The term “World War” appeared first in the early 20th century, some years before the First World War, as a literal translation of the German word Weltkrieg. German writer August Wilhelm Otto Niemann had used the word in the title of his anti-British novel Der Weltkrieg: Deutsche Träume (“The World War: German Dreams”) in 1904, published in English as “The Coming Conquest of England.” Also, the term was used in 1850 by Karl Marx in “The Class Struggles in France.” The OED cites the first known usage in the English language as being in April 1909, in the pages of the Westminster Gazette.
A world war is defined as a war that involves some of the world’s most powerful and/or most populous countries, and spans multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theatres. It is also defined more simply, as a war involving many large nations in all different parts of the world.
By this definition, many historians use the term “World War” to include the “War of the Spanish Succession,” the “Seven Years’ War” and the “Napoleonic Wars.”
However, it was during the 20th Century that the World experienced the two global conflicts which are generally recognised as the “First World War” and the “Second World War.”
Since World War II was ended with the use of two Nuclear weapons; for the duration of the “Cold War” that followed, there were fears and/or expectations of a cataclysmic World War 3; involving escalating nuclear exchanges between NATO & the Warsaw Pact; leading to the assumed end of the civilised world, brought about by the threatened “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
That MAD gave us years free of global conflict, shouldn’t be forgotten. During the Cold War, there were occasions; notably the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962; when the world stood apparently at the brink of Armageddon.
And even with the ending of the Cold War; the fears that World War 3 will result in a nuclear holocaust, are still with us. This is due to the continued and increased presence of Nuclear weapons. They are possessed not just by USA, UK, France and Russia, as before; but now we know China, India & Pakistan have them, and it is generally accepted that Israel & North Korea do too.
I think it was Einstein, addressing this End-of-the-World assumption, who said something like, “I don’t know how World War 3 will be fought; but World War IV will be fought with sticks & stones.”
But what if Einstein was wrong? Everyone, even Albert, is allowed one mistake. Can we really be certain, as Einstein appeared to be, that World War 3 will involve nuclear weapons at all?
I was told recently that what’s happening in “…the Middle East is a side-show; the next World War will start in Europe or the Pacific…” Though hardly a “side show” what is happening in the Middle East is certainly only part of a much bigger picture; as I will illustrate.
Though by definition, World War 3 must be, “…a war that involves some of the world’s most powerful countries…”. There is nothing to say those countries have to start it, or must even be the main protagonists; involvement is the criteria. A “World War” doesn’t actually have to be between countries at all; just involve them, in multiple theatres, on multiple continents.
A “War” can easily be between contrasting ideologies. If it takes place within one country, we’d call it a civil war. If it spans several countries; on different continents; with fighting in multiple theatres; involving some of the World’s most powerful nations; it is a World War.
The Wahhabi-Salafist (Sunni) organisation, Daʿesh, that now calls itself “al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah” or “the Islamic State” (usually referred to as ‘IS’) is opposed to all who aren’t of their Wahhabi-Salafist leaning; but Shīʿites are their main enemy, and comprise the vast majority of their victims.
Daʿesh has branches & affiliates (“Wilayat” or “Provinces”) currently fighting in the Middle East/Asia, (Syria, Iraq, Yemen & Afghanistan,) in Africa, (Libya, Sinai, Algeria, Nigeria, and in Eastern Europe, (Chechnya & Dagestan.) That more than fits the multiple countries & continents criteria.
Daʿesh also has members, though not yet declared provinces, active in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Palestine.
That other well known Wahhabi-Salafist (Sunni) organisation, al-Qaeda, has affiliates operating in Africa, (the Magreb, Tunisia, Libya, Kenya & Somalia,) and Asia, (Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia & the Philippines.) Forces fighting them in various parts of the world, as well as indigenous troops, include the French, the US, the UK and the Russians.
Image Credits: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.Older map showing that on two sides of the border between Syria and Iraq is now ‘Islamic State’.
