The Buzz

5 Places World War III Could Start in 2018

Relations between the United States and Turkey have virtually collapsed over the last year, just as Ankara and Moscow have seen a significant rapprochement after military skirmishes in 2015. Turkish estrangement from the EU and the United States, symbolized by the acquisition of new Russian military hardware, could herald a significant shift in the regional balance of power.

To be sure, Turkey, Russia, nor the United States see war as a reasonable way of resolving the new diplomatic situation. But Turkey is an immensely important country, and its disposition affects the outcome of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Balkans and the Caucasus. A shift in Turkey’s diplomatic orientation could have unpredictable ripple effects along its borders—especially regarding Kurdish aspiration for statehood—and could change the ledger of power and risk in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Such developments could affect how the southern European states think about their commitment to NATO. This unpredictability could cause either Moscow or Washington to miscalculate the strength of their own hands.

The Gulf

Conflicts in the Middle East almost always contain the seeds of great power conflict, even if those seeds rarely bloom. As the civil war in Syria has shambled towards it conclusion, attention has shifted to the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia still seems to have an itchy trigger finger, and it seems eager to find Tehran’s hand behind every setback. For its part, Iran continues expanding its influence in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

For its part, while the Trump administration has largely accepted the victory of Assad’s regime in Syria, it is redirecting its efforts towards countering Iran in the region. This has included a virtual blank check to Saudi Arabia in Yemen and elsewhere, a development that could easily result in overconfidence in Riyadh.

Could Riyadh and Tehran contain their war? War has broken out in the Gulf before without engulfing the rest of the world, but Riyadh has demonstrated a clear willingness to build a diplomatic and military coalition against Iran, perhaps going so far as to include Israel. With Russia reasserting its position in the region, it’s depressingly easy to imagine great power conflict.

Conclusion

The world remains jarringly dangerous. The diplomatic confusion of the Trump administration has only added to this danger, creating uncertainty around the world as to U.S. intentions and capabilities. While this uncertainty does not always result in opportunities for other states to step up, it does increase the chance for miscalculation in crisis and noncrisis situations. Hopefully, as Trump’s foreign policy team congeals and matures, it will develop a more coherent approach to diplomacy that will ameliorate the threat posed by some of these crises.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.

Image: M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank during training. Flickr/U.S. Marine Corps/Public domain.

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