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World War III (also WWIII, or the Third World War) denotes a hypothetical successor to World War II (1939–1945) which would be on a global scale, with common speculation that it would likely be nuclear and devastating in nature.

This war is anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from limited use of atomic weapons, to destruction of the planet.

With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered plausible. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. On June 12 to June 26, 1999 Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airportmarker in Kosovomarker. At this time one British general said "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you".

Difficulty in determining a "World War"

The English term "World War" has only seen widespread use during one conflict—World War II. The German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of World War I:

This is the first known instance of the term First World War, which previously had been dated to 1931 for the earliest usage. The term was used again near the end of the war. English journalist Charles A. Repington (1858–1925) wrote:

Known as The Great War in the 1920s, it ignored the Napoleonic wars as having the dubious honour of being the first to be called the "Great War" although it, like the Cold War, was a collection of coalition conflicts, and not a single continuous conflict as was the Second World War.

It may take years before another major conflict could be arguably recognized as a World War III. Serious wars before and after the first two world wars, even those closely associated with them, are not now treated as part of the larger conflict. These include the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1913 and the Polish-Soviet War from 1919 to 1921, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later China, the Spanish Civil War, the Italian invasions of Ethiopiamarker and Albaniamarker, the 1938 German annexation of Austria (Anschluss), and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakiamarker. Therefore, the specific event where a future World War III begins may only be determined retrospectively.

Some analysts and historians have suggested the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought on a global scale by proxy combatants of the United States and later NATOmarker, and the Soviet Unionmarker and Warsaw Pact countries.

In a 2006 interview, then-U.S. President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terrorism as "World War III".

Popular culture

World War III is also a common theme in popular culture. A vast apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the postulated execution and aftermath of World War III, several notable movies have been made based on World War III, and it is the topic of various comics, video games, songs, magazines, radio programs, newspapers, websites and billboards.


See also


  1. BBC News
  2. Naton in his World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
  3. On the July 10 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and said "some are calling the global war on terror something else, something more like World War III." But Ledeen responded, "It's more like World War IV because there was a Cold War, which was certainly a world war." Ledeen added, "Probably the start of it [World War IV] was the Iranian revolution of 1979." Similarly, on the May 24 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, host Lawrence Kudlow, discussing a book by former deputy Under-secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, said "World War IV is the terror war, and war with China would be World War V.",
  4. A little more than a month after the September 11 attacks, Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared in the Wall Street Journal that the struggle against terrorism was more than a law-enforcement operation, and would require military conflict beyond the invasion of Afghanistan. Cohen, like Marenches, considered World War III to be history. "A less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV," he wrote. "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map."
  5. Bush likens 'war on terror' to WWIII. 06/05/2006. ABC News Online

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