Beyond the Wall - Superpowers gear up for WWIII

FIFTY-four years ago, between Oct 14 and 28, 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. But sanity and the wisdom of US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev prevailed and the world was saved from annihilation.

With the advancement of technology and cyber warfare, a major concern today is on how terrorists and lunatics may be able to hack into the ICT security grid of nuclear weapons launch systems to trigger a massive missile launch on host country and the rest of the world.

There were two recent news reports which may have escaped the attention of many people and are likely to have an impact on world peace.

One was a BBC story on Nov 4 about a mysterious pinging noise over the last few months in the Arctic at a place called the Fury and Hecla Strait, which is a narrow channel of water in Nunavut, the newest, largest and least populous territory of Canada, next to Greenland. People living in the region reported that the noise had frightened away animals.

It must be a massive activity for the pinging sound to be driving away wildlife in the area of open water surrounded by ice that's abundant with sea mammals. The area is normally a migratory route for bowhead whales and various kinds of seals. But this summer, they were missing.

The Canadian military has already investigated using sonar searches and for possible causes such as sonar survey by a mining company and military submarines but to date it has not been able to explain the cause of the "acoustic anomalies".

This phenomenon may be a secret military project on a mega scale by a superpower, which if true, does not bode well for this world.

The other story, which may or may not be related to the above story, is from the CNN website on Nov 3 entitled "Could World War III start here?" and was written by David Andelman, editor emeritus of World Policy Journal and author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.

Andelman believed that the most vulnerable spot of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (Nato) entire perimeter is the Suwalki Gap (remember this name), a 60-mile stretch of territory and a critical rail line separating Poland (member of EU and Nato) from Lithuania (also a member of EU and Nato), and linking Russian Kaliningrad with its ally Belarus. According to Andelman, it is here that any shootout between Nato and Russia could start a World War III.
So critical and tense is the region that US Vice-President Joe Biden paid an urgent trip to neighbouring Latvia in August 2016 to meet the presidents of all three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) to assure them that "we pledged our sacred honour … to the Nato treaty and Article 5", which says that an attack on one Nato ally is an attack on all.

Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has been trying to flex its military muscles and re-assert itself as a formidable superpower since the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union.

It has taken back control of its old territories such as Crimea and part of Ukraine, raising tension with the West, which is imposing sanctions on it.

While the tension in another volatile region of the world, the South China Sea, over disputed islands and territories, has cooled somewhat with a pragmatic new president of the Philippines using a more "business-like" approach with the main player there, China, it is the rise of what many see as an "imperialistic" Russia that may be a serious cause of concern for world peace.

Russia's most dangerous recent endeavour has been in the Middle East, where it made a pact with the Assad regime of Syria about a year ago to provide military support, arms and training to fight both the progressive rebels (in Aleppo) and the extremists (mostly IS) in other parts, especially Raqqa. Syria had become Moscow's last toe-hold of influence in the region. Assad's fortunes have been turned around by Russia's intervention.

According to Michael Kofman of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, "Moscow had sought to steadily destroy the moderate Syrian opposition on the battlefield, leaving only jihadist forces in play, and lock the US into a political framework of negotiations that would serve beyond the shelf-life of this administration … leaving no viable alternatives for the West in this conflict come 2017."

According to another analyst Roger McDermott, senior fellow in Eurasian studies at the Jamestown Foundation, the Russian General Staff also see the Syrian conflict as an opportunity to test new or modern weapon systems, experiment with network-centric warfare capability and to present the success of military technology.

And according to BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, Russia's active military role in the region has reshaped the relationship to its advantage with the key players – Israel, Iran and Turkey.

But it is the US-Russia relations that have been most profoundly influenced by Moscow's intervention in Syria. This has forced Washington, distracted presently over its presidential election, to re-assess its own approach and has taken a more defensive position to develop some kind of partnership with Russia to seek a solution for Syria. A new US president may take a more hardline position.
The indiscriminate nature of Russian air bombardments in Syria has led to accusations by human rights groups and several governments on its barbarity and potentially committing war crimes. Almost 4,000 civilians have been killed in one year of Russian strikes.

With the US and most of the civilised world insisting that Assad must go and Russia totally against it, it would be difficult to find a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

Human casualties inside Syria are on a scale never seen in modern times. The nearly 5 million war refugees from Syria has also put tremendous social and financial strain on Germany and the rest of Europe coping with the humanitarian crisis of a gigantic scale.

On another front to illustrate Russia's global ambitions, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper published on Nov 1, the director-general of the British spy agency MI5 Andrew Parker, said that the covert threat from Russia was rising at a time when the threat of radical Islam drew the most attention.

Russia was "using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks. Russia is at work across Europe. Besides Russia's high profile activities in Ukraine and Syria, it was also responsible for high volume activity out of sight with the cyber threat."

He said that Moscow, with its growing military power, increasingly seems to define itself by opposition to the West and seems to act accordingly.

So is World War III imminent? The answer is "blowing in the wind".

The writer is a CEO of an independent and strategic think-thank firm based in Kuala Lumpur. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com