In Yemen, Daʿesh and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, (AQAP), were losing their struggle against the Zaidi Shīʿite Houthis & and the bulk of the Yemeni army; but are now enthusiastically supported by the Saudi led, and US assisted, coalition airstrikes, which appear to have turned the tide. This coalition contains Gulf Cooperation Council States; UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan & Sudan. These are all Sunni nations. On the ground, troops from Saudi Arabia & UAE are fighting Houthis openly alongside Daʿesh and AQAP.
In Iraq, Daʿesh are opposed by the Iranian backed Shīʿite Militias, the Kurdish Peshmerga and parts of the Iraqi army. The Sunnis in the Iraqi army have an unsurprising propensity to run away or defect, when confronted by Daʿesh; and the Sunni tribes, who also have militias, are at best, ambivalent in their attitude to their fellow Sunnis, Daʿesh.
In Iraq the fight against Daʿesh is supported by the US led, coalition air operations. This coalition includes USA, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the UK. Just to add to the confusion, Turkey, with its Sunni Administration, has in fact carried out more airstrikes against the Kurds than it has against Daʿesh.
In Syria, the fight against the Alawite (a Shīʿite Sect) Assad regime, on the ground is led by Daʿesh & al-Nusrah (AQ in Syria). At the leadership level there is disagreement between them, but their ideologies are the same (Wahhabi-Salafist) and their members flow between. Ranged against them, supporting Assad, are the Iranian backed, Shīʿite Hezbollah and now Iranian & Russian forces.
Also fighting Daʿesh, mainly in the air, are parts of the previously mentioned US led coalition; though they have set themselves the awkward task of fighting Daʿesh, without actually helping Assad. Though officially participating in this, Turkey has shown a marked preference for attacking Kurds & Assad forces, over actually attacking Daʿesh.
Image Credits: Statista. There are already over 40 countries involved in this conflict; including USA, UK, France & Russia, so, yes, “Major Powers” are “involved”. There is fighting in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The current situation with Daʿesh, completely fits the “World War” definition.
So, the news is “World War 3” has already started; and though (or perhaps because) nuclear weapons are not (yet) involved, nobody appears to have noticed.
The real confusion arises when we try to work out, who is fighting who; who is on which side. We didn’t have this problem, much, with either of the previous World Wars. In World War I it was France, Russia, Italy, Great Britain & her Empire versus Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire & the Ottoman Empire; of course towards the end Russia dropped out and USA joined in.
In World War II it was France (briefly), USA (eventually and unwillingly), the Soviet Union (also eventually and unwillingly), Great Britain and Commonwealth versus Germany, Japan and Italy (who wisely switched to the winning side just before the final whistle.)
In the current World War 3, the simplistic answer to the “Who’s-on-whose-side” question, would be to say it’s Daʿesh against “the rest”; but, sadly, it isn’t.
Image Credits: Statista.Most of Syria’s foreign fighters are from Tunisia in 2015, while the Russian and US led airstrikes have not stopped flow of foreign fighters to the troubled region.
Al-Qaeda has the identical Wahhabi-Salafist ideology as Daʿesh, the same goals and the same enemies. Attempts at disassociation by al-Qaeda are clearly aimed at their Saudi & Qatari funders, who might balk at openly supporting Daʿesh. But the over-all leader of AQ, (out-of-touch and hiding in Pakistan,) Ayman al-Zawahiri, says that the leader of Daʿesh, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “premature” in declaring the Caliphate and himself as Caliph. Al-Zawahiri didn’t come straight out and say, “It should have been me.” But that is a reasonable inference. In any case the two are so obviously allied, they must be considered as being “on the same side.”
So, is it Daʿesh & al-Qaeda against “the rest”? Well, no it’s not that simple either. In some areas of the conflict it’s supposedly, theoretically a matter of those two being attacked by everyone else; but many of the “everyone else” have different agendas.
The simplest ‘variation’ to explain is the position of the UK.
The benighted “Arab Spring” brought protests throughout the Arab world in 2011. In Syria, these were brutally suppressed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, leading to a major uprising; a rebellion, which morphed subsequently into a civil war. Interestingly, the “Arab Spring” protests in Bahrain, were uniquely by the predominantly Shīʿite masses.
Source: Institute for the Study of War and BBC.Quite a recent map of the Russian and the US-led airstrike and the various regions under control.
