“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”—Albert Einstein
One must admit that compared to Colin Powell, Albert Einstein was more optimistic as he had foreseen a scenario where the people of the world would be engaged in physical conflicts with each other using pre-historic weapons. Powell seemed despondent when he said: “There’s not going to be a World War III, because there is no one to have World War III with.” With due respect to both these prodigies, who were perhaps contemplating physical wars in the like of the earlier world wars, they might be pleasantly surprised to see that without using arsenals, the world is now engaged in a novel hostility based not on regional conflicts nor on ideologies nor on subduing a particular “ism”; but on production, consumption and transfer of wealth—yes, economics—welcome to World War III!
Ironically, the underlying motive of both World War I and II has been a struggle for power and race to get control over economic resources. In case of the First World War (2014-2019) this was camouflaged under politics, secret alliances, imperialism and nationalistic pride, triggered by assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Again, in case of the Second World War (1939-1945), the impetus proved to be the political takeover of Germany by Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party in 1933.that in violation of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 entered into an agreement with the Soviet Union for dividing Eastern Europe, culminating in the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. While Japan made military interventions in China, Italians attacked Ethiopia, Britain and France declared war on Germany, a couple of days later on 3 September 1939, The entire globe was caught amid a battle of allies destructively poised against one another taking in its toll millions of lives and testing scientifically produced weapons of mass destruction.
The second half of the twentieth century may not have witnessed another one of its kind global conflict, but the whole planet remained dotted with regional armed wars whether these were between nations or in the form of civil wars that erupted as colonialists began their withdrawal from Africa, Asia and South America or the much dreaded cold war between the United States of America and the erstwhile Soviet Union, both competing for the top slot of super-power, the basis of which was not only arms and nuclear race but economic one as well—capturing world markets and reaching out to consumers located in the many political divisions all over the planet.
The emergence of Western (capitalist) and Eastern (communist) blocks and alliances with one or the other super power left many countries either happily placed both in economic terms and freedom of their citizens in case of the former or in comparative misery and restrictions on their people in case of the latter. Of course, there were exceptions but generally, peoples of both blocks were easily identifiable. Rates of progress were also quite uneven with some enjoying an exceptional standard of life while a majority just managing to eke out a bare living. These distortions together with competition for the position of world leader created a sense of insecurity and discontentment.
Amid all this raucous, China, silently and rapidly, kept working towards achieving economic progress to attain superiority. Its extremely hardworking and devout people, thoroughly disciplined by Mao Zedong (old spelling ‘Mao Tse Tung’) and his famous Communist Party of China, were busy in revolutionizing their country. From building an enormous infra-structure of dams, roads, railways, bridges and high rises to an advanced education system to utilizing both men and women to accelerate economic growth and to effectively controlling population expansion, the post 1949 People’s Republic of China was fast becoming a force to reckon with that led to the emergence of a ‘Red’ panic among nations of the First World. China, like a pupa, had spun a protective shell around itself only to come forth as the most enterprising nation, using all kinds of tactics, highly sophisticated and nuanced foreign policy together with its presence in almost every country.
The 1991 lifting of the infamous ‘iron curtain’ and break-down of USSR into fifteen independent countries and disassociation of the satellite countries in the Eastern Block not only left the United States of America as the only reigning super power but also created a God-given opportunity to the Chinese for widening their economic interests. Within no time, China has successfully captured world markets, becoming a leading exporter of goods (sub-standard at times) and services. As it improves its financial strength, it is constantly being eyed with suspicion because now, a new super power in the making with an entirely different agenda, is throwing a challenge to the ‘invincible’ USA.
The economic might of China is causing sleepless nights for those who considered it as a country that throughput history has been relatively docile and kept itself aloof from engaging in hegemonic activities unless war was imposed upon it. However, gone are the days when any form of uprising could be thwarted with armed retaliation. We are not living during times when a stronger nation could conquer a weaker one by force. This is the nuclear age! With nuclear technology accessible to even those nations that are still struggling economically, the risk of armed war is too high for the preservation of this planet. As observed, among the aftereffects of lockdowns in the wake of coronavirus (Covid-19) is the purification of the earth’s atmosphere that was brutally contaminated by man, and impurity of such magnitude cannot be afforded by another war.
Nevertheless we are now witnessing economic giants of the world verbally confronting each other on various issues including, who was instrumental in exposing the earthlings to the fatal effects of Covid-19. Finger pointing by those in power is causing such a furor that is freaking out global nations, especially those that are most badly affected by the pandemic. Administrations of Third World countries having an obnoxiously high level of daily wage earners and with poor economic resources are at their wit’s ends in subduing a potential uprising of their people getting frustrated by hunger, unemployment and heavy financial losses.
Given the circumstances and the world, now reduced to the status of a global village with people of all nationalities scattered on every available inch of the land, armed conflict would result in massive and indiscriminate bloodshed. The only way left to war-mongering appears exchange of harsh words, threats to impose sanctions, cessation of diplomatic ties, exercise control through international financial institutions (IFIs) and above all, snatching economic resources to claim victory and the prized status of a super power.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)