June 18, 2024 4:29 am

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Are we on the verge of a third World War? Here’s a glimpse at rising global conflicts

With global tensions rising—through Israel’s relentless attack on Gaza, what the conflict could mean for the rest of the Middle East, Russian troops pouring over the north border of Ukraine Saturday, Sudan on the brink of collapse from civil war, Myanmar in revolution, Haiti overrun with violent gangs with no military to protect them, Armenians rising up against their Prime Minister for surrendering border villages to Azerbaijan, Ethiopia in violent post-war conflict, the United States and China in economic disagreement and U.S. troops still deployed in Niger—the billion dollar question is: are we approaching a third world war and, if so, what could that mean for the planet if nuclear warfare were to ensue?

On January 23, 2024, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock hit 90 seconds to midnight – the closest it’s ever been to apocalypse. The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock representing how close the human race is to extinction. It has been adjusted 25 times since its inception in 1947. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists cited the Ukraine war, the threat of a nuclear arms race, the U.S., China, and Russia all spending large sums of money to update their nuclear arsenals, and climate change as the reasons why.

After a decline in war across the globe during the 1990’s, war has been on the rise since 2012 with conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen sparked by the Arab Uprisings. More people are dying from military conflicts now than in decades. Here’s a look at some of the biggest conflicts and what they could mean to the United States, or worse, the world at large.

Ukraine/Russia

In the beginning of May Russian President Vladamir Putin began including tactical nuclear weapon deployments in his troop’s military drills as a response to, what he called, “threats” spouting from the West.

Putin has been threatening the use of nuclear weapons since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 but this is the first time he’s taken strides that indicate he may be serious.

It should be noted that “tactical nuclear weapons”, or non-strategic, differ from strategic nuclear weapons in that they can be used in battlefield situations and carry less power than strategic nuclear weapons – which were the bombs dropped on Japan during the second World War.

According to Statistica Russia spent the third most money of any nation on nuclear weapons in 2022 at $10 billion.

February 24, 2022, was the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a major escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. It caused the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 6.4 million Ukrainians fleeing their home country and a third of the population displaced. The purpose, Russian President Vladamir Putin said, was to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine.

Two years later the 600-mile front has barely moved, Ukraine’s counter-offensive is dwindling, troops are spread thin, and, most recently, Russian troops poured over the northern border to the Kharkiv Region on Saturday forcing nearly 10,000 residents from their homes.

While the Russia/Ukraine conflict may appear as a bilateral targeting, Russian leadership view the attack as being directed to the United States, and NATO where Ukraine is only the beginning.

According to the Royal United Services Institute – a defense and security think tank – a victory against Ukraine could very much symbolize Russia’s military potential against the West and displace the United States as the leader of the free world, prompting countries like China, Iran, and North Korea to bolster military expansions, force the Global South to form relationships with these countries, and jeopardize U.S. national security.

Since the conflict began the United States has issued ongoing support of Ukraine in the form of approximately $175 billion in aid. Just last month Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced an addition $1 billion will go to Ukraine in the form of air defense missiles, munitions for HIMARS, artillery rounds, armored vehicles, precision aerial munitions, anti-armor weapons, and small arms, equipment, and spare parts to help Ukraine defend its territory and protect its people.

Israel/Gaza

In the last two weeks Israel took the next phase in its attack of Palestine when the country launched an incursion on the Southern Gaza city of Rafah, closing a vital border crossing, pledging to root out Hamas “once-and-for-all.”

On October 7, 2023, Hamas led a series of coordinated attacks against Israel — on a Sabbath day and date of many Jewish holidays — killing over 1,000 Jewish civilians and approximately 350 Israeli soldiers. Approximately 3,000 Palestinian militants infiltrated Israel from Gaza using trucks, powered paragliders, bulldozers, and speedboats, opening fire on Israeli civilians and setting homes on fire. Additionally, Hamas took approximately 200 Israeli hostages, approximately 30 of which were children. That day was the largest number of Jews killed on a single day since the Holocaust.

