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5 Places World War III Could Start in 2023

F/A-18F Super Hornet
221227-N-DU622-1227 PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 27, 2022) An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Fighting Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is in 7th fleet conducting routine operations. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with 35 maritime nations in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart)

A 19FortyFive Tradition – We Look at Where World War III Could Start As We Prepare for 2023 – In 2022, the world came closer to Great Power War than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

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Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an attack that almost immediately resulted in a combination of sanctions and direct military support for Kyiv. By early spring, the United States and its allies were pursuing policies that would result in the death of Russian soldiers, the destruction of Russian military equipment, and the long-term degradation of the Russian economy. The war has had a ripple effect on the world stage, dramatically increasing the stakes of disputes that have quietly smoldered for decades.

These five areas pose the greatest risk for the eruption of what we might be tempted to call “World War III.”  

Ukraine

Concern that Russia might use nuclear weapons to restore its flagging fortunes in Ukraine seems to have declined since summer, as the war has settled into a destructive stalemate. However, escalation remains a concern. Russia’s inability to make progress may threaten the stability of the Putin government, inclining Moscow to contemplate dangerous escalation. Concerns over the ability of Ukraine to continue the war in the long-term might force Kyiv to take risky steps of its own to break the stalemate.

An expansion of the war to NATO remains unlikely but possible; the Russian use of nuclear weapons remains unthinkable but not at all impossible.

The Biden administration and its allies in Europe have taken extraordinary care with the risks of escalation, but Washington does not hold all of the cards and either Kyiv or Moscow might become willing to accept the risk of a wider conflict, a conflict that could develop into World War III.

Taiwan

Worry about the immediacy of war between Taiwan and China has waned a bit in the past months, in large part because of China’s catastrophic covid experience. However, there is little doubt that cross-strait tensions remain significant. The willingness of the Biden administration to take risky rhetorical positions on the defense of Taiwan indicates that Washington has real concern over the prospects of a Chinese attack. At the same time, these statements (and unwise stunts such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei) run the risk of triggering Chinese escalation.

Fortunately, there is good reason to believe that we will have some warning of war; as was the case along the Ukrainian border, Chinese preparation for conflict would be glaringly visible to everyone concerned. Almost any imaginable conflict, however, would end up including the United States and very likely Japan, and would thus constitute a great power war.

Greece-Turkey

Lost in all of the discussion of the revitalization of NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a simmering crisis on the alliance’s southern flank. Over the past year tensions between Greece and Turkey have increased substantially, driven in large part by Turkey’s assertive foreign policy turn and by the domestic vulnerability of the Erdogan regime. Disputes between Athens and Ankara over energy exploration in the Aegean have driven the current tension, although the territorial disagreement underlying the argument have existed for decades.

While it seems unlikely that a NATO ally would openly attack another NATO ally, past conflicts have brought the two countries up to the brink of war (and sometimes slightly beyond) notwithstanding their alliance commitments. Any fight between Turkey and Greece would immediately involve NATO, and would almost certainly result in some degree of opportunistic intervention by Russia.  

Korean Peninsula

Over the past several months tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang have grown steadily, with North Korean provocations (often themselves driven by the Kim regime’s idiosyncratic and cryptic assessments of the international environment) incurring aggressive rhetorical responses from the South. The dynamic between the two states seems driven by impatience; an impatience in the North that the world still refuses to take it seriously despite its magnificent nuclear weapons, and an impatience in the South that a nation of great significance remains burdened by its inept and retrograde sibling.

These tensions aren’t new, but historically they have been constrained by the Cold War and by the post-Cold War liberal international order. The first is gone and the second is fraying, to the extent that Pyongyang may feel like it has a moment and Seoul may struggle to find the patience to tolerate the antics of its neighbor. If war does break out it could rapidly become more destructive than the Russia-Ukraine War, with conventional and nuclear weapons exacting a horrific toll on both sides.

