World war 3 might be near and history supports this claim vociferously!
The period starting from the end of the cold war in 1991 to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was so peaceful and void of conflicts for the European region that everybody started considering this peace as a norm of Europe. Considering the volatile and contentious nature of European history, it can be argued that this peace, rather than being a norm, was an anomaly or, to say, an aberration.
A big war may be around the corner as the events unfold in Europe. A lot of parallels can be drawn between the precarious situations of today’s Europe and that of Europe just before World War 1.
Former German foreign secretary and politician Heinrich von Tscirschky asserted, rather threatened, in January 1906 (just two weeks before taking his charge as foreign secretary) that the policy of Germany has always been to destabilize and debilitate any alliance that has the potential of harming the interests of Germany and this policy would surely continue.
Europe’s security condition was extremely perilous from the beginning of the 20th century. Russia had faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of Japan in 1905 that had contributed to the enervation of its strength. Germany was consolidating its military and economic might. Fearing the rapid development of Germany, arch-rivals France and Britain decided to shake hands to check the German strength to prevent the balance of power from getting disturbed in Europe.
How is Russia similar?
Russia also joined hands with both of them, and an alliance by the name of Entente got formed. Meanwhile, Germany also made efforts to secure some trustworthy allies in Europe. This grouping divided Europe into two blocs and eventually culminated in the First World War in 1914.
Europe of today seems to be following the same pattern. All the fracas and discord can transcend into a global conflict, a world war 3. The prelude to First World War was the growing German strength and the response of established regional powers to thwart the German advances that had started immediately after Otto von Bismarck transitioned and transformed a weak and loosely bound Prussia into a strong German Empire through a conjunction of hawkish foreign policy and victory in wars.
The descendant of Bismarck was Kaiser Wilhelm II, who inherited Germany in so much developed and powerful form that he started striving for a global influence at par or even greater than that of France and Britain.
Akin to Bismarck, Russian president Vladimir Putin also took charge of a weak Russia that not only had lost large swathes of land after the humiliating defeat of the cold war, but its economy was also experiencing a free fall. These two factors had caused a massive drop in the living standards of Russians as Russia lamented the loss of its superpower stature.
Putin first got the Russian economy back on track, and as soon as it was done, he started to put efforts into reclaiming the lost influence of Russia at the global level. The annexation of Crimea without a war in 2014 and now a full-fledged blitzkrieg on Ukraine unequivocally depict the intentions of Russia and the method in the madness of the Russian president.
Synonymous to German efforts aimed at destabilizing the entente alliance through the likes of Morocco and Bosnia crisis in the building up of the First World War, Russia also is putting up all the efforts to not let NATO put a noose around its neck by mustering up allies at its borders. NATO deems Russia as a threat to peace and balance of power in Europe (like the Entente considered Germany).
Realism of Offense
Russia duly is toeing the framework and patterns of Offensive Realism. It being a revisionist state, has sought to challenge the status quo of established powers through its aggressive designs, but the established powers are just not ready to yield their position. This stubbornness and intractability can spark a war, and if a war happens between Russia and NATO now, it would surely be world war 3 because the pattern of events is exact copies of the pre-world war 1 scenario.
Putin has taken various offensive steps for reclaiming the status Russia enjoyed before the fall of the Soviet Union. He sent an army to Georgia to coercively crush its ambitions of joining NATO, took Crimea back, rescued his ally Bashar ul Assad by sending Russian troops to Syria, and helped in scoring a deal to bring peace by ending the war between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan over Nagorno Karabakh. These successes eventually gave Russia the confidence to invade Ukraine.
Russian leaders think that Moscow is now powerful enough to shift the balance of power in Europe. It is thus exercising its muscles over Ukraine to test its potential for bigger and more significant conflicts in the future. But there has been no clear victor of the Ukraine war hitherto. Russia might have achieved its feat of forming a buffer between its borders and NATO forces by liberating eastern Ukraine, but the protracted war has started tolling the Russian economy. The sanctions will exacerbate the situation even more.
NATO, however, has got more strengthened by the joining of countries like Finland and Sweden. Russia still is not looking back like it has burnt all its ships coming into the war. The prospects of peace in Europe are meager. The conflict will continue even after the end of the Ukraine war and can also take the shape of a Third World War because wars have been the actual norm of Europe for centuries, not peace, and the Russian president is well known for being a man of culture and values.
The article is contributed by Editor of Youth Diplomacy Forum, Khawaja Obaid ur Rehman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org