The Third World War may already be in progress, and it is going to be like neither of its two predecessors. It involves many of the same protagonists as well as countries that were born of the first two world wars. While casualties will be minuscule in comparison to the two earlier wars, it is a clash of ideologies in the same way in which Fascism was pitted against liberal democracy, with the outcome being far from preordained. As world leaders scramble to come up with a response to the Paris bombings, Russia has announced that the airliner which crashed in Sinai in October, killing 224 of its citizens was brought down by “foreign explosives”. This lays to rest any lingering doubt there may have been that the event was a tragic accident, and is going to sharpen considerably Russian resolve when it comes to the matter of containing, never mind eradicating, the Islamic State (IS).
The French air force has bombed Raqqa, capital of the so-called caliphate created by the IS, and President Obama, speaking at a news conference after the G20 conference in Turkey on November 16, again reiterated that he would not put American boots on the ground to fight the IS. Indeed, apart from the Russians, nobody is keen to put boots on the ground to fight the group, which for its part has declared that it will strike at all the countries ranged against it. On the evidence of the Paris attacks and the airliner bombing, this is no idle threat. It has that capacity and will use it to extend the battlefield by non-conventional means beyond the limits of the Levant and the Fertile Crescent. Despite having no air force, armour or conventional means of force projection, the IS is able to engage on the asymmetric battleground in a way that the armed forces and the police of the countries that it is attacking have little experience of combating, with many countries lacking even basic counter-terror equipment or trained forces. Currently, the IS in many ways has the upper hand. While it is unlikely that it will be the winner of this third world war, it is certainly going to wreak havoc before it is contained.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2015.