China-India

Sporadic fighting between China and India continues on the Roof of the World. Although the real stakes of control over small slivers of territory in nearly uninhabitable mountain terrain remain elusive, neither China nor India have backed away from the conflict. While fighting has thus far remained quite limited, the desire to defend national prestige can rapidly become poisonous for even the wisest and most sensible leaders.

Whether Modi and Xi fit such a description is a question for another day, but the governments that they lead have not managed to find a way to resolve the conflict. At some point either the Indians or the Chinese might be tempted to solve the problem through escalation, a step that could work as intended, or that could open the door to a much larger and more destructive conflict.

Pray World War III Never Happens

It remains unlikely that any of these disputes will develop into a global conflict, although the Ukraine War already has some aspects of great power war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has, if nothing else, demonstrated that major wars can still happen despite the best efforts of the international community. Maintaining peace requires careful statesmanship; managing escalation during war requires extraordinary skill.

More: MAGA Needs To Move on From Donald Trump

More: Would Putin Dare Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?

More: Putin’s War Machine Won’t Fight in Ukraine?

We can hope that the leaders of the world’s great powers will take care over the coming year with the vast stockpiles of weapons that they control.

19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. 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), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. 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). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Tomb

    December 30, 2022 at 4:22 pm

    Man, what a downer of an article….
    I think I will stuff my face
    With Christmas cookies and fudge to compensate ☺😣

  2. 403Forbidden

    December 30, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Dr Farley, in all your five places, US military forces previously have or are currently present in all of them.

    Shows US is directly and firmly, or absolutely the blackhand or the devil behind the source of such looming wars.

    US is the ultimate warplanning power on Earth, possessing enormous economic and military might and capacity to make trouble, and smartly creating and hatching all kinds of alliances and ‘agreements’ for its advantage.

    In all five areas, US has been holding regular military exercises, while cranking out loud bullhorn excuses for holding such events.

    US, the entity that seeks global control and global power, the genghis of our time as well as the carpophorus of our age.

    Meanwhile back in the states, cities like Buffalo in NY state live with segregated communities that occasionally find themselves at the frontline facing – what else – the typical urban american mass shooter firing a semi-auto asault rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest.

  3. HAT451

    December 30, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    Other potential hot spots that could spark WW III, include the Middle East possessing two hot spots, first is intensification and escalation of Palestinian and Israel conflict, second, hot spot, predominantly Suni and Shiite, dragging non-Islamic countries into that conflict. Another hot spot to take a look at is China’s expansion into the South China Sea, which could drag a number of countries into it.

  4. GhostTomahawk

    December 30, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    We will never have a full scale open war of major world powers. No one wants to lose.

    Russia Monday is on full display. Using old tactics and getting blown out and embarrassed by a weak military that’s fully propped up by the US .

    China can’t feed or mobilize their military in full scale and don’t have a blue water navy. Making them a giant Russian reverse engineered paperweight.

    India military wishes it was China.

    Europe is trash even combined together. And if a stiff breeze blew thru the Fulda Gap Europe would fold like a lawn chair until America came to bail them out.

    So it’s the US and everyone else. The US is a clown show of social justice with LGBTQ recruiting tactics and a feelings friendly training regimen. To go along with bloated operating costs and antiquated equipment.

  5. Commentar

    December 30, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    Under joe biden, the mike tyson of US presidents, the likelihood of direct US involvement in igniting ww3 in 2023 is at the highest level.

    Biden is totally dumb and amateurish even when compared to either carter or trump who both served only one term.

    There is evry chance that if a lucky world survives 2023 to 2024 unscathed, a new president could be in the white house in jan 2025, greatly lessening chances of ww3.

    Conversely, there could be the unlikely but still humanly possible scenario of a chief executive worse than dementia joe entering the oval office come jan 2025, thus other nations must better be fully prepared.

    Yet the real question is not ww3 in 2023 but : are nations already lined up on the virtual firing range or at the firing line or at center of a painted bullseye in the DoD war room ready for 2025.

    Recall 2003. Invasion of iraq. According to tony blair, the invasion was planned in secret in 2001 and London was offered or guaranteed a share in iraq’s oilfields if the UK went along with the plan.

