The descent into World War 3: How Russia, Iran and China are simultaneously making moves


The surge in global conflict that marred the year 2023 has set alarm bells ringing in the halls of European defence establishments. 

Not three weeks of 2024 have passed, and the governments of Estonia, Sweden and now the UK have already warned their respective nations that the prospect of large-scale war is on the horizon.

Leaked German intelligence documents suggest Berlin expects Russia to launch another wave of attacks to overwhelm Ukraine, and is scrambling to come up with contingency plans in the event Russian troops march westward from Belarus. 

The Israel-Hamas conflict threatens to spread violence across the Middle East, with Iran‘s so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ – including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels – increasing their attacks on Israel and commercial shipping routes, prompting the UK and US to launch a series of devastating strikes by air and sea.

Further East, Taiwan‘s election of a new democracy-loving president has angered Beijing even further, with a Chinese invasion of the island nation in the coming years looking ever more likely. 

And all the while, Kim Jong Un stands by with his fist clenching the keys to North Korea‘s nuclear arsenal, ready to plunge his foes into radioactive winter. 

In a stark warning speech this week, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps sought to encapsulate the grave threats facing Britain and beyond.

‘In five years’ time we could be looking at multiple theatres including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Ask yourself, looking at today’s conflicts across the world, is it more likely that that number grows or reduces? 

‘I suspect we all know the answer.’ 

Now, with international security experts in cacophonous agreement that we are closer to World War III now than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, MailOnline examines the global ‘fault lines’ that could drag Europe into a massive armed conflict. 

The photo released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Jan. 14, 2024 Israeli troops conducting a military operation in Gaza Strip

The photo released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Jan. 14, 2024 Israeli troops conducting a military operation in Gaza Strip

Oil depot on fire in occupied Donetsk, Ukraine, following missile strike

Oil depot on fire in occupied Donetsk, Ukraine, following missile strike

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on January 14, 2024

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on January 14, 2024

China's  aircraft carrier the Liaoning (R) arrives in Hong Kong waters

China’s  aircraft carrier the Liaoning (R) arrives in Hong Kong waters

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel January 16, 2024

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel January 16, 2024

Russia-Ukraine: Gateway to war between Moscow and NATO

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 saw the spectre of a major armed conflict darken Europe’s door again for the first time since the end of World War II.

The UK and EU immediately leapt to Ukraine’s defence, cracking down on Moscow with a barrage of economic sanctions and committing billions in military and humanitarian funding to boost Kyiv‘s war effort.  

But now almost two full years into the conflict with no clear end in sight, European nations are forced to confront the very real possibility the war could drag on indefinitely – and perhaps even spill beyond the borders of Ukraine. 

In an alarming speech earlier this month, Sweden’s Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin said: ‘There could be war in Sweden… The world is facing a security outlook with greater risks than at any time since the end of the Second World War,’ urging his citizens to join voluntary civil defence groups. 

Days later, Estonia’s Prime Minister declared that Europe has just three to five years to prepare for Russia’s return as a serious military threat on NATO‘s eastern flank, before British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps this week declared he would send 20,000 British troops to take part in one of NATO’s largest war games since the Cold War.

‘Our adversaries are busily rebuilding their barriers, old enemies are reanimated, battle lines are being redrawn, the tanks are literally on Ukraine’s lawn and the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core,’ he said.

These stark warnings came as leaked documents from the German Ministry of Defence outlined a step-by-step doomsday guide on how Russia could escalate the conflict in Ukraine to an even bigger battle.

The leaked plans, published by German newspaper Bild, reveal in detail the path to a Third World War with Putin using Belarus as a launching pad for an invasion – as he did in February 2022 for his war in Ukraine. 

General Sir Richard Barrons warned that Britain is sorely underprepared for a conflict with Russia, and urged the government to invest heavily in reconstituting the armed forces to meet the challenge.  

