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World War III (also WWIII, or the Third World War) denotes a hypothetical successor to World War II (1939–1945), that is likely nuclear and devastating in nature.

This war is anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts range from limited use of nuclear weapons to the destruction of the planet.

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 plausible, if not likely. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947.


Greatest threats Edit

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin sent a note to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden warning that "if this war is not stopped it carries the danger of turning into a third world war."

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest[citation needed], but there have been other events that historians have listed as close calls to World War III.

On 26 September 1983, only 25 days after the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Soviet early warning station under the command of Stanislav Petrov falsely detected five inbound intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov correctly assessed the situation as a false alarm, and hence did not report his finding to his superiors. Petrov's action likely prevented World War III, as the Soviet policy at that time was immediate nuclear response upon discovering inbound ballistic missiles.

During Able Archer 83, a ten-day NATO command post exercise starting on November 2, 1983, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. Many historians believe this exercise was a close call to a start to World War III.[3]

On 12 - 26 June 1999, Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo. In response, NATO commander Wesley Clark demanded that British General Sir Mike Jackson storm the airport with paratroopers. Jackson is reported to have replied, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you".

CIA original operative, Miles Copeland, claimed that in the future, World War Three will kick off when "Soviet Russia" dupes the United States and Israel into waging a self-destructive war with the Muslim/Arab world.

Difficulty in determining a "World War" Edit

The English term "World War" has only seen widespread use during one conflict—World War II. The German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of World War I:

There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.

--Indianapolis Star September 20, 1914


This is the first known instance of the term First World War, which previously had been dated to 1913 for the earliest usage. The term was used again near the end of the war. English journalist Charles A. Repington (1858–1925) wrote

[Diary entry, September 10, 1918]: We discussed the right name of the war. I said the we called it now The War, but that this could not last. The Napoleonic War was The Great War. To call it The German War was too much flattery for the Boche. I suggested The World War as a shade better title, and finally we mutually agreed to call it The First World War in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world was the history of war.

--The First World War, 1914–1918 (1920)

Known as The Great War in the 1920s, it ignored the Napoleonic wars as having the dubious honour of being the first to be called the "Great War" although it, like the Cold War, was a collection of coalition conflicts, and not a single continuous conflict as was the Second World War.

It may take years before another major conflict could be arguably recognized as a World War III. Serious wars before and after the first two world wars, even those closely associated with them, are not now treated as part of the larger conflict. These include the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1913 and the Polish-Soviet War from 1919 to 1921, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later China, the Spanish Civil War, the Italian invasions of Ethiopia and Albania, the 1938 German annexation of Austria (Anschluss), and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, the specific event where a future World War III begins may only be determined retroactively.

Some analysts and historians have suggested the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought on a global scale by proxy combatants of the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. In a 2006 interview, U.S. President George W. Bush likened the ongoing War on Terrorism as being like "World War III".

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