Kash Jain ’24
Since the beginning of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, many have voiced fears that the world is barreling towards the beginning of World War III. Though these concerns are understandable, we should not be so hasty to say that we are on the brink of such a large-scale conflict. There are two critical reasons why World War III won’t happen: clear anti-Russia/pro-Ukraine unity and Russia’s lack of resources and allies.
Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, it has been clear that the world does not stand with Putin. In a 141-5 vote with 35 states abstaining, the UN condemned the invasion and called for Russia to withdraw. The five “no” votes were Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, and Russia itself. While not all states that have condemned Russia have imposed sanctions, many have, including the EU, the UK, the US, Japan, and South Korea. Of the ten largest economies, only China and India have not sanctioned Russia, with both states remaining relatively neutral.
The fact that a united front and response against Russia sprung up so quickly indicates that most world leaders have a clear understanding of the conflict, the risks of involvement, and how they are willing to respond. Given that the response has been especially strong in Europe, with the EU, the US, and the UK all offering military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it seems as though the most immediate potential actors in WWIII are in alignment. One could argue that this is instead indicative of a conflict that is already beginning to grow beyond Ukraine’s borders, one that already has two defined sides, but the strong economic retaliation against Russia and support for Ukraine demonstrates a kind of unity that could deter Russian aggression beyond Ukraine or, at the very least, allow the West to react quickly to such a threat instead of being caught off guard. Additionally, the West’s decision not to send troops to Ukraine demonstrates that, while the West is willing to provide support, it isn’t keen on getting directly involved in the conflict—the West does not want a world war.
Simply put, much of the world has a clear stance against Russia. Ukraine’s allies have quickly banded together to respond with severe sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine. Because of this, Russia is not in a position that would allow it to attempt to escalate the war into a larger conflict; and if it tried to, such an attempt would likely be met with a prepared, swift reaction that would allow conflict to end sooner rather than morph into something much larger. Because they do not want to involve their militaries, the West is also clearly uninterested in a larger conflict and direct war with Russia.
Furthermore, Russia isn’t in any sort of a position for a world war because it does not have the resources or support from allies that it would need for a world war. Such a war would require both sides to be capable of funding and fueling a large-scale war, which Russia can’t do on its own—and its allies likely won’t jump in to support it. Sanctions have done and will continue to do serious damage to Russia’s already struggling economy. Additionally, Russia’s army has made slow progress in its invasion of Ukraine. Part of this is due to fierce resistance from Ukrainians, but also due to the fact that Russia’s army simply is not as strong as the world or Russia itself thought it was. While Russia is still a powerful state, it may not have the military power and financial backing to permit it to become involved in a larger, drawn-out war. The states that do support Russia could attempt to provide support, but not nearly to the extent of bankrolling it in a world war. Right now, Russia simply does not have the allies it would need to be able to enter such a conflict. China is likely Russia’s only ally capable of providing significant support, but despite its closeness with Russia, it hasn’t exactly been eager to rush to support it. It’s difficult to imagine China wanting to support Putin in an even larger, more costly conflict, especially given Russia’s military struggle so far.
Though the risks of WWIII breaking out are low, the world must be cautious. The world must work towards the end of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and ensure that escalation is avoided.