to the Korean War.
And yet… the problem of North Korea remains unresolved. It is not a failed state but it faces enormous economic, social, and political problems. Historically, Pyongyang has used external belligerence to attract international attention and force a resolution of its concerns. While North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon in several years, a resumption of testing, combined with additional tests of its missile arsenal, could erase much of the calm that has ensued over the past few years.
5 Places World War III Could Erupt: Himalayas
Tensions between China and India have mellowed over the past year, but we should not forget that the border between the two countries witnessed lethal confrontations over the past two years.
India and China have worked hard to reduce tensions along the border, but basic disagreements over territory and disposition remain. Both countries have continued to build up infrastructure in the region that could support rapid military mobilization.
Neither Beijing nor Delhi seem particularly interested in throwing down over control of remote mountain regions. But it is not difficult to envision renewed skirmishes that then draw in other problematic aspects of their relationship. Although China enjoys considerable military superiority, some trends appear to favor India. The burgeoning technological relationship between Delhi and Washington is a source of concern for Beijing, especially given the newfound willingness of the United States to engage in long-term technological agreements such as AUKUS. If China comes to understand renewed tension along the border as part of a general encirclement strategy rather than as a bilateral problem with India, it might become more willing to take serious risks to resolve the situation.
World War III in 2022?
The Covid pandemic has demanded much of the world’s attention over the past two years. This hasn’t stopped geopolitics in its tracks, but it certainly has redirected the priorities of global leaders. The pandemic isn’t over, but it is becoming part of the background noise of international politics, and great powers are recalibrating and reasserting their interests. We shouldn’t expect great power war in 2022, but we should always be aware of the potential for things to get out of hand. Most importantly, we should take care to consider that the conflicts above are interactive and interdependent. If war breaks out with Iran, it affects decision-making over the whole world.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley is a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020).
January 4, 2022 at 9:14 am
Too bad the author is a loon and his analysis looney.
May 2, 2022 at 12:52 am
little did you know that he is right, except for the iran nuclear deal part
January 4, 2022 at 9:43 am
president Trumps disastrous decision to get out of the Iran Nuclear Deal………………………………..??????????????
I use to respect the analysis of these articles but now im going to question their authenticity…..
Nathaniel Cooper Hess
January 4, 2022 at 10:22 am
Who wrote this? Article is trash
May 2, 2022 at 12:53 am
no it isnt because he is right and ukraine has been invaded
January 4, 2022 at 10:33 am
If the Iran Nuclear deal was so great, how do you explain the opposition to it from the two countries that have the most at stake – Israel and Saudi Arabia?
January 4, 2022 at 11:20 am
The real nightmare scenario is all of the above at the same time – or even just any two of them. That is not looking so far-fetched these days. The people in Washington who are so cocksure of our ability to prevail with ease against any and every adversary should think again.
January 4, 2022 at 11:32 am
Cant wait, what defense company do I need to invest in or should I say who is paying Hunter Biden to pass along 10% for the big guy?
January 4, 2022 at 12:05 pm
The resignation from the JCPOA was working quite well at starving the Iranian regime of cash and causing economic stress to the point that we were talking about actual uprisings in the country. Not to mention the much more effective strategy of bringing the other regional powers into agreement in opposition to the Iranian regime. Since Biden took over, I haven’t heard much about uprisings and their nuclear program and anti-American rhetoric has only accelerated. Hostile regimes, especially Iran, see only weakness in our policy and will exploit it right up to the point that they build their first nuke.
January 4, 2022 at 12:38 pm
“Any honest appraisal of US policy towards Iran now recognizes that then-President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was a disastrous mistake.”
Farley, are you nuts? Iran was cheating at the JCPOA and their commitment to it was laughable.
Trump pulling out was a wise idea.
Let me guess – you’re a Liberal…
January 4, 2022 at 12:56 pm
Igor, what do you expect? Look where Farley went to school. The cesspool of americas far left colleges. The sad part is we the taxpayers are funding these socialists that are poisoning our children.