Naturally Iran was accused of being behind this; though the subsequent Bahraini Government enquiry found no evidence to support this. The protests, referred to as the “14 February Uprising” or the “Pearl Uprising” were also brutally suppressed with the assistance of Saudi troops & Emirati police. And if they hadn’t caused the cancellation of the 2011 Formula 1 Grand Prix, the world would probably not have heard about them.
With the rising in Syria, the West, primarily France, the UK & USA; following-up on their rip-roaring success intervening in Libya, leapt at the opportunity to oust another evil dictator, and in 2013 proposed to commence airstrikes in Syria, in support of the rebels. This was despite the fact that these rebels included in their ranks, the Syrian al-Qaeda branch, “al-Nusra Front” and a little known al-Qaeda affiliate then calling itself, “al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām,” meaning “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), or “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” (ISIS).
Luckily, in August that year, in the UK Parliament, wise heads prevailed, and this course of action was voted down. The Obama administration followed suit, and resentfully, France did likewise.
Then in 2014, when the US organised a coalition to carry out airstrikes against Daʿesh, in Iraq & Syria; the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, quite rightly assuming that some MP’s would find the difference, between airstrikes in support of Daʿesh and those against Daʿesh, far too subtle to comprehend, asked MP’s to support airstrikes against Daʿesh, just in Iraq, and not in Syria; this they did. So we have RAF aircraft carrying out airstrikes against Daʿesh in Iraq, but reconnaissance missions over both Iraq & Syria. And, of course, if we spot a Daʿesh fighter in Syria, who we believe is a threat to us, a Reaper can take him out too.
Image Credits: Christiaan Triebert.Man in his bombed house. Scenes like this are common, tens of hundreds of people lose their homes, lives and loved ones. Bomb blasts and violence is extremely graphic with beheadings and street justice being the rule.
The real “Who’s-on-whose-side” confusion comes from the position of some of the West’s allies, primarily Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar & Turkey. All four are determined to see an end to the Assad regime in Syria. It is common knowledge that most funding for both al-Nusra, and Daʿesh, in its early days, came from Saudi & Qatari sources, openly channelled through Turkey. Qatar is on record as saying they will continue to fund and supply anti-Assad rebels, including al-Nusra in Syria.
As we have seen, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar are supporting al-Qaeda & Daʿesh in Yemen, where their enemies are the Shīʿite Houthis. Yet all three are signed-up to the US led airstrike coalition against Daʿesh, in Iraq & Syria.
Turkey individually confuses this issue even further. The current, Sunni, Turkish regime also want rid of Assad, but they really want rid of independence seeking Kurds, too. It just so happens that Kurdish fighters of various factions, are the most effective anti-Daʿesh ground forces that the US are prepared to support. So we have the US flying airstrikes in support of troops that their ally Turkey is simultaneously flying strikes against. Just to compound that confusion, those Kurds, though fighting Daʿesh, will, in their struggle for a future independent Kurdistan, also quite happily, fight Assad’s Government forces.
There is no confusion about the positions held by Iran, and now Russia. They are both in full support of Assad, and will fight any that are opposed to him. They are also both fully intent on the destruction of Daʿesh. But their reasons for holding those positions are vastly different.
Secular (though if convenient, Christian) Russia supports Assad, not just because he is an old ally, but because in Assad’s Syria Russia has access to Mediterranean port facilities, a strategic base and a presence in the Middle East; all of which would disappear with Syria under any other regime. Russia opposes Daʿesh & al-Qaeda, because they are the source of Russia’s own internal Islamist problems in Chechnya & Dagestan.
Shīʿite Iran supports the Assad regime mainly for religious reasons. As well as being an ally, Assad and his followers are Alawites, a Shīʿite sect. It is for exactly the same reason that Iran is opposed to Daʿesh & al-Qaeda. Shīʿites have been persecuted by Sunnis since time immemorial and the worst such persecutors have been Salafists; the Wahhabi-Salafists of Daʿesh & al-Qaeda are an utter anathema to Iran.