‘Russia is clearly angry and rearming so their capability will be restored and when the shooting stops in Ukraine, Russia will blame the outcome on us,’ he told MailOnline 

‘We are already In confrontation with Russia. Right now, we have chosen to do very little about it.

‘During the Cold War the Army, at all times, was ready to fight at four hours’ notice. When the Cold War ended and there was no sense of existential risk to the UK, all of that was dismantled.

‘Now we would need five to 10 years’ notice of a Russian surprise attack to manage to deal with it. It’s deeply disappointing.’

Retired US Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan also told MailOnline that a failure to prepare on the part of NATO could incite Putin to strike. 

‘Until recently it didn’t seem Russia could build an army good enough to enforce that demand. But if Russia continues to have success enlarging its force and ramping up military production then we need to get ready. 

‘Getting ready could be enough to avert a wider war. Not getting ready could invite one,’ he concluded. 

Ben Hodges, who commanded who commanded the US Army in Europe between 2014 and 2018, added: ‘If the civilian leadership doesn’t think there’s a threat, they won’t be able to move quickly enough. Our leaders should talk to us like adults. It doesn’t mean you’re a scaremongerer, it means you’re taking precaution, which is exactly what we should be doing.’ 

How NATO could face a potential all out war with Russia by summer 2025, according to leaked German defence documents

How NATO could face a potential all out war with Russia by summer 2025, according to leaked German defence documents

A Ukrainian serviceman from the 406th Artillery Brigade named after Khorunzhoy General Oleksii Almazov arranges 155mm shells near an M777 howitzer at an undisclosed location in the Zaporizhia region, southeastern Ukraine, 14 January 2024

A Ukrainian serviceman from the 406th Artillery Brigade named after Khorunzhoy General Oleksii Almazov arranges 155mm shells near an M777 howitzer at an undisclosed location in the Zaporizhia region, southeastern Ukraine, 14 January 2024

A crater left by a missile in the yard of a damaged residential building after a Russian attack on January 2, 2024 in Kharkiv

A crater left by a missile in the yard of a damaged residential building after a Russian attack on January 2, 2024 in Kharkiv

Grant Shapps sent a warning shot that Britain and its allies must increase defence spending amid the threats posed by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea

Grant Shapps sent a warning shot that Britain and its allies must increase defence spending amid the threats posed by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea

Mr Shapps said Britain's contribution to this year's 'Steadfast Defender' exercise would provide 'vital reassurance' against the 'menace' posed by Russia's Vladimir Putin

Mr Shapps said Britain’s contribution to this year’s ‘Steadfast Defender’ exercise would provide ‘vital reassurance’ against the ‘menace’ posed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin

The Middle East: A tinderbox waiting for a spark

The ruthless October 7 attacks on Israeli towns and kibbutzim by Hamas gunmen, in which more than 1,000 Israelis were killed, prompted Tel-Aviv to embark on a brutal aerial bombardment of and subsequent armed incursion into Palestinian territory that has left more than 20,000 Gazans dead. 

But the heinous violence engulfing the Gaza Strip threatens to tip the already shaky security landscape of the wider region into total chaos. 

Since October 7, Hezbollah has increased its attacks on northern Israeli towns and exchanged fire with the IDF over the border, and Yemen’s heavily armed Houthi rebel forces have hijacked commercial shipping vessels and damaged several others with missiles. 

US and UK armed forces responded with full fury, conducting massive strikes on dozens of rebel-held strongholds, but the rebels’ Supreme Political Council threatened retaliation, declaring: ‘All American-British interests have become legitimate targets for the Yemeni armed forces.’

The Houthis made good on the threat this week, blasting a US-owned freight ship sailing the Gulf of Aden with yet another missile, while unsettling footage in Yemen’s capital Sanaa showed tens if not hundreds of thousands of people chanting anti-US slogans.

