Three Conflicts that Could Turn into World War 3

Why Kyiv, Tehran, and Taipei Could Be Powder Kegs

Feb 22, 2023 | By Will Hurd

Photo: Skylines of Kiev, Ukraine; Tehran, Iran; and Taipei, Taiwan.

Photo: Skylines of Kyiv, Ukraine; Tehran, Iran; and Taipei, Taiwan.

We are living in uncertain and unstable times. There are missile attacks in Ukraine, surveillance balloons over America, and weapons grade Uranium being enriched in Iran.

WW3 Predictions: Kiev, Tehran, and Taipei

There are several conflict zones that could be the powder keg to start World War 3. However, the three most likely candidates were WW3 would begin are:

  • The continued invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin,
  • An Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities followed by an Iranian response, and
  • A Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Forty million people, both civilians and military, died in the first World War. World War II caused about 60 million casualties with an additional 20-30 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. World War 3 would likely be deadlier because the world has only become more advanced and destructive.

With the world already in a precarious state, one wrong move could be the spark that ignites the powder keg. This is why it is more important than ever for the international community to work together to prevent the outbreak of World War 3. This is why it’s more important than ever to have leaders who understand the relevant issues and can be calm in a violent storm.

What is a World War?

Soviet soldiers plant their flag atop the Reichstag

Photo: Soviet soldiers plant their flag atop the Reichstag (German Parliament) following the Battle of Berlin cementing the fall of Nazi Germany – Yevgeny Khaldei (May 2, 1945)

A world war is generally defined as a large-scale conflict involving multiple countries from different parts of the world. World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) involved dozens of countries and millions of soldiers, civilians, and casualties.

Conflicts like the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Global War on Terrorism in Afghanistan (2001-2022) are generally not considered a world war because those conflicts:

  • Were centered in one region — the Korean Peninsula and Afghanistan — rather than spanning multiple continents.
  • Failed to involve as many countries as either of the two major global wars did.
  • Had less devastation than the previous world wars, even though the scale and intensity of the conflicts were very significant.

What Would Happen If World War 3 Started?

In the event of World War 3, what would World War 3 look like? The global landscape would undergo drastic and irreversible changes. The conflict could potentially be sparked by several flashpoints, such as the continued invasion of Ukraine by Russia, an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities followed by an Iranian response, or a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Each of these scenarios involves powerful nations with significant military capabilities, making the potential for a global conflict very real. The repercussions of such a war would be catastrophic.

Widespread destruction and loss of life would be inevitable if World War 3 happened, because modern warfare capabilities far exceed those of World War I and World War II. If World War 3 were to happen, the world’s economy would likely collapse under the strain of sustained conflict, leading to a global recession or even a depression. Political structures would be upended, with alliances shifting and new powers potentially emerging. Societal norms would also be disrupted, as the world grapples with the aftermath of widespread destruction and loss.

It’s crucial to understand that World War 3 is not a scenario anyone should wish for, as the cost of such a conflict would be immeasurable. The focus should be on diplomatic efforts to resolve conflicts and maintain peace.

Is WW3 Starting Right Now? – The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha

Photo: Destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, described as the area facing one of the worst humanitarian situations in Ukrainian territory.

As I wrote in a recent blog, Americans should continue to care about Russia, Ukraine & Putin because they have the potential to impact our economy, our security, and our future. The unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex geopolitical issue that has far-reaching consequences and can turn into WW3.

Russia invaded Ukraine because Putin miscalculated the resolve of Ukrainian forces and the willingness of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to aid their friend in Eastern Europe. After Russia lost the Cold War, Putin has made it his mission to reestablish the territorial integrity of the Russian Empire that existed before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It’s More Than Just a Bilateral Conflict

The Russians are conducting global disinformation campaigns including claiming the U.S. blew up the Nord Stream pipelines. The Russians have pulled out of the START III bilateral arms control treaty which was designed to help prevent World War 3. To further encircle Ukraine, they are attempting to destabilize Moldova to the South, a neighbor to NATO-member Romania. The Government of China is providing non-lethal military assistance and economic support to the Russian invasion, with indications they might supply military equipment. The country of Belarus has been used as a staging point for Russian forces. The Iranian Government is supplying deadly low-cost drones for Russian use in Ukrainian territory, and North Korea is supplying Putin with rockets and artillery shells.