If Russia’s and Iran’s positions are clear, how the West and its “Allies” view their involvement in this war is less so. One thing that stands out about Western diplomacy, including US foreign policy, is that everything is apparently thought of in terms of “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys.” And the West will help the “Good Guys.” Back in the days of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the Soviets were the “Bad Guys,” so the Mujahedeen had to be “Good Guys,” didn’t they? Well, we all know how that turned out.
In Ukraine, Putin’s Russians were obviously the “Bad Guys,” so the Ukrainians had to be “Good Guys;” except some of them are Neo-Nazis; not very “Good Guys” at all.
When the troubles in Syria started, it was easy; Assad is a “Bad Guy” so those opposing him must be “Good Guys”; right?
Then it turns-out that these “Good Guys” included al-Qaeda; definitely “Bad Guys;” and that group now calling itself “al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah” or “the Islamic State” (IS); otherwise known as Daʿesh & now showing themselves to be “Even Worse Guys.” I can picture brains beginning to spin in the White House, Langley, the Pentagon, Downing Street & Westminster.
And now we’ve got Russia; “Bad Guys” since 1945 and Iran; “Bad Guys” since 1979; entering the fray, alongside Shīʿite Hezbollah (more “Bad Guys”) against Daʿesh & al-Qaeda, but also against anyone else attacking Assad’s regime, which includes a few “Good Guys” who’ve cost millions of dollars in training and kit, and may or may not still be “Good Guys”. That brain-spin is reaching terminal rotation and the West is left struggling about how to react; fearing a clash between their aircraft & Russia’s.
If the West, Russia & the Kurds are taken out of this equation, the common denominator running through all this strife is religion. As I’ve mentioned the Syrian Assad regime is Alawite Shīʿite; Iran & Hezbollah are Shīʿite; the Iraqi Government is majority Shīʿite and its most effective militias are Shīʿite; the Yemeni Houthis are Zaidi Shīʿite.
AQ & Daʿesh are Sunni; the Gulf Cooperation Council member states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. All of them are Sunni states, except Oman, which is Ibadi & not involved in the war at all. Turkey is also majority Sunni.
But some of those Sunni nations are signed up to the West’s coalition against Daʿesh; the question is, how committed are they to it?
I believe they are showing their true colours in Yemen.
Exactly how many airstrikes have Saudi or Emirati aircraft carried out against Daʿesh in Syria or Iraq? Remembering the hundreds they’ve carried out against Shīʿites, in Yemen. They seem rather hesitant about supplying the necessary Muslim “Boots-on-the-Ground” against Daʿesh in Syria or Iraq, yet, given the golden opportunity to kill Shīʿites, UAE & Saudi ground forces invaded Yemen with alacrity.
It appears obvious to me that this World War is actually between Sunni & Shīʿite, (Hence the Arabic under the title; “Ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah” v “Shīʻatu ʻAlī;” or Sunni v Shīʿite.)
Sunni and Shia in the Middle East. Sunni is in Green and Shīʿite in Red.
Most of the action on the Sunni side is being taken by the extremist Wahhabi-Salafists, of AQ & Daʿesh with support from others; ranging from covert as in Syria, to just plain blatant as in Yemen. And it appears that those Sunni nations, supposedly allied with the West against Daʿesh, aren’t actually allies at all; that any agreement the West has with them is as meaningless as the notorious Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact of 1939 was to either side then.
And it has to be said that, NATO member or not, under its current regime, the same applies to Turkey. And the West supporting the Kurds will never sit well with them.
If the West is serious about defeating Daʿesh, it should take the pragmatic approach and cooperate with Russia & Iran, now; in this particular fight they are the allies it needs; if that means leaving Assad in place for now, so be it.
But we have to recognise that this is a Muslim World War; ground forces, the “Boots-on-the-Ground” must be Muslim; ie Kurds & Iranian. The West and Russia must limit themselves to support operations, SF activity and airstrikes, as at present.
If this were to happen, it is highly unlikely that the GCC members would remain within the Western coalition; working with Iran would be contrary to all they stand for. This would be no loss; they aren’t the sort of allies we need, in this fight or any other; ideologically, they are actually on the other side.
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