    Google it. Secret memos reveal links between oil and the iraq invasion.

  6. monkfelonious

    December 31, 2022 at 12:54 am

    Please just stop with these stupid click bait essays.

  7. CRS, DrPH

    December 31, 2022 at 1:52 am

    Spoiler alert….WW3 has been going on for quite a long time.

    I don’t think we will see an all-out, brute force repeat of WW2. Rather, like with Ukraine, we will see surrogate forces in play using weapons provided by sponsors.

    Also, I believe that many other nations (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan etc.) will now strive to achieve nuclear capabilities. This may help to hold the peace, or work in another direction.

  8. Ewiak Ryszard

    December 31, 2022 at 7:02 am

    For now, there is no reason to panic. The disciples asked Jesus: “Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall begin to come to pass?” (Luke 21:7, JUB) He answered: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but it is not yet the fulfillment [of the sign].” (Matthew 24:6) The global nuclear war, (this will be the fulfillment of the sign of Jesus), will begin as a result of ethnic conflict. (Matthew 24:7) In the Book of Daniel we read: “At the appointed time [the king of the north] will return back [and that, in this context, also means military actions, a major crisis, plus the break-up of the EU and NATO. Many countries of the former Eastern block will return to a military alliance with Russia], and come into the south [this will be the beginning of the nuclear war], but won’t be as before, and as later [these military actions will not lead to a global nuclear war. This will only happen after the return of the king of the north], then the dwellers of coastlands of Kittim [the distant West] will come against him, and (he) will break down [mentally], and will go back.” (11:29, 30a) This will be a mutual slaughter. This time it will be a world war not only by name. Peace will be taken from the earth and the sword of great power will be used. (Revelation 6:4) Jesus characterized it in this way: “A frightening things both and extraordinary (related to unusual phenomena) from sky powerful will be.” For this reason, there will be significant tremors along the length and breadth of the regions [of strategic importance] and famines, and pestilences. Some ancient manuscripts contain the words “and frosts”. The Aramaic Peshitta: “and will be great frosts”. (Luke 21:11) We call this today “nuclear winter”. In Mark 13:8 there are also words of Jesus: “and disorders” (lack of public order). The Aramaic Peshitta: “and confusion” (on the state of public order). This extremely detailed sign fits only one war. “All these are only the beginning of the labor pains.” (Matthew 24:8, New Catholic Bible) The end is still a long way off. The global nuclear war – it’s not Armageddon. This is just the beginning of the “Day of the Lord” – of the time of God’s judgment. (Revelation 1:10) Jesus warned, “For many will come in my name [claiming to be representatives of Jesus Christ upon earth], saying, ‘I am’ [e.g., “anointed one”, “the faithful and discreet slave”]; and ‘The time [the time of Armageddon, (compare Mark 13:32, 33)] is near’. Do not follow them.” (Luke 21:8)
    “For many will come in my name [it refers to representing someone or the authority of someone (compare Jeremiah 14:14, 15, LXX)], saying: ‘I am the anointed one’; and will mislead many.” (Matthew 24:5)

  9. dace

    December 31, 2022 at 9:38 am

    F that WW III s hit. How ’bout our upcoming civil war right here !!!

  10. Steven

    December 31, 2022 at 10:59 am

    WW3 started on 9/11/01. (Oh, believe it.)

  11. The Al U Know

    December 31, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    What of climate change? I hear that will directly or indirectly be the death of more than the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Not just 2023 but the upcoming decades.

    For example what happens when India dams rivers and Pakistan, getting hit with drought and the like feels it needs to respond, or die.

    What happens when population becomes more burden than boon? Especially before any nation takes advantage in increasing adavanced AI and automation?

    The US answer: more boisterous military presence here in the Canadian North. ‘Your water, our bisiness strategy.’ We Stand on Guard.

    Japan’s answer: China, you are once again be our colonial manpower base. Our robots will make it happen.

    Next year though, might be the the year of the Recession. My paycheque may go up but inflation will temper my expectations and a bit of my free time will be here on1945.

    Happy New Year to be. Party like it is 1999. Y2K baby!

