Provoking World War III?

US President’s firm stand on the Islamic State and Chinese aggression in South China Sea, can increase warhead rivalry in Middle East and South Asia leading to war that can go to any level

By Chandan Kumar

After winning the race for the post of US president, Donald Trump exploded a twitter bomb indicating expansion of the US nuclear capability and later on after taking oath as the US president he signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Islamic nations (which got revoked after the timely intervention by the US Supreme Court). These two steps taken by the US President has divided the whole world whether the new US President would safeguard the global interest giving a global leadership or would provoke various wars in different conflicting zones of the world, if not the World War III.

Reacting to Donald Trump’s tweet, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, believes Trump should be banned from Twitter if America gets into an escalating crisis with a nuclear power like North Korea. He expressed with concern that Kim Jong-un’s rogue state could easily misinterpret his intentions and start firing off missiles at American allies in nearby Japan and South Korea. “Imagine we’re in a crisis — if he recklessly tweets, people could read these things in the worst possible light,” Lewis said.

Jeffrey further added that the North Koreans have a plan to use nuclear weapons very early in a conflict. They’re not going to wait around. If they think we are going (to), they’re going to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and Japan.

Standing in same plane with Jeffrey Lewis; Bruce Blair, a nuclear policy expert at Princeton University, added Trump’s Twitter habits could easily escalate tensions.

“Almost any threat could be perceived as warranting some sort of response that’s not only rhetorical, but operational. Words and threats have consequences in the nuclear operations world, and can instigate a cycle of escalation that spins out of control,” said Blair.

Similarly, when Donald Trump ordered security officials to put forward a strategy to defeat ISIS within a month, the diplomatic experts got miffed. They said the move would see a departure from former President Barack Obama’s military strategy in the Middle East, which relied on local forces in Syria and Iraq to lead the fight against the barbaric terror group.

Former presidential candidates John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who lost to Donald Trump in primaries, blasted Donald Trump in joint tweet citing, “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.” They added that “such a hasty process risks harmful results” after a number of legal permanent residents and refugees were detained despite having already been vetted by the US government.

As every action has some reaction, Donald Trump countered his former presidential rivals by alleging them of provoking World War III. The President took to Twitter to criticise Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham after they released a statement warning about the potential counterproductive effects of Trump’s executive order on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump tweeted, “The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong — they are sadly weak on immigration. The two Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”

McCain and Graham’s statement revealed a growing divide in the Republican Party amid nationwide protests after hundreds of people were detained at US airports in the wake of Trump’s executive order. Some political experts in the US and other first world nations have started to expect impeachment against Trump in coming time if he didn’t refrain from such acts that may trigger anger among the allied nations and the cosmopolitan structure of the US.

But if Trump is worried about someone triggering another global war, he should ask his controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the hard-right nationalist news website Breitbart, what he really thinks. Because Bannon, a committed Christian, is convinced the West is in the throes of a crisis that will spark “a very brutal and bloody conflict”: World War Three, in other words.

Bannon, 63, masterminded Trump’s campaign for the presidency and now holds significant power and influence in the White House. He believes firmly that there are huge and fundamental shifts taking place in America and the West more broadly, and that its “Judeo-Christian” value system is at risk of destruction.

Bannon gave some telling insight into his thinking during an interview with Vanity Fair in summer 2016. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon said. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”

So what is it that Trump doesn’t really get? Bannon said in a 2011 speech to the Liberty Restoration Foundation, a conservative group, “This (is) the fourth great crisis in American history. We had the Revolution, we had the Civil War, we had the Great Depression and World War Two. This is the great fourth turning in American history.” He later added, “I’m actually energised… if I was there during the Civil War, I’d be right in the middle of it. Or if (it) was the Revolution, I would be right there. On World War Two or the Great Depression, all that stuff…I would be there. I’d be in Normandy, I’d do all that. We have that opportunity today.”

Bannon believes the crisis of capitalism is that the economic system is fundamentally rigged in favour of the big banks, which gamble taxpayer money risk-free and enrich themselves while making everybody else worse off, while a spineless political establishment kowtows. He told the audience at The Vatican, “And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.”

Now the question arises, from which part of the world there are threats of World War III provocations and what could be the circumstances it would erupt. Currently, Donald trump is determined to contain Chinese arrogance in the South China Sea and it became visible when he tried to warm US-Taiwan diplomatic relations immediately after the presidential results. Trump doesn’t even wait for his oath ceremony and he telephoned Taiwanese president which didn’t go down well on his Chinese counterpart. When we talks about China, how come we forget Russia, whose role become important, especially when we come across the Russian dominance among the neighbouring countries of China. We also need to concentrate on Indian role, especially when Trump decides to declare war against the Islamic State because Russia also wanted to do the same with India unsuccessfully when it bombarded the ISIS in Syria.

On what Trump’s plan could be in regard to his recent aggression shown against China. Diplomatic experts are almost unanimous that he wants China to increase its investment in the US which has gone down drastically post 2010. Giving hint about Chinese investment in the US, they are giving the China’s investment in the US Bond market which registered its lowest levels in 2016 at $1.12 trillion and now it’s not China which leads the investor’s list in the US bond market. It’s Japan which has replaced China now. Japan has invested $1.13 trillion in the US bond market. Taking cue from this decreasing Chinese investment, probably Trump administration want to pressurize Chinese administration to increase this and hence getting a tool to contain Chinese aggression in various parts of the world, especially in the South China Sea. As per the Russian TV reports, Chinese president Xi Jin-ping had a positive telephonic conversation with the US president Donald Trump on February 10th and the Mandarin president has assured Trump to increase Chinese investment in the US market.

Now the question is, will Trump leave his allied countries in the South Asia Pacific region where countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines, Combodia and Japan can help US to choke China’s aggression in the South China Sea. ‘Certainly not’, says experts. They say that US needs Russian support to choke China in the South China Sea.

China claims 95 percent of the waters of the South China Sea and has territorial disputes with ASEAN countries – Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. In July 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China has no grounds to claim these islands and reefs in the South China Sea. The Chinese authorities refused to accept the court’s decision.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says Russia is not a party in this confrontation and is not going to get involved. However, strategic analysts interviewed by various Rusian media suggests benefits for Russia if the disputed islands of the Spratly Archipelago and the Malacca Strait were under China’s influence and beyond the influence of the United States and its allies in the region.

“Willingly or unwillingly Russia supports China’s claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea,” says military expert Viktor Litovkin. “The construction of Chinese military infrastructure will provide Russia with protection in the area against US Navy ships and the Aegis system and SM-3 and Tomahawk missiles.”

Washington insists on the principle of freedom of navigation, which is at odds with the interests of China in the region. The placement of military infrastructure by Beijing on the Spratly Archipelago would eliminate the ability of US warships to navigate these waters. Maslov says the military partnership between the two countries is developing at a much better pace than a number of economic projects.

“The current goal of the drills is to test the ability of the naval forces of the two countries to work together to solve crises in East and Southeast Asia,” he adds. Maslov believes that Russia and China are exploring the possibility of a future political and military alliance. However, such an alliance is not likely to resemble NATO.

However, much would depend upon the US-Russian relationship during Trump’s regime. Former US president George W Bush tried it. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton tried it. Now Donald Trump is vowing to reset relations with Russia.

But there are big questions about whether Trump will be any more successful than his predecessors, whose initial inroads eventually foundered largely due to the behavior of President Vladimir Putin, and whether he will end up emboldening a leader that many — including key Republicans in Congress — see as a top US adversary.

Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian strongman, once saying he was a better leader than Obama, and on the campaign trail showed little concern about resurgent Russian influence. By nominating Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Trump has pleased Moscow, where the ExxonMobil CEO has good relationships with senior officials including Putin.

And even some Russia skeptics can see the merit in trying to improve relations.

“This could be the time for us to make a move and work things out with Russia to some extent,” New York Rep. Peter King told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I am confident that Donald Trump will not be taken in — there is some room for negotiations with Russia here, but we should do it with a strong hand.”

But Trump’s determination to find new areas where the two sides can work together could necessitate that Washington turn a blind eye to behavior by Putin on issues like human rights and the central rationale of his foreign policy — restoring Russian influence at the direct expense of the United States.

Indeed, easing the suspicion between Moscow and Washington could come with some serious negatives.

An improved relationship with Russia might require the United States to drop its opposition to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea, and the lifting of sanctions against top Russian officials to punish the land grab from Ukraine.

In Syria, the US may need to abandon its support for moderate rebels and effectively align itself with a regime accused of war crimes and behind brutal violence in Aleppo. NATO members may be further shaken by a rapprochement between the White House and the Kremlin following Trump’s campaign trail critiques of the alliance.

If moves like lifting sanctions occur, the Trump administration would establish a precedent that could embolden Russia’s attempt to throw its weight around in the rest of the world.

However, to achieve the Russian bonhomie, Trump needs to readdress US policy in Syria, which he has already done by signing the executive order. The central focus of Trump’s work to improve the US relationship with Russia could come in the Middle East, where Trump has said the US needs to urgently reevaluate its strategy in fighting ISIS, particularly in Syria.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with Russia?” Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?”

The US has repeatedly sought to forge agreements to both join forces with Russia in combating ISIS and to bring an end to the Syrian civil war, efforts that last broke down in October over Russia’s ongoing efforts to prop up the Syrian regime and its attacks on US-backed moderate rebels.

In his first post-election interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump criticized the US’s backing of moderate rebels fighting the Syrian regime and suggested he was more interested in fighting ISIS alongside Russia than pushing for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump has sought to simplify the US’s role in the conflict in Syria, boiling down the campaign to destroying ISIS and making everything else secondary to that objective.

Noting that the Russians have “one very simple objective, which is to help Assad,” CATO institute senior fellow Doug Bandow argued the US could benefit from paring down its objectives in Syria.

But even cooperation on combating ISIS would raise serious problems for the US’s standing in the Middle East and raise a slew of questions about how that would impact the decades-long battle for influence between the two countries in the Middle East.

The US has held the line on its calls for Assad to step down from power both because of the egregious human rights violations he has committed, but also with an eye toward greater US influence in the region. Ceding that point would ensure Russia can preserve a key ally in the region, strengthening its influence in the Middle East.

US support for Russia’s role in Syria and in turn the Syrian government could also damage America’s standing and popular support throughout the Middle East, particularly among allies who have decried the Syrian government’s slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians.

Russians have gained influence in recent years through its support of the Iranian regime, which in turn has gained a sturdy foothold in Iraq in recent years.

Globally, a more accommodating US relationship with Russia could allow Moscow the space to rebuild the Cold War-era influence that the US spent decades deflating.

Now the question arises, how does India would be affected by these developments? From Indian perspective, Russia won’t take any harsh decision that would hit New Delhi’s interests. Moscow-New Delhi have enjoyed status of fair weather friend for years and is expected to continue even now. It would be interesting to know that Shamshul Hoda, the terrorist involved in Kanpur Rail accident was not arrested in Nepal. In actual, he has been extradited from Dubai to Kathmandu — which indicates that Indian push in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries is paying dividends. Slowly but steadily, India is keeping its foot into the Middle East where it used to hesitate in taking concrete diplomatic step. Since, Trump has announced his shift on the ISIS, and Russia is already in full fledged counter of the terror state, India is freely playing its cards which it had kept with its chest. Now, India is making its plan clear and diplomatic experts are expecting some concrete decisions taking place in coming June visit of Narendra Modi to Israel. Since, GCC countries have agreed to support the global war on terrorism; it can be a US ploy to fix China by pushing resolution in the UN to ban the terrorist Hafiz Sayeed. By vetoing US resolution, China is seen on the plane with terrorist while other countries including Russia have supported the US move. This may spark further tension in the South China Sea where China ca retaliate through its proxy North Korea. But, it all depends to what extent China can play with US and other strong nuclear capable nations through proxy like North Korea.

“This whole practice is to shun away with the Chinese investments into the US bond market and for that they want a proxy war via Vietnam, Taiwan or any other Pacific nation with China. In return, US including other nations may impose sanctions on China and freeze its investments in respective countries,” said former Indian foreign secretary G Parthsarthi while participating in a debate on a news channel. It looks difficult to predict any World War from these developments, however, it’s for sure that such developments are aimed to containing the US rival that has emerged through China. Since, Russia is already trying to regain its lost status post disintegration of the USSR, it also won’t like to see a strong China in the geo-political set-up.