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By Mohammed Kholti Boumlaqui
With crisis after crisis, and between the two, we are to face yet another as the bloody conflict between Ukraine and Russia rages on.
The world now is less safe than it used to be, or at least this is what we have learned.
It all started with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily activities, our jobs, and what we had been doing for years suddenly became “unsafe.” We had to endure this nightmare for over two years.
And now, as we were about to feel “safe” again, Russia’s launched an unprovoked war against Ukraine. On February 24, President Vladimir Putin had invaded Ukraine, creating the most dangerous war in Europe since World War II. The concerns that once were imaginary, the likes of which you could only find in science fiction movies, are now genuine possibilities. A nuclear World War III was beyond imagination; we all thought it would not happen. We could be wrong.
The war in Ukraine will not only create an awful humanitarian crisis in Europe, but it can lead to the outbreak of World War III. These are some scenarios by which the war in Ukraine can turn to more fatal levels.
NATO might eventually feel forced to join the conflict
The first scenario, we can envision, will be a military response by the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to what could be a big humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
The NATO members have been trying to avoid a direct conflict with Russia. They reject President Zelensky’s requests for implementing a no-fly zone (which would mean shooting down Russian airplanes). The US and its allies also refused to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
Yet, there could be a point when Western powers would feel so compelled to intervene that they ignore the consequences of their actions. We could reach this point if Putin continues his war in Ukraine and makes its humanitarian cost so egregious that the Western countries will find it difficult, if not impossible, to look away.
The tragedy of this war is already on social media for everyone to see. If things are to get worse, it will be there as well. Heinous scenes of death and destruction will mobilize more people, especially in Western democracies, to put more pressure on their leader to end the suffering of Ukrainians.
Putin is unlikely to stop the war in Ukraine. He knows well that economic sanctions on Russia are not to be lifted in the short term; this will not encourage him to withdraw his forces from Ukraine. And from a political perspective, Putin will have to gain something from his war in Ukraine.
The price of the war has been high for the Russians. And if Putin backs off “empty-handed”, this would mean that the war has been for nothing, which would undermine his popularity and perhaps his grip on power.
Russia could eventually attack a NATO member, launching World War III
Facing harsh resistance from the Ukrainians, and with a possibility of losing the war, Putin can decide to use chemical weapons or even tactical nuclear bombs. Russian doctrine on wars suggests that tactical nuclear attacks can be perceived if the war is likely to be lost.
Once these small nuclear weapons are used, this will not only turn Ukraine into a nuclear war zone, but it will carry a greater risk of dragging other countries (especially NATO countries) into the war, with no guarantee that Russia or Western powers will not deploy their strategic nuclear bombs.
There is another scenario for World War III. It can break out when Russia attacks a NATO member. The US and its NATO allies made it clear they will not tolerate any attack on a NATO country; there will be a military response against Russia. Two weeks ago, Russian forces attacked a Ukrainian base that was just 11 miles away from Poland (a NATO member). If one missile attacking the base had mistakenly gone any further, this article could have had a much more terrifying title.
It seems unlikely for now, but Putin could deliberately choose to attack a NATO country in response to what he may consider an overreach by that country, as NATO is giving more help to the Ukrainian military.
Indeed, we should hope for the best. But we should not ignore the worst either. The unexpected can always be suddenly expected. COVID-19 outbreak was not foreseen, yet it happened, so did World War II, and the list goes on.
Mohammed Kholti Boumlaqui is a political science scholar with a Master’s degree in Political and International Studies.