From escalating tensions in the East Mediterranean region to the South China Sea and from historical conflicts in the Eurasian region to border disputes up in the Himalayas, here are a list of possible conflicts which can spiral out of control and trigger a potential World War.


  1. Armenia vs Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh

Renewed hostilities have been raging between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces around the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the southern Caucasus. In scale and scope, the fighting that broke out on September 27 has surpassed the periodic escalations of recent years, involving heavy artillery, tanks, missiles and drones.

The two former Soviet republics have been locked since long in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, landlocked region inside the borders of Azerbaijan. It is recognised internationally as Azerbaijan’s territory but has a mostly Armenian population who have resisted Azerbaijani rule for more than a century. The border between the two is considered one of the most militarised in the world.

War is a terrible event that has led to hundreds of millions of lost lives since the beginning of the 20th century, but despite this, it feels like the world is constantly approaching another devastating one. World War I started in 1914 and ended in 1918, lasting just over four years but causing a combined total of 17 million lost lives, both civilian and military. In comparison, World War II lasted 6 years— from 1939 to 1945 — but had estimated deaths ranging anywhere between 50 and 80 million. Both these wars were horrible but arguably necessary, and there is always a possibility that it could happen again. With rising military confrontations across the globe and increasing maritime expansion by several countries, the prospects of a Third World War are becoming more apparent with every passing day, and “[t]he only way to win World War III,” in the words of 34th US President, Dwight Eisenhower, “is to prevent it.”

The conflict sparks international concern for a few reasons. The major one is that regional powers, including Russia, Turkey and Iran, are invested in the South Caucasus to varying degrees. Turkey has already declared its staunch support for Azerbaijan, while Russia has a security alliance with Armenia—though it sells weapons to both countries.

The recent acquisition S-300 missiles by Armenia from Moscow suggests that if things escalate between Yerevan and Baku, a whole host of countries would be involved including Russia and Turkey, which could further escalate matters.

  1. India vs Pakistan over Kashmir

Over the past decade, the gap in conventional power between India and Pakistan has only grown, even as Pakistan has tried to heal that gap with nuclear weapons. Although tensions between the two nuclear neighbours remained at a low simmer until Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the Kashmir Valley—which Pakistan calls Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK)—of its autonomy granted by Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Since Kashmir has been a sensitive issue for both the nations, with the conflicted region being at the backend of violence, the chances of a heightened militant activity leading two nuclear-powered nations into a full-fledged war seem never-ending.2

As India has the staunch backing of the US, France and some other countries, what makes the situation very complicated is Islamabad’s backing by China, which continues to strengthen its military. With Beijing continuing to back its “Iron Brother” Pakistan and vice versa, it could mean a two-sided war for New Delhi. No one knows what will happen if India faces a two-front war against China and Pakistan but one thing is for sure—it will be calamitous for the world since all three nations are nuclear powers.

  1. Turkey vs Greece over the East Mediterranean

Strains between Turkey and Greece have only grown over the past year. The two are locked in a row over energy resources and maritime borders in the East Mediterranean. The two neighbours have been at loggerheads over a wide range of issues including the overlapping claims over the hydrocarbon resources in the region, mapped out by contradictory claims over territories. Tensions rose this year when Turkey sent a research ship to a disputed area.

That animosity has extended to the drilling row too. The EU backs Greece’s position and France has temporarily deployed a frigate and two Rafale fighter jets in the Eastern Mediterranean for joint naval manoeuvres with Greece off the island of Crete. The UAE has also reportedly sent some F-16s to Crete to take part. Turkey is also holding rival exercises in the same area south of Crete.Nagorno-Karabakh conflict vector map

Greece, which is backed by the majority of EU nations, Egypt and the UAE, has continued to stamp its authority by stating that its possession of numerous islands gives it sovereignty over the disputed waters. However, Turkey has refused to budge. Both nations are now beefing up their naval and air forces.

France’s reported deal to supply 18 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets to Athens hasn’t gone down well with Turkey.

  1. India vs China over Ladakh

There has been an unforeseen upsurge in tensions between the two nations ever since June’s Galwan Valley clash in Eastern Ladakh which claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number on the Chinese side.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed his resolve by expanding a ban on 118 Chinese mobile apps to counter its massive presence in internet services. The move was followed by stricter norms for investments.  Such decisions have been strongly opposed by China.

Now, despite both the nations signing on a five-point consensus involving disengagement of the troops, they have continued to beef up their defences along the border.

With India deploying the newly-inducted Rafale jets against China’s missile defence systems at the border, hinting that neither of the two countries is ready to let their guard down, just yet.

A possible confrontation between India and China will certainly see the US providing both overt and covert assistance to New Delhi. However, both the nations, India and China are nuclear powers with one of largest military powers on the planet and a full-scale clash between two economic and military giants could lead the global economy to a point of no return.

  1. Iran vs Israel in Middle East

Iran and Israel have had an escalation in tensions ever since the US’ decision in 2018 to unilaterally pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Even before, the possibility of a potential clash between two Middle East nations remained extremely high. Both countries are already waging low-intensity war across the Middle East. Iran supports anti-Israel proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, while Israel feels comfortable in striking Iranian forces across the region.4a

Moreover, the recent United Nations Security Council’s rejection of its draft resolution to extend the arms embargo indefinitely against Iran, a decision which was supported by the likes of Russia and China, has further angered the US. It has left Israel to believe that Tehran will now be looking to acquire a host of modern weaponry from the likes of Moscow mostly, in the form of S-400 missile defence systems and latest fighter jets like the Su-30s or Su-57s. Now, with the US continuing to hold multiple military exercises with Israel, who they have armed with their state-of-the-art, stealth F-35 fighter jets, there is a very high probability that Israel, with the American support, could plan strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities or military installations, especially if Tehran acquires latest Russian hardware or gets close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran, as it has been claiming, is bound to strike Israel and US bases in the Middle East. Its missiles are also capable to reach most parts of Europe, thus endangering key NATO nations including the UK. With Russia and China staunchly on its side, analysts believe that an attack on Iran could potentially trigger a World War and that is the reason even the mighty US is treading cautiously on the Iranian matter.

  1. China vs USA over Taiwan

Taiwan is one of those flash points that has never flashed. The dispute over the island’s fate has had the potential to erupt into conflict between China and the United States for decades. But, recently, when a top US official Keith Krach, who is currently serving as US undersecretary of economic affairs, visited Taiwan, China conducted military exercises near the Taiwan Strait to “protect its sovereignty”.3a

Although the United States has no formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, it has now become its leading arms supplier and, by far, Taiwan’s most important friend and only ally in the world. On the other hand, Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and it is due to this reason why Beijing has been angry at US attempts to forge stronger diplomatic links. China is also angry over Taiwan’s acquisition of F-16 jets and other military equipment from the United States. and has even threatened that it will go to war, if necessary. And, Beijing has even constructed a full-scale replica of Taiwan’s Presidential Office Building to serve as a target at a Chinese military training base. An editorial in the state-run Global Times declared: “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment.”


The writer is a member of staff.

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