How It All Ends: WWIII
Chaos in a world that is fixated on certainty.
The threat of World War III and Nuclear Annihilation has emerged a number of times throughout history and once again today. Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about psychology and the prevention of war since.
In this newsletter we will explore the concept of World War III from a psychological perspective, Who could cause it, and what would happen.
The Balance of Terror
Before the First World War, many people were of the belief that Europe was ‘too civilized’ to go to war, this is a sentiment I’ve heard a few times in recent years but as some of you have seen in a few of my videos, like the black swan theory, humans tend to be wrong about this sort of thing.
Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about social psychology and the prevention of war since.
Since the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 the world has lived under constant fear of total nuclear annihilation.
Before this dramatic shift, empires balanced power between each other in other ways like maintaining their economic stability, growing their military, or having some sort of political advantage over their rivals.
Equilibrium allowed states to secure their survival by preventing other states from gaining a disproportionate amount of power that would dominate all others.
This was called the Balance of Power.
But the emergence of the atomic bomb during world war ii created a new political reality. For the first time in history humans had acquired a weapon that had the ability to completely destroy all of human civilization.
The balance of power had now become a balance of terror.
In this counterintuitive way, the existence of the most powerful weapons ever developed created a delicate form of peace, and many believe that only the balance of terror has saved us from a war between super powers.
Wars have been fought around the world since we have reached this impasse, but superpowers have never fought each other directly, nor have nuclear weapons been used since 1945.
But there are many things that could quickly change this.
In 2012 political scientist Graham T. Allison presented a situation that could lead to a major war between superpowers based on a quote by the ancient Athenian historian Thucydides in his text History of the Peloponnesian War.
Thucydides spoke of an alleged tendency towards war when a rising power challenges the status of an established dominant power.
Allison expanded upon the term significantly in his 2017 book Destined for War, which argued that "China and the US are currently on a collision course for war"
As he questioned whether or not China and the United states could escape Thucydides trap, he discovered that 12 of 16 cases involving similar situations over the past 500 years have resulted in war.
But Allison also makes an important statement that illustrates how society has learned a great deal about human behavior since some of those wars.
He says “When the parties had ended up avoiding war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of not just the challenger but also the challenged”. Which in our modern world would mean the United States.
When Thucydides originally spoke about this trap in relation to Athens and Sparta he identified two factors that launched the war. He noted that the rising power would display growing entitlement, a sense of its importance, and a demand for greater influence. By contrast, the established power would show fear, insecurity, and a determination to defend the status quo.
Fortunately for historians and social psychologists, he also explored how perceptions changed between the leaders of Athens and Sparta, and how this led the two states to strengthen alliances with other states in an attempt to counter-balance the power.
Entangling alliances resulted in Athens and Sparta having to defend their allies, launching The Peloponnesian War, which lasted 30 years.
Thucyidides concluded that "what made the war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta"
When it comes to foreign relations in modern times, superpowers have a tendency to escalate rather than de-escalate, making this scenario a very possible cause of a major war in the future.
Another catastrophic scenario that could lead to a future world war is the threat of a nuclear miscalculation.
What is a nuclear miscalculation?
Nuclear miscalculation refers to the risk that one country will accidentally misunderstand the intentions of another country and respond by launching a nuclear strike.
If you’re wondering how something like this could happen you’re asking the right questions.
This would likely happen from human fallibility, computer malfunctions, or a miscommunication. You would think something like this wouldn’t be a problem with the rapid development of technology, but there has been at least 13 occasions since 1945 when nuclear weapons were almost launched, and a nuclear attack was averted at the very last minute.
The most notable occurance of this taking place at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a Soviet patrol submarine that was detected by U.S. Navy destroyers nearly launched a nuclear-armed torpedo.
When the submarine was unable to contact Moscow, the commander feared that war had broken out so he ordered the use of a 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo against the American fleet. Second in command Vasily Arkhipov denied the giving the commander permission to launch the nuclear weapon, convincing him to calm down and wait for contact with Moscow for new orders. This was kept secret for 30 years until it was revealed by a communications intelligence officer aboard the submarine.
A nuclear miscalculation is more likely to occur in times of heightened tension between nations like we are experiencing currently between the United States and Russia. The United States and Russia each maintain roughly 900 nuclear weapons on prompt-launch status. This system from the cold war era is commonly known as high alert or hair-trigger alert which lunches a nuclear strike within minutes of the detection of a nuclear attack After becoming aware of an attack, political and military leaders would have only minutes to assess the credibility of the warning and decide how to respond.
These risks are not just theoretical. Over the past decades,both Russia and the United States have received inaccurate information from warning systems or have misinterpreted warning data. In 1983, Soviet early warning satellites, fooled by sunlight reflected from clouds, indicated a U.S. missile attack, nearly leading to a Soviet launch. And in 1980, when a defective computer chip at NORAD(North American Aerospace Defense Command) caused a computer to broadcast false warnings of an attack by thousands of Soviet missiles.
Both of these miscalculations came at a time considerable tension between the two countries. Thankfully for us, these situations were defused and the world was able to avoid a major catastrophe.
How can we avoid a miscalculation from taking place?
Much like any relationship, even relationships between nuclear superpowers must have common understanding and transparency in order to be successful in conflict resolution and de-escalation.
The term “No First Use” refers to a commitment made by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons first, under any circumstances. At the time of this video, there have only been two countries that have agreed to a No First Use policy.
China & India.
What this means is that both China and India have agreed to never use nuclear weapons as a response to non nuclear attacks against their country, nor will they be used for a preemptive attack. This policy asserts that they only keep stockpiles of nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes. China was the first country to purpose the policy when they gained nuclear capabilities in 1964 in addition to being the first to commit to it.
For the most part China stayed out of the nuclear arms race during the cold war, minimizing the size of their nuclear arsenal by contrast to the United States and Soviet Union, and remaining transparent about their nuclear doctrine. They have since reaffirmed their no-first-use policy multiple times in recent years.
This is by no means an absolute solution for the problem of nuclear attack, but it is better for than no policy at all.
Russia, the U.S., and NATO have all refused to adopt no first use policies, which is another reason why the Russian invasion of Ukraine is such an important event.
It doesn’t look like things are getting any better as of right now and we are seeing very little (if any) calls for de-escalation from anyone in the West.
Given the pandemic, turbulent societal conditions, and multiple wars both in Ukraine and Yemen, this only proves that we have much left to learn about how the world works. Which is why I wanted to share some of this research with you all in this text.
You can find the full video version of this on my YouTube channel. Thank you.