January 4, 2022 at 1:14 pm
Author Farley, you do a disservice to your country by your left wing crap articles. You are nothing but a trouble maker trying to get 15 minutes of fame. Why don’t you just post all the good Iran terrorists have done- which is laughable- but also is your style of journalism. Shame on you, and please, please go away.
January 4, 2022 at 2:38 pm
We are already in WW3.
World Establishment/Deep State Bureaucracies/TransNational Corporations VS EVERYONE
January 4, 2022 at 2:43 pm
China v. India is the most likely, especially due to Biden’s Afghanistan debacle now put the Taliban on India’s Northern border who will be a proxy provocateur both to benefit Pakistan and China.
Michael Byrd killed a right wing terrorist slut
January 4, 2022 at 3:45 pm
Sub-human stolen valor monkey brains chimp out when articles states actual facts.
January 4, 2022 at 7:16 pm
Just another armchair commander. Apparently he is a student and advocate of the Neville Chamberlain school of how to avoid war. Dumping billions in cash to Iran is not the way to curtail its ambitions. Alas, he based his analysis through a never Trump looking glass. Strip out the platitudes and the article isn’t even a decent outline of potential conflicts.
January 4, 2022 at 9:03 pm
This appears to be a good deal of hype. 1. The Ukraine, the force ratios are off. The Ukrainian Army has over 145000 Soldiers. The Russians would require 250000 to 350000 Soldiers. The Russian economy generates only $2 Trillion in GDP compared to NATO states generating over $39 Trillion in GDP. The Russians are fairly poor. The Russians are more concerned with defending themselves than attacking NATO. NATO is the most powerful military alliance on the planet. The Ukraine is not a NATO member and not a US Treaty ally. The US has no national security issues in the Ukraine.
2. Taiwan, the US adopted the One China Policy in 1979. The US does over $600 Billion in trade annually with China. The UN asked Communist China to replace Taiwan on the Security Council in 1971. The US has no national security issues in Taiwan. This is smiliar to how the US refrained from interfereing in the recent suppression of Hong Kong.
3. Iran is a regional issue. However, Iran is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. The UN should take the lead on this issue. The US has some national security interests here; but should refrain combat given the recent defeat in Afghanistan.
4. North Korea. This is a regional issue. The Communist Chinese are looking to force Japan and South Korea into new accomodations given their economic and military power. Although the US has treaty alliances with Japan and South Korea all three have major economic ties to Communist China.
5. The Himalayas are also regional issue between India and Communist China. The US has no national security interests in the Himalayas.
Communist China seems to be a common denominator here. The United States needs to carefully weigh national security interests in all five areas.
January 5, 2022 at 10:35 am
What a hack. No mention of Obama giving Billions in cash to Iran, easing sanctions. If Iran is the Flashpoint for ww3 you have Obama and Biden and the traitor John Kerry to blame, not Pres. TRUMP!
January 5, 2022 at 3:39 pm
This is Lazy an somewhat stupid.
January 5, 2022 at 5:11 pm
This guy is a major clown. Look at some of his previous publishing like let’s get rid of the Air Force. Come on 19fortyfive you can do better than this idiot. President Trump’s handling of Iran was spot on, obviously a never Trumper.
Angry Air Force Vet
January 5, 2022 at 8:46 pm
Seeing how Biden has spent 25% of his days on vacation at his home in Delaware….may I suggest starting a war with the USA on a weekend
January 6, 2022 at 10:47 pm
The US plain broke its word when Trump trashed the Iran deal. Not to be a carping moralist about it, but you pay a price when you demonstrate you can’t be trusted. The world knows that any progress Biden makes is likely to be overturned if the Republicans return to power. And that is one major reason we’re drawing closer to catastrophe.
January 7, 2022 at 7:39 am
Pakstan-India has to ways be on the list too, alas.
philippe marcel martin
January 9, 2022 at 2:07 pm
China, Russia, and the USA are to broke, better to re-organize respectively the social problems they all have, poverty, health,social madness and look for innovation to increase GDP. Philippe m martin
July 3, 2022 at 12:03 am
Tell Putin to get on with it . Launch all the nukes. The human race is a pile of shot anyways. Good riddance