Triggering WWIII by Accident?

Triggering WWIII by Accident?

Wednesday, Ed Lucas of The Economist gave a frightening account of how the Ukrainian crisis could escalate into nuclear war. 

As The Economist‘s former Moscow bureau chief, he is better qualified than most to understand the threat of renewed Russian expansionism. Rush Limbaugh has since picked up on the real possibility of this dreadful scenario.

Recent developments, including protesters killed Wednesday and the capture of military vehicles by pro-Moscow elements, clearly indicate that the crisis is worsening. But could it turn into an East-West shooting war?

NATO, the military alliance established to defend Europe from the Soviet Union, now has members that border the Ukraine, some of whom have sizable ethnic Russian communities which President Putin could use yet again as a cover for intervention.

A majority of U.S. security experts recently polled see the Obama administration as having no leverage over Moscow to stop further military action. As a result, the imminent Geneva talks on a peaceful resolution seem doomed to fail.

At the same time, the Secretary General of NATO has continued to make strong statements on deployment of NATO assets on the soil and above the air of NATO states in Eastern Europe and the Baltics: “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water … and more readiness on the land.”

Indications on the ground appear to show that Russia is still actively engaged in promoting violence through a fifth column of sympathizers or covert agents, with recent arrests of protesters showing that they are equipped for command and control purposes with cell phones from Russia.

As the strategist Steven Metz wrote Wednesday, Russia has demonstrated great skill in unconventional warfare techniques from the very start of the crisis, skills that the U.S. seems unable to match.

Could this all lead to a third global conflict, this time involving nuclear armed forces on both sides? The lessons from how the last two World Wars were triggered suggest that perhaps it could.

WWI was triggered by the violent attack of one ethnic nationalist who successfully killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo Princip wanted a free Serbian state and appealed to ethnic unity, much like the Kremlin’s agents in the Crimea and Ukraine are doing.

As for WWII, that was triggered by a leader who thought his nation had been unjustly treated – very similarly to the way in which Putin views the loss of the Soviet Union as the greatest geostrategic tragedy of the twentieth century – who used a false flag operation to say his ethnic brethren in Poland were in danger and Germany must respond.

Unfortunately, it seems that the nations of the West have learned little from the 75 million deaths resulting from the two World Wars of the last century – and that the worst case scenario is far from impossible.

Sebastian Gorka PhD is the National Security editor of


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