This Is What World War III Will Look Like… “A U.S.-China war is inevitable”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
By Paul Martin

P.W. Singer and August Cole
Time.com
June 30, 2015

P.W. Singer is Strategist at New America and August Cole is a Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. They are the co-authors of Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.

An array of science-fiction-like technologies would likely make their debut

U.S. and Chinese warships battle at sea, firing everything from cannons to cruise missiles to lasers. Stealthy Russian and American fighter jets dogfight in the air, with robotic drones flying as their wingmen. Hackers in Shanghai and Silicon Valley duel in digital playgrounds. And fights in outer space decide who wins below on Earth. Are theses scenes from a novel or what could actually take place in the real world the day after tomorrow? The answer is both.

Great power conflicts defined the 20th century: Two world wars claimed tens of millions of lives, and the Cold War that followed shaped everything from geopolitics to sports. But at the start of the 21st century, the ever-present fear of World War III seemed to be in our historic rearview mirror.

Yet that risk of the past has made a dark comeback. Russian land grabs in Ukraine and constant flights of bombers decorated with red stars probing Europe’s borders have put NATO at its highest levels of alert since the mid 1980s. In the Pacific, the U.S. and a newly powerful and assertive China are engaged in a massive arms race. China built more warships and warplanes than any other nation during the last several years, while the Pentagon just announced a strategy to “offset” it with a new generation of high-tech weapons. Indeed, it’s likely China’s alleged recent hack of federal records at the Office of Personnel Management was not about cyber crime, but a classic case of what is known as “preparing the battlefield,” gaining access to government databases and personal records just in case.

The worry is that the brewing 21st century Cold War with China and its junior partner Russia could at some point turn hot. “A U.S.-China war is inevitable” recently warned the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper after recent military face-offs over rights of passage and artificial islands built in disputed territory. This may be a bit of posturing both for U.S. policymakers and a highly nationalist domestic audience: A 2014 poll by the Perth U.S.-Asia center found that 74% of Chinese think their military would win in a war with the U.S. But it points to how the global context is changing. Many Chinese officers have begun to lament out loud what they call “peace disease,” their term for never having served in combat.

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