At the U.N. General Assembly in March 2022, a resolution deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came up for a vote: 141 countries voted in favor of it, 5 countries voted against it, and 47 countries abstained. About 37 countries have imposed economic sanctions on the Russian economy. Many of the 27 members of the EU have provided military support along with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Norway. But no other country has significant troops on the ground engaging in hostilities, because nobody wants this conflict turning into World War 3.

The Death Toll Because Russia Invaded Ukraine

While it’s very difficult to get reliable figures on how many people have died in Ukraine, reports from various governments and international organizations suggest the total number of Russian casualties are between 140,000 and 270,000.

The Norwegian military estimated in late January 2023, that Ukraine has suffered 30,000 civilian deaths and 100,000 military casualties since the invasion began. Additionally:

  • The United Nations (UN) estimates that from the start of the invasion until the middle of December 2022 “more than 18 million people in Ukraine needed humanitarian aid, almost 8 million have fled the country and 6.5 million are internally displaced.”
  • In January 2023, UNICEF said, “eleven months of war in Ukraine have disrupted education for more than five million boys and girls.”

With seemingly no hope for peace in the near future, the death toll will continue to rise for Ukraine and Russia. As of right now the casualties are just limited to the only two combatants in this conflict, but this would change if the Russia Ukraine War turned into a World War 3.

What Would World War 3 Look Like in Ukraine

Tactical nuclear weapons

Photo: Tactical nuclear weapons can be launched on mobile short-range ballistic missile systems such as the Iskander shown here – Pavel Sarychev

World War 3 could be started by two Russian actions that would likely prompt the United States and Europe to go from just providing military aid to Ukraine to executing their own military actions against Russia: a use of a nuclear weapon or an attack of a NATO country.

Escalate to De-escalate – A Flawed Russian Military Doctrine

Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons throughout his invasion of Ukraine. He has primarily used this threat as an attempt to scare western governments to limit their support to Ukraine for fear of “escalation.”

  • In diplomacy, escalation refers to the intensification of a conflict or dispute. In some cases, countries may avoid taking certain actions to prevent escalation. For example, a country might refrain from imposing harsh economic sanctions on another country to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. Or, a country might avoid conducting a military strike against another country, even if it feels justified, to prevent the outbreak of a full-blown war. Essentially, the goal is to avoid doing anything that could make the situation worse or push the other side into taking more aggressive action.

The Russians have a military doctrine described as “escalate to de-escalate.” This strategy posits that by using a tactical nuclear weapon early in a conflict, Russia can intimidate their opponent into backing down, thus de-escalating the situation and preventing a global conflict like World War 3.

  • A tactical nuclear weapon is a type of nuclear weapon that is designed to be used on the battlefield, as opposed to a strategic nuclear weapon, which is designed for long-range strikes against major targets such as cities or military bases. A tactical nuke tends to be smaller in size and yield and designed to be more portable.

While “escalate to de-escalate” is risky, it shows that Russia has thought through using nuclear force to achieve their strategic goals. Almost every war game the United States has conducted testing this theory has led not to de-escalation but escalation, and in many cases these war games led to World War 3 and nuclear Armageddon.

The United States, European Union, and NATO have all strongly condemned any potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia. They have all stated that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with a strong response. In particular, the United States and NATO have made it clear that they would be willing to use their own nuclear weapons in response to any nuclear attack by Russia.

An Invocation of Article 5

NATO Headquarters

Photo: NATO Headquarters, the political and administrative center of the Alliance, in Brussels, Belgium – NATO

In April 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained how the Russian Government viewed NATO support to Ukraine: “NATO is essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy.” His deputy went even further by saying Russia would consider U.S. and NATO vehicles transporting weapons on Ukrainian territory as “legitimate military targets.”