  12. 1KoolKat

    January 2, 2023 at 8:53 am

    I envsion WW3 happening (not in 2023) against the US homeland.
    Why? Because of the failure to complete nuclear modernization in time. In time meaning, before the current legacy nuclear systems break down and fail resulting in a readniess crisis where the nuclear deterrent becomes questionable and uncertain. Time will tell all.

  13. Keshia Millerbernd

    January 4, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    WAR NEDS TO STOP

  14. Robert W. Snyder

    January 5, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    Putin and his mercenary leaders need to next to go. There are plenty of his past associates that could accomplish this. It will settle the war. The sooner, the better for everyone.

  15. Paul

    January 7, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    I am soo tired of the lazy journalism that continually characterizes the revisionism and aggression Turkey has perpetrated against Greece for decades as a ‘dispute’ or ‘territorial disagreement.’ It is hardly a “disagreement” when the President of Turkey issues daily threats against its neighbor and fellow NATO ally that they will “come one night” or will hit Athens with an ICBM. Were you aware that Turkey has a casus belli against Greece since 1995 should Greece decide to legally expand its territorial waters to 12 nm in the Aegean? Or that Turkey declared an illegal memorandum with the expired interim govt of Libya that takes a hug chunk of the Greek EEZ as defined by the UNCLOS Treaty? For that matter, were you aware that Turkey abused its guarantorship to brutally invade, ethnically cleanse and militarily occupy a third of the neighboring Republic of Cyprus for 50 years now?? Very, very lazy journalism.

  16. zman

    January 7, 2023 at 12:37 pm

    The fact that an article like this can even be written and of interest to human beings shows one thing :
    We have not evolved very much when the vast majority of our technology
    and scientific advancement is dedicated to the the destabilization of Countries , and ultimately the destruction of millions of young lives worldwide . War is, was and always will be Hell on Earth and to talk about it or it`s prospects from the comfort of ones living room as if it is some sort of sporting event is very much part of the reason that it exists today . People accept it at an inevitable part of daily life! I don`t accept it and want nothing to do with !

  17. Trip

    January 8, 2023 at 11:02 pm

    this is World War 3 , no one said for sure it will be nuclear, a war in which the majority of the world takes part is already happening in Ukraine , the world is not there fighting but supplying them with weapons so they can defend themselves is the next level up from actually putting troops there and fighting with them. would could if is all fear spreading words , publish that when there is fact not would could or if it happens.

  18. Gondah

    January 9, 2023 at 8:41 am

    What ’bout Africa? You guys are dumb! WW3 has been here for a while now( the famine, drought and all the F up things that the rest of the world is doing to that continent) but all the white nations on earth don’t give a big F about it. SMDFH!

  19. DAVE FISHERMAN.

    January 10, 2023 at 11:09 pm

    very, intresting military,
    article cool, name for A military VR war game,
    ww3 in 2023.
    I’ve been intrested in Mercenariers for A while.
    I should of been in the U.S. Coast-guard, or U.S. Navy when I was younger.
    I think the U.S. should support, the Ukraine,
    and all the other nations against of the Russian-Federation,
    against Putin, in my opion he should be charged whith, war-crimes.
    also the U.S. should support TAWian, against, China
    And that the U.S.A. win’s WW3.
    unfourtunely, History repeats from WW2.80+years later.
    Thanks Dave-Fisherman.

  20. Omega 13

    January 16, 2023 at 3:13 pm

    Doubtful
    Possibly
    Nope
    Nope
    Nope

    (in that order)

  21. William Krings

    January 29, 2023 at 12:13 am

    As a US Navy veteran, current NC resident, CIC operations clearance holder, etc. etc. I looked immediately at the availability of the USS North Carolina. A ‘pocket’, high speed Cruiser. I, like you, hate the thought of WWIII, but let us be prepared and ready. What would it take?? IF needed to protect the homeland? And at what cost? I hate to scare us readers, but … BE PREPARED is the WORD. I, as a senior, can still stand watch … WE have a force, if needed. Keep this in mind as you read.

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