World War III
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World War III (also called WWIII or the Third World War) is a hypothetical successor to World War II (1939–1945). In the wake of World War I, World War II, the commencement of the Cold War and the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons, there was early widespread speculation as to the next global war. This war was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from the limited use of atomic weapons, to the destruction of the planet.
 Historical close calls
 Cold War
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, with the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there was a serious threat to Western Europe. In April–May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable, the Third World War plan; its primary goal was "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire." The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.
With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered possible. Among the historical events considered potential triggers for such a conflict are:
- June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953: Before and after the entry of Chinese reinforcements into the Korean War, with the pushback of South Korean and UN forces, orders and scenarios were developed for the use of nuclear weapons. Supreme Commander MacArthur went so far as to declare he would invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in East Asia – one of the reasons he was removed from command by President Harry S. Truman.
- July 26, 1956 – March, 1957: In the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt in its confrontation with France, the United Kingdom, and Israel over its nationalization of the Suez Canal. Pressure was applied on three allies by Canadian UN ambassador, and future Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson (for which he would receive a Nobel Peace Prize) and the Eisenhower administration (which included threats to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt and to impose sanctions on Israel).
- June 4 – November 9, 1961: Berlin Crisis of 1961 where the Soviets demanded a withdrawal of western troops from Berlin. It culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall.
- October 15–28, 1962: The Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation on the stationing of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, is often considered as having been the closest to a nuclear exchange. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 was shot down over Cuba and another almost intercepted over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights, and a Soviet submarine nearly launched a nuclear-tipped torpedo in response to depth charges (with the launch being prevented by an officer named Vasili Arkhipov).
- 1969: According to historian Liu Chenshan, at the height of the Sino-Soviet border conflict, Soviet officials drew up plans for a nuclear attack against China. The United States, however, refused to remain neutral in such a conflict, threatening to launch a full-attack against the Soviet Union in such an event.
- October 24, 1973: As the Yom Kippur War wound down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt's behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.
- November 9, 1979: The United States made emergency retaliation preparations after NORAD saw on-screen indications that a full-scale Soviet attack had been launched. No attempt was made to use the "red telephone" hotline to clarify the situation with the USSR and it was not until early-warning radar systems confirmed no such launch had taken place that NORAD realized that a computer system test had caused the display errors. A senator inside the NORAD facility at the time described an atmosphere of absolute panic. A GAO investigation led to the construction of an off-site test facility to prevent similar mistakes.
- September 26, 1983: A false alarm occurred on the Soviet nuclear early warning system, showing the launch of American Minuteman ICBMs from bases in the United States. The potential for an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its Western allies was prevented by Stanislav Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, who intuited the scale and recent system upgrades meant the system had simply had a malfunction (which would be borne out by later investigations).
- November 2–11, 1983: Amid deteriorating relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the lack of a functioning General Secretary in the Soviet Politburo (due to Yuri Andropov's failing health), the Able Archer 83 military drill for NATO's nuclear-release procedures was thought of by some Politburo members as a ruse of war. Nuclear weapons and air forces were placed on alert in East Germany and Poland before the exercise ended.
 Post-Cold War
- January 25, 1995: A team of Norwegian and American scientists launched a Black Brant XII four-stage sounding rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range, with the goal of studying the aurora borealis. The rocket, which bore resemblance to a US Navy submarine-launched Trident missile, was detected by the Olenegorsk early warning radar station in Murmansk Oblast, Russia. The rocket's predicted trajectory, as well as its overall shape and appearance, led the Russian military to believe it was in fact a Trident nuclear missile launched from a US Navy submarine and aimed at Moscow. Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert, and Russian submarine commanders were ordered to go into a state of combat readiness and prepare for nuclear retaliation. The nuclear weapons command briefcase was brought to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who in turn activated his "nuclear keys" in preparation for a response strike. However, after a few minutes, Russian observers were able to determine that the rocket was heading away from Russian airspace and was not a threat, leading Russian military officials to demobilize. This incident was the first and only time in which a nuclear weapons state activated its nuclear briefcase and prepared to launch an attack.
- December 13, 2001 – June 10, 2002: India and Pakistan engaged in a standoff prompted by a mass shooting at the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which the Indian government blamed on Islamic militant groups located in Pakistan. Following the shooting, more than 500,000 Indian troops were deployed along the Kashmiri Line of Control, which separated Indian and Pakistani sectors of the region. Pakistan responded by deploying more than 300,000 of its troops along the Line of Control. For months, tensions simmered, until May when a series of militant attacks and clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers increased tensions. On May 22, the Indian Prime Minister warned his troops to prepare for a "decisive battle". The United States ordered all non-essential citizens to leave India on May 31 and a summit called by Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to yield an agreement. The situation reached a fever pitch on June 5, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan would not renounce its right to strike first with nuclear weapons. On June 10, however, an agreement was reached and both sides began a process of demobilization over the next few months, with India removing its warships from Pakistan's coastline and Musharraf pledging to rein in Islamic militants in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
 Alternative views
Norman Podhoretz has suggested that the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought, although by proxy, on a global scale, with the main combatants, the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries providing political, military and economic support while not engaging in direct combat.
Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared in The Wall Street Journal, a month after the September 11 attacks, that the struggle against terrorism was more than a law-enforcement operation, and would require military conflict beyond the invasion of Afghanistan. Cohen, like Marenches, considered World War III to be history. "A less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV," he wrote. "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map." In a 2006 interview, U.S. President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terror as "World War III".
On the July 5, 2011 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute For Public Policy Research (AEI), and said "some are calling the global war on terror something else, something more like World War III." But Ledeen responded that "it's more like World War IV because there was a Cold War, which was certainly a world war." Ledeen added that "probably the start of it [World War IV] was the