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What are the chances of a third world war?

John Simpson By John Simpson World Affairs Editor, BBC News This year Britain is commemorating the centenary of the start of World War 1. Bu t could we ever face a third world war? I decided to find out for The Editors, a programme that sets out to ask challenging questions. Wandering around the war cemeteries of Flanders and northern France, I was const antly struck by the thought of the hundreds of thousands of private, small-scale catastrophes that are commemorated there. Tyne Cot is the largest of the World War 1 British cemeteries. It contains the b odies of 11,000 men. Row upon row of the beautifully maintained white headstones are engraved with Ru dyard Kipling's words, A Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God. Blown apart by high explosive or drowned in the mud, huge numbers of men simply vanished or were impossible to identify. Disastrous day On the great rear walls at Tyne Cot, near the ancient Belgian city of Ypres, the names of those who died are inscribed in stone. Yet the tragedy was not limited to these men. Many more were badly damaged, phys ically and mentally, by what they went through. My own great uncle was one of them. The names of scores of his fellow soldiers f rom the East Surrey Regiment are listed at Tyne Cot. Some were killed on the first disastrous day of the Battle of the Somme. Others died during the four bloody months that followed. My great-uncle Harold, who was promoted from second lieutenant to captain during the fighting on that first day, 1 July 1916, survived. But he was not unscathed . He went into the battle a handsome, clever, charming man of 25, with a highly pr omising future. He was wounded in the head by a piece of shrapnel, and never recovered. His enti re character changed. He turned into a morose, violent drunk, subject to devastating headaches. Silver watch His wife divorced him, and his family, who had once been so proud of him, closed their doors to him when he came round, angrily demanding money from them. Harold eked out an existence as a homeless beggar for nearly 50 years, and event ually died on a bench at Waterloo station in London. The silver watch he wore wh en he led his men over the top on 1 July 1916 was still on his wrist. A century later, could another world war break out? Advertisement John Simpson visits Tyne Cot It seems unlikely - but that, of course, is exactly what people everywhere belie ved before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbi

an extremist in June 1914. There are certainly potential flashpoints at present. Europe and Russia are trad ing angry insults over Ukraine, and China and Japan are squaring up over a few u ninhabited islands in the East China Sea. There are two particular dangers at such times. The first is that smaller countries can drag larger ones into conflict. In 1914, Russia, France and Britain became involved on Serbia's side, while Germany supp orted Austria. The second is that governments are sometimes tempted to believe they can launch limited, successful wars that will be over quickly. They are usually wrong. Clashes in the centre of Kiev last week Ukraine, scene of deadly clashes this mo nth, is a potential flashpoint between Russia and Nato. We assume nowadays that our globalised world is too closely linked together for a wider war to break out. Well, maybe, but in 1910 a man named Norman Angell tho ught exactly that. Runaway best-seller He wrote a book, The Great Illusion, to prove that war would be madness, given t he close trading ties between the great powers. It was a runaway best-seller but although he was quite right, and received the N obel Peace Prize 22 years later, war broke out anyway. Still, things have changed greatly in 100 years. No matter how it may seem, our world is less dangerous and war-prone than it was. The threat of all-out nuclear war no longer hangs over us. At present there are more than 30 wars in the world. But they are much less dest ructive of human life. Between 1950, when the Korean War started, and 2007, when the death toll in the Iraq war finally started to drop, there were something like 148,000 deaths per y ear from war. From 2008 to 2012 that figure dropped dramatically, to 28,000 per year. It could even be lower in 2014. Major General Stephen R Lyons of the US Army, Pacific shakes hands with Major Ta ng Fen of the PLA Best of friends at a Sino-US disaster relief exercise in Cheng du, Sichuan... but the US and Chinese are military rivals now in the Pacific Putting the figures slightly differently, in the 14 years of the 21st century so far, the average number of war deaths has been 55,000, though there is always c ontroversy about precisely how many people died in Iraq after the British and Am erican invasion. That is roughly half the figure for the 1990s, and a third of the number of deat hs during the Cold War. Huge losses, yet... One final, and possibly comforting observation. Britain suffered huge losses as a result of World War 1 and the flu epidemic tha t swept Europe afterwards.

Yet if you compare the 1911 and 1921 census returns you will see that the Britis h population actually rose during those years - by almost three million. Will we have a world war in the near future? We can't know, of course, any more than Norman Angell could in 1910. But this ti me, surely, it's safe to hope we won't. * All Comments (1067) o Highest Rated rate this +134 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +134 Comment number 34. Andy 5 Hours ago Einstein: "I know not with what weapons World War three will be fought, bu t world War four will be fought with sticks and stones" Report this comment (Comment number 34) Link to this (Comment number 34) * rate this +118 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +118 Comment number 105. Rhett_Butler 5 Hours ago For many politicians, war is the ultimate ego trip. Our history shows that they seem very adept at starting wars. They are very brave with other people's lives. Report this comment (Comment number 105) Link to this (Comment number 105) * rate this +84 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +84 Comment number 24. MJR Comment number 24 is an Editors' Pick 6 Hours ago A thought provoking article but I think another world war is possible if n ot likely. Whilst we elect politicians who utter high minded platitudes, quote n ational interest and drag us into what we are told are limited conflicts but tak e years, millions pounds and thousands of lives before coming to some sort of re solution, there is always a possible flashpoint for escalation. Report this comment (Comment number 24) Link to this (Comment number 24)