In response, Israel declared a state of emergency and preparedness for war pledging the destruction of the military and governmental capabilities of “Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” The Israeli military urged civilians living in Gaza to flee on October 17 and led an airstrike on October 31 before troops and tanks poured in. At least 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza as of May 6, according to BBC News.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza strip has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for the last sixteen years due to Hamas’ persistent threats and terrorist tactics. Gaza is also unfortunately densely packed with civilians of which many fell victim to Israel’s violent surge of bombings.

The United States has voiced its support of Israel with President Joe Biden refusing to call for a ceasefire. Protests have erupted across the nation with participants standing on both sides of the conflict, with pro-Israel protesters believing the retaliation is warranted for the deadly attack on October 7, as well as the decades-long history of Hamas’ harassment of Israel, while those in support of Palestine believe the extent of Israel’s retaliation is not justified especially considering children’s lives were taken as collateral and the breach of Geneva convention human rights war tactics. It should also be noted that Hamas, also, has breached several human rights policies by taking hostages, murdering, and torturing Israeli civilians.

The conflict between Israel and Gaza could have dire consequences to the Middle East and the world at large if not settled. For one, Israel is a sworn enemy of Tehran, the Capital of Iran and, by extension, several Iran-backed military groups throughout the region including the Hezbollah in Lebanon, various militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen – all of which Tehran controls. Tehran also has been providing Russia with weapons to assist in its invasion of Ukraine and funds Hamas in Palestine (though they have voiced their disagreement with its initial attack on Israel).

Elsewhere in the Middle East Iraq-backed groups have already started attacking United Sates military bases in Syria and Iraq, to which the U.S. responded with counterstrikes. While Israel continues its attack on Palestine, Iran has been buildings its ranks and nearing toward the nuclear threshold which could rope in the U.S. after all.

The White House has already responded by sending two aircraft carrier groups to the Mediterranean and spending a large sum in diplomatic capital.

U.S./China

Despite China supporting Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, the United States and China’s disagreement on Taiwan being annexed into mainland China, as well as recent trade restrictions between the two nations (U.S. tightening limits on Chinese exports on top of a list of other tariffs and restrictions) has led to tense relations.

Economic disagreements were, for the most part, handled diplomatically – even siding with one another to mitigate the flood of fentanyl and crack down on environmental preservation – until a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over the U.S. reintroducing tensions.

The U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been working together to settle their differences, each valuing the other’s country as an important economic partner. However, China’s aspirations for wealth and power, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, creates the threat of China to the U.S. to be “broad and unrelenting.” 

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has made it clear that it considers every sector that makes our society run as fair game in its bid to dominate on the world stage, and that its plan is to land low blows against civilian infrastructure to try to induce panic and break America’s will to resist,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Separate to China’s unbending rivalry with the U.S. to be a military and economic superpower and trade restrictions, the two countries do not see eye-to-eye on China’s approach to Taiwan. While China is set on taking over the East Asian island country the U.S. has said they are doing whatever is possible to avoid that from happening.

China, in the meantime, has been bolstering its military. China spent the second highest amount on nuclear weapons in 2022 at $12 billion. The United States spent the most at $44 billion—the highest of any country in the world.

Separate to China, North Korea’s Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un, has also threatened nuclear attack on the United States and has allegedly been focusing on amping up his country’s supply of nuclear weapons.

What would happen if Washington state were attacked by a nuclear weapon?

In the unlikely event that a global conflict, or the U.S. engaging in war in general, were to arise and that conflict were to lead to deployment of a nuclear weapon on Washington State – who and where would be affected?

Washington State’s largest military base is Joint Base Lewis-McChord located just south of Tacoma in Fort Lewis. According to nuclearsecrecy.com’s Nuke Map if China were to launch its Dong Feng-5, its current ICBMs (5 Mt) on the base the fireball radius would be a maximum size of 2.02 km (12.9 km squared). This would be large enough to encompass all of Tacoma, Yelm, Graham, South Hill, and portions of Olympia.

The moderate blast damage radius (5 psi) would be 12 km (454 km square), and the thermal radiation radius (causing third degree burns) would be 24.5 km (1,880 km square).

North Korea’s current nuclear weapons’ blast radius would be a lot smaller as would the Topol (SS-25) which is currently in Russia’s arsenal.

While the United States and Russia have abandoned longstanding nuclear arms control treaties within the last two years, many nations – including China – have still publicly declared they stand vehemently against the use of nuclear weapons in times of war and otherwise.

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