But there is one, much graver threat, sitting behind each of the burgeoning militias in the Middle East – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis are part of Iran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ – groups spread across the Middle East that constitute a geopolitical and military alliance to counter threats from the West and regional rivals. The Islamic Republic commands considerable forces in Iraq and Syria, which have authored several drone and rocket attacks on US bases in recent months.

Tehran is also orchestrating a wide-ranging strategic partnership treaty with none other than Vladimir Putin, for whom it is already producing drones to bombard Ukrainian cities. 

Putin himself has warned that ‘further escalation of the crisis is fraught with grave and extremely dangerous and destructive consequences… It could spill over far beyond the borders of the Middle East.’

Mona Yacoubian, the Vice President of the US Institute of Peace’s MENA centre, said that with tensions set so high across the Middle East, a single spark could ignite the tinderbox at any moment. 

‘The Middle East is in the throes of unprecedented levels of tension, unparalleled in recent memory. Across the region, no fewer than four major flashpoints could provoke a wider war in the Middle East. In addition to the conflict dynamics between Israel and Lebanon, the Red Sea, Iraq and Syria have all become arenas of spillover confrontation from Gaza. 

‘A violent spike in any of these hot spots could quickly escalate to a wider confrontation,’ she concluded. 

Tehran is the chief backer of both Hamas and Hezbollah – but these are just some of the powerful militias that have been propped up by Iranian money, weapons and military training in recent decades

A view of the demolition at Al-Maghazi refugee camp after Israeli forces withdrew from the area in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on January 16, 2024

A view of the demolition at Al-Maghazi refugee camp after Israeli forces withdrew from the area in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on January 16, 2024

Supporters of the Houthi movement rally to denounce air strikes launched by the U.S. and Britain on Houthi targets, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday

Supporters of the Houthi movement rally to denounce air strikes launched by the U.S. and Britain on Houthi targets, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday 

An RAF Typhoon aircraft takes off to join the US led coalition to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen

An RAF Typhoon aircraft takes off to join the US led coalition to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi supreme political council, speaks while holding a gun, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi supreme political council, speaks while holding a gun, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday

A handout picture made available by Iran's Supreme Leader Office shows Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a meeting with Iranian clerics from across the country, in Tehran, Iran, 16 January 2024

A handout picture made available by Iran’s Supreme Leader Office shows Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a meeting with Iranian clerics from across the country, in Tehran, Iran, 16 January 2024

China-Taiwan: A localised conflict that could cause a clash of the titans

This past weekend saw Lai Ching-te – the presidential candidate most hated by Beijing – elected as Taiwan’s new leader.

Chinese officials denounced him as a dangerous separatist – with one spokesperson calling him a ‘destroyer of peace’, and declared the new president-elect does not represent the voice of his people in a delusional and derisive statement. 

Analysts expect China to ramp up its display of displeasure around May – when Lai takes office – with a dramatic increase of aggressive military exercises around the island, or restricting imports from Taiwan as economic punishment. 

China has done both in the past, notably holding war games on an unprecedented scale following the visit to the island of then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Beijing already routinely sends fighter jets and warships into the skies and waters around Taiwan – a constant reminder of the threat of invasion if the government refuses to become part of China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought back under Beijing’s control – something the authoritarian president Xi Jinping has said he’s willing to do by force. 

But Taiwan’s elected Democratic Progressive Party steadfastly argues it presides over a self-governing, democratic, capitalist society with overwhelming support from its people. 

Taipei’s army, navy and air force are among some of the most highly trained, technologically advanced and well equipped in the world. But China’s massive population and vast resources mean Beijing’s military holds the advantage across every conceivable metric. 

In a straight fight, China would quickly overwhelm Taiwan’s defences and assume control of the island nation.  

But any aggression on the part of Beijing could precipitate a 21st century military clash between the world’s two superpowers. 

CIA Director William Burns claimed last year that US intelligence suggested Xi has instructed his country’s military to ‘be ready by 2027’ to invade Taiwan, and President Joe Biden confirmed Washington would come to Taipei’s aid ‘if in fact, there was an unprecedented attack’.

America’s willingness to abandon its previous decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity indicates the strategic importance of Taiwan on many fronts.

The island boasts one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world and is the foremost producer of vital technological components. 

It is also a highly strategic ally in terms of its geography, forming part of the ‘First Island Chain’ which allows the likes of US, Australia and South Korea to build a string of allied nations monitoring and discouraging Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. 

But even the threat of US intervention does not seem to have dampened China’s ambitions. 

In his New Year’s address to the nation, Xi said China ‘will surely be reunified, and all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose and share in the glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’ 

Chinese troops from the People's Liberation Army are seen patrolling with the Chinese flag on an exercise

Chinese troops from the People’s Liberation Army are seen patrolling with the Chinese flag on an exercise

Taiwanese soldiers pose for group photos with a Taiwan flag after a preparedness enhancement drill in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

Taiwanese soldiers pose for group photos with a Taiwan flag after a preparedness enhancement drill in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, and fears have grown in recent years that Xi is planning an invasion in the coming years, in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric and simulated blockades of the island. But China has been involved in other flash points, too. Pictured: Chinese soldiers take part in a simulated beach assault

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, and fears have grown in recent years that Xi is planning an invasion in the coming years, in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric and simulated blockades of the island. But China has been involved in other flash points, too. Pictured: Chinese soldiers take part in a simulated beach assault

China's President Xi Jinping believes Taiwan is a renegade province that must be brought under Beijing's control

China’s President Xi Jinping believes Taiwan is a renegade province that must be brought under Beijing’s control

A Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

A Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views a missile launcher before the launch of a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views a missile launcher before the launch of a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korea: A nuclear pariah primed to destabilise Western relations 

Much of North Korea’s population faces abject deprivation, enduring famine, healthcare scarcities, and a near-total isolation from the world beyond its borders. 

That is because supreme leader Kim Jong Un has funnelled almost all his nation’s resources and wealth into one singular goal – to amass the world’s largest and most threatening arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

His regime tested a record number of missiles in 2022 and continued apace in 2023, with satellite flyovers also showing that the long-defunct Punggye-ri nuclear test site had been reconstructed, presumably to accommodate the development of a brand new bomb. 

North Korea’s near total isolation from the world stage means it is less likely to be dragged into a major conflict, and the threat of war is a tool used since the very creation of the country by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung to maintain the dynasty’s grip on power. 

But the regime has already agreed to supplement Moscow with munitions for its ongoing war in Ukraine at a time when Western relations with its historic allies – China and Russia – are at new lows.

A RUSI analysis of North Korea’s provision of munitions to Russia warned: ‘The impact will be felt much further than the battlefield in Ukraine. The sale of such quantities of munitions will fill the coffers of the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang. 

‘North Korea may seek other assistance from Russia in return for its support, including the provision of missile and other advanced military technologies.’

And a US National Intelligence Estimate published in June 2023 warned Pyongyang could extend the scope of its incessant missile testing to conduct more provocative or even damaging strikes off the coast of Western partners Japan and South Korea. 

RAND Corporation adjunct international defence researcher Bruce Bennett said: ‘North Korea knows that the United States has promised that if the North employs its nuclear weapons, the regime will not survive. It is hard to imagine Kim taking this risk unless the regime is being threatened by internal rebellion.

‘But that leaves ways that North Korea could use nuclear weapons coercively – each would likely be intended to decouple the [South Korea-US] alliance and place the North, with its nuclear weapons, in a position of military superiority on the peninsula, and thus be able to at least influence if not dominate [South Korea].

‘North Korea could also directly threaten the United States with nuclear weapon use. For example, it could threaten to target Washington DC with a nuclear weapon unless the United States removes its military forces from South Korea.’



Read More

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More