* rate this +75 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +75 Comment number 467. FingerPuppet 3 Hours ago Having seen active service in Iraq (Army), I can say for sure that there's nothing more horrific than war. Politicians and religious leaders will wave banners and make stirring spee ches, building their own legacies, whilst the young men (and women) of their cou ntries undergo a frightening, dangerous and often life changing horror for no re ason other than to stroke the masters' egos. Report this comment (Comment number 467) Link to this (Comment number 467) * rate this +48 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +48 Comment number 78. Albomatic 5 Hours ago If there is another world war then ideology won't be the prime driver - re source scarcity will. Whether this is dwindling oil or, more likely, water natio ns will mobilise once more to fight it out. Report this comment (Comment number 78) Link to this (Comment number 78) * rate this +46 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +46 Comment number 6. Paul Henry 6 Hours ago I hope you're right, but we can never be sure. I lost my two maternal uncl es in World War One. As I get older I hate war, and warmongers, more and more. Report this comment (Comment number 6) Link to this (Comment number 6) * rate this +41 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +41 Comment number 648. countryboy Comment number 648 is an Editors' Pick 2 Hours ago

not a world war but like the arab spring a change in the way the European countries are governed is on the cards , greed has reigned supreme of late and t he people are getting angrier about it by the day Report this comment (Comment number 648) Link to this (Comment number 648) * rate this +38 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +38 Comment number 93. CypherZ 5 Hours ago A more pressing question might be what happens if there ISN'T a war. We're not exactly great at maintaining a low population and eventually eve n the developed world is going to catch up with the current food surplus. Then... there will be war. Report this comment (Comment number 93) Link to this (Comment number 93) * rate this +32 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +32 Comment number 87. A Devastated Planet 5 Hours ago We won't need one with the way we're trashing the planet. Report this comment (Comment number 87) Link to this (Comment number 87) * rate this +32 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +32 Comment number 4. Arden Forester 6 Hours ago Only if we let our leaders and ourselves get so wound up about problems an d dilemmas. As Churchill said about achieving peace - "To jaw-jaw is always bett er than to war-war". I agree with that! Report this comment (Comment number 4) Link to this (Comment number 4) * rate this +30

rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +30 Comment number 437. Little_Old_Me 3 Hours ago 344.Comber - "Has anyone noticed that when you "Like" a "comment" that's o utside of the BBC's accepted view of the world, the button doesn't work?"

Has anyone noticed how people who are too LAZY to bother finding out how t he internet works always allege bias at the Beeb....???? When you vote, the page updates, everyone who has voted since you loaded t he page is now added to the total... Report this comment (Comment number 437) Link to this (Comment number 437) * rate this +27 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +27 Comment number 480. Chris Comment number 480 is an Editors' Pick 3 Hours ago Theres something that doesnt sit right with me about commemorating the sta rt (rather then the end) of a World War. When the Army leave Afghanistan this ye ar, I think i'm right in saying, it will be the first time 100 years that the UK was not at war. That is is something to be both happy & deeply ashamed of at th e same time. Definietly something to commemorate Report this comment (Comment number 480) Link to this (Comment number 480) * rate this +27 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +27 Comment number 214. SgtRon 4 Hours ago The people who constantly have 'a go' at the EU, should remember that one of the reasons it was set up was to bring the countries of Europe together and p revent another war. That it has achieved. By not allowing one nation to become d ominant, countries have learned to live and trade together in peace. As soon as the Chinese see what their new found wealth means to them they will reject conflict to Report this comment (Comment number 214) Link to this (Comment number 214) * rate this

+26 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +26 Comment number 108. Avalon 5 Hours ago @88.Cinna, but its not just the EU meddling in the Ukraine, the russians a re as well, why only blame one side. Report this comment (Comment number 108) Link to this (Comment number 108) * rate this +26 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +26 Comment number 484. John 3 Hours ago A wounded animal is the most dangerous. The US is in decline. Its politicians can't understand it and its people d on't like it. Its industrialists hate it. The US has an aggressive mindset (stand your ground, gun control) and beli eves it has rights outside its borders (rendition, legal jurisdiction). It will not suffer loss of status without a fight. Allies and enemies are already lined up = WW3 Report this comment (Comment number 484) Link to this (Comment number 484) * rate this +24 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +24 Comment number 81. you must be right 5 Hours ago 68MK Largely fair points, but for the record, UK and France eventually chose vo luntarily to fight Hitler, whereas USA did not until given no choice; and no one should blame Europeans for wanting to avoid a second world war after the huge c ausualities we suffered in the first. Report this comment (Comment number 81) Link to this (Comment number 81) * rate this +22 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +22 Comment number 52. Mike from Brum 5 Hours ago

As long as Tony Bliar lives and has an iota of power somewhere, there is a lways a realistic chance of a third world war. Only the Hague will stop him. Report this comment (Comment number 52) Link to this (Comment number 52) * rate this +19 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +19 Comment number 84. Parallel 5 Hours ago Perhaps a proxy war getting out of hand (like Syria, or Iran?), but most l ikely an economic war - food, production, resources - when 'globalisation' goes horribly wrong (like China?). Report this comment (Comment number 84) Link to this (Comment number 84) * rate this +18 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +18 Comment number 126. florere 5 Hours ago United UK joined to Europe, the best way to keep war away from our back-ya rd. Report this comment (Comment number 126) Link to this (Comment number 126) * rate this +17 rate this Rate this comment positivelyRate this comment negatively +17 Comment number 50. MaddestMax 5 Hours ago According to the CIA and bigwigs at the pentagon the single largest threat to humanity is global warning. Report this comment (Comment number 50)