What Would World War Three Look Like? Part I

| November 6, 2016
Categories: Op-Eds

[Today’s Post is made possible by JTF Awesome Team Member Freedom Munitions]


What Would World War Three Look Like?  Part I

Pete Nealen

The Third World War seems to be on everybody’s mind lately. Between Russian interventionism in Syria and Ukraine, and the rhetoric about Russia between the two major Presidential candidates, an imminent resurrection of Red Storm Rising is starting to sound inevitable.

Is it? Very little is actually inevitable, and predictions are tricky things. Predictions based on political grandstanding are even worse. But for a moment, let’s presume that World War III is in the wings, and discuss what it might look like.

Would it be Fulda Gap II, with massive tank battles across Europe? Unlikely, given current force sizes and dispositions. What about Red Dawn? We’re ready for Red Dawn, aren’t we? Nope, that’s even more unlikely than the Fulda Gap scenario. Attempting to occupy a nation the size of the US would be a logistical nightmare at best, even without oceans in the way. Not gonna happen. Sorry.

“Okay, wiseass,” you’re thinking. “So what would World War III really look like, then?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at some trends.

First, Russia. This is a country whose collective psyche has been shaped by multiple invasions. From the Mongols to the Teutonic Knights to the French to the Germans, they are on the borderland between Europe and Asia, and as such have something of a siege mentality. Any move toward them might be a hostile one, and the bloodbath of the Great Patriotic War is still relatively fresh in the Russian mind. NATO expansion into the Baltics and the former Warsaw Pact after the Soviet Union’s fall in the early ‘90s was seen as a threat to kick them while they were down. Judging by the Russian reactions to talks about putting missile defense systems in Poland, that hasn’t really changed.


On top of that, the Russian population is on the decline. The population peaked in 1991, just as the Soviet Union collapsed, and has been in a 0.5% annual decline ever since. Death rates are up, and birth rates are down.

What does this mean as far as geopolitics go? Russia is a vast country with extensive natural resources. Siberia is a treasure house, with extensive deposits of coal, oil, natural gas, metals, and valuable minerals. And the Russians have fewer people to defend that land every year.

Look at it from their perspective. They have a rich country with few people. There are Islamists to their south, Chinese to their east (who they’ve never really gotten along with, even when both countries were technically on the same Communist side), and NATO to their west. Whatever we might think of the virtues of NATO, to the Russians NATO has always been their enemy. History counts for a lot when it comes to friends and foes.


So, what is Russia currently doing in the Baltics and the Middle East/Central Asia? Building a buffer zone. They need that barrier between them and their enemies, whether those enemies are genuine or only a vague future threat. And their approach to the US is, arguably, pursuing the same strategy.

The United States has been the global superpower since the ‘90s. As such, American influence is everywhere (at least that’s the perception, and the decline of such has been a matter of considerable heartburn stateside in recent years). To the Russians, that just means more foreigners with the power to push them around. And they’ve seen that already.

The Serbs have historically been allies with the Russians. Remember World War I? A lot of that got started because the Russians stood with the Serbs against the Austro-Hungarians. So who went after the Serbs in the ‘90s, beating up on the Russian’s little brothers in the Balkans? The US. (Disregard the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia for the moment; they happened on both sides, and we’re dealing with perceptions shaping strategy here.) The rivalry has already been set by alliances and interventions for the last twenty-five years, never mind the fifty years of the Cold War before that.

If the Russians want to ensure the US can’t butt into their affairs (whether those affairs are what we would term “ethical” or not), what would be the best way to go about that? One way would be to erode US power abroad. Another would be to mess with the US at home, politically, economically, and socially. A United States in economic havoc and riven by socio-political strife would be far less capable of interfering with Russia. It might not secure their place permanently, but it would at least buy them time, not unlike a more tangible buffer zone to their south and west.

To be continued…


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AAuthor Peter Nealenbout the Author: Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a bad ass writer who continues to make the Duo’s efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so here. His author page on Facebook is at https://www.facebook.com/PeteNealenAuthor. If you’d like to read some of his books, you can start the American Praetorians series (about a PMC in a post Greater Depression dystopia now 4 books long) with Task Force Desperate. He has a standalone action novel called Kill Yuan, which you can find here. You could also do worse than to start reading the Jed Horn series (a supernatural shoot ’em up series now on its 3rd volume) with Nightmares, then proceed with Silver Cross and a Winchester and Walker on the Hills and . His fiction is widely claimed for the realism of its combat scenes — this is no doubt because he hangs around with us. It could also have something to do with his skill as a writer and his background (multiple deployments, qualifications as a Combatant Diver, Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist, Marine Scout/Sniper and S/S team leader, Combat Tracker, et al). Continue below to see the only picture of Nealen smiling


Fortis cadere, cedere non potest.


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  1. strych9

    I actually studied Russian foreign policy rather extensively in college and even presented a paper on the topic to the Mid-West Slavic Conference.

    Russia is an interesting country. I won’t rehash what this article has already covered but a major part of the Russian mindset that we can use to our advantage (and the advantage of Russia if we couch it right) is their well, quite frankly, hatred of the Chinese. This goes back a long way but the thing that really started the modern disagreements between Beijing and Moscow was the approach to Communism that each had. Russia preferred top down while Mao preferred bottom up (that’s a 20 page paper in and of itself).

    Long story short, the friction between the two countries is something we can exploit to box in the Chinese and limit their aggressive expansion. This isn’t something that could be done overnight. However, Russia’s military sucks. Just look at their invasion of Georgia back in ’08. Something many people miss is that nearly 1/3rd of the Russian tanks and APC’s sent to Georgia didn’t make it. They broke down. That’s a particularly interesting point considering that they were mostly staged less than 100km from the border.

    Russia needs money and to get it they need to exploit their natural resources. To do that they need our expertise. To get that expertise we have to be friends (The Russians are notoriously suspicious of outside contractors or advisers on any sort of project like this. They’ve been that way for decades. They bought tons of high end oil drilling equipment from us and then let it rot because they didn’t know how to use it and wouldn’t let US companies teach them how. Meanwhile their shitty drill heads couldn’t get much past 1000m in depth.)

    If we can find a way to become truly friendly with Moscow they can then use our expertise to exploit their natural resources and build up a military presence in their Eastern Oblasts. That will put the Chinese on alert and divert at least a decent amount of their attention to their North due to previous issues they’ve had with the Russians in that area.

    I don’t present this as the end-all-be-all solution but it’s part of an overarching strategy that can seriously limit the threat that the Chinese pose in terms of their current expansionist ideals.

  2. 2hotel9

    World War 3 ended with the collapse of USSR. We are back to the same war we have been fighting since the followers of islam began to expand, by sword and rape, beyond Medina. The ongoing squabbles between small countries in eastern Europe have been going on since they were all widely separated tribes, fighting each other and any outsiders who happened along. As for The Game, as the Brits and Russians have called it for several hundred years, the Russians have long been adept at inflaming the tensions between various groups, especially among their small neighbors.

    What we need to be fighting is leftist ideology, which has invaded America’s government and contaminated our educational system and which islam is latching onto as a further weapon in its jihad agaisnt all infidels. It is well entrenched in Europe and is dragging them into collapse as muslims gleefully use its mechanisms against the governments of Europe. Russia did reweaponize islam as a tool against the west, and they are in a very dangerous dance with the monster they unleashed after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

    Czarist Russia had long worked to topple the Ottomans in order to take over large chunks of their territory. The communists dropped that ball, only to turn and use muslims as a foil to break up the French and British and Italian efforts to control large sections of the ME. Now we are all stuck with an invigorated and militarized islam, the only saving grace being muslims have rarely shown the military prowess needed to achieve their dream of world conquest. The downside is muslims are quite skilled at creating chaos, destruction and mayhem. And THAT is the war we ARE in.


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