Putin knows that the war in Ukraine is not going how he had planned it. With Russian planes getting shot down over Ukraine and Russian soldiers being killed in the ground war, Putin knows his military forces are in such a weakened state that he is unlikely to win a multi-front war against countries with superior armed forces that are bound together through Article 5.

  • Article 5 is the provision in NATO’s founding treaty that states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all members. So, if Russia were to invade or attack a NATO country, the other members would be obligated to come to that country’s defense.

Throughout the Cold War between the West and Russia, Article 5 has been a key part of NATO’s collective defense strategy. It has deterred potential aggression on NATO territory by making it clear that any attack on one member will be met with a unified response from the entire alliance.

The risk of nuclear war is greater today than at any other time since the Cuban missile crisis almost turned the Cold War into a Hot War. The longer the Russia Ukraine War goes on, the greater chance this conflict could metastasize into World War 3. To prevent WW3 the United States and our allies need to do everything to help Ukraine win this conflict as soon as possible to include providing aircraft and the ability to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

When Israel Attacks Iran, Will WW3 Happen?

A Uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, Iran

Photo: A Uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, Iran that converts yellowcake into fuel for the uranium enrichment process.

In January of 2023, the UN explained Iran has enough enriched uranium to make several nuclear weapons. The international community has been keeping a close eye on Iran’s uranium enrichment activities for decades because of concerns over the potential for the country to develop a nuclear arsenal that could spark World War 3.

  • Uranium is a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, and if Iran can enrich enough of it to weapons-grade levels, they could theoretically build a nuclear bomb.

This prospect has alarmed many countries who worry about the destabilizing effects a nuclear-armed Iran could have on regional security. This realization of Iran’s enriched uranium levels likely led to another significant event in early 2023.

Also in January 2023, a drone strike hit an advanced weapons-production facility in Isfahan, Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad was responsible for the attack that targeted an Iranian Ministry of Defense site with precision strikes. Iran’s Defense Ministry said three drones were involved in an attack on a military factory, but contradicted press reporting by claiming no damage was done. 

This attack appears to be just one more example in the long-running conflict between Israel and Iran, with Israel using covert actions to target Iran’s nuclear program and its conventional weapons capabilities, and Iran arming militias along Israel’s borders. One over reaction in this long simmer back-and-forth could spark World War 3. 

The Government of Iran Is Not a Victim

A woman stands on top of a car

Photo: A woman stands on top of a car as thousands of mourners defy a government crackdown and head to the Iranian cemetery where Mahsa Amini is buried – Twitter (Oct. 26, 2022)

The government of Iran has been at war with the U.S. since Iranian revolutionaries stormed our embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two Americans hostage for 444 days. Also, following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new regime in Tehran led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini strongly opposed the existence of Israel, which it saw as a Western-backed, illegitimate state occupying Muslim land.

Subsequent regimes continued and exacerbated this stance. For example, in 2018 the current Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that needed to be “removed and eradicated.”

The Iranian Government is the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism and has killed hundreds of thousands of people. It has killed U.S. troops, as well as its own people for peacefully protesting. The Iranian government even murdered a young woman, Mahsa Amini, for not wearing a headscarf. A government that has a history of killing civilians armed with nuclear weapons is a likely candidate to spark World War 3.

The Iranian Government, not the Iranian people or Persian culture, is responsible for escalating tensions with the rest of the world. If the Iranian government wants to rejoin the international community, it must do a few simple things: 

  • Stop killing American citizens and our allies,
  • Stop lying about its nuclear program,
  • Stop using terrorism and coercion to prevent the people of Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan from choosing their own future, and
  • Stop murdering its citizens for peacefully protesting.

What Would WW3 Look Like in the Middle East

“I have come back to office … for one main reason,” Benjamin Netanyahu said after winning his sixth term as Israel’s prime minister, “to do everything I can to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.” Netanyahu’s predecessor and leader of the current Opposition Yair Lapid has said “If the