Are we on the verge of World War 3? Well, several experts said last year Russia had triggered a global war by annexing Crimea. Even Pope Francis was of the view that a third World War was underway. Then Russian President Vladimir Putin jumped into Syria to prop up the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Warplanes from the US-led coalition had already crowded the Syrian airspace.
Cold War has some good lessons for the West
Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria only increased the likelihood of an accidental conflict between the US and Russian planes, which may escalate into a direct conflict between two of the world’s most powerful countries. World War 3 rhetoric intensified when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet last month. Russia boasts of the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal. Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons on several occasions.
If the US worried so much about nuclear war with the Soviet Union, it might never have armed the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. It might never have defended South Korea when the North attacked it. The US might never have fought the Indochina wars against Communism, says Edward Lucas of The Daily Beast. The Cold War offers several lessons on how to manage deterrence, and the deterrence still works.
Vladimir Putin is a masterful tactician, but no lunatic. He may issue nuclear threats, but he knows that Russia is nowhere close to the West in terms of economic or military power. NATO countries have a GDP of close to $40 trillion, compared to just $1.7 trillion of Russia. Worse, the Russian economy is shrinking. In a major war with the West, Russia is the “guaranteed loser,” says Lucas.
Will NATO risk World War 3 for Estonia?
The US and Russia should focus on confidence-building measures, hotlines and diplomacy to ease tensions. Putin may still attack smaller NATO members like Estonia, believing that the Western alliance won’t risk World War 3 to protect a tiny country like Estonia. In that scenario, most NATO members would be unwilling to see humanity disappear from the planet for the sake of Estonia.
But the US still has ways to bring down Russia without firing a single missile. The Russian economy depends heavily on Western financial markets and systems. The Russians pour more than $100 billion every year in well-managed Western investment vehicles. NATO can freeze and seize all the Kremlin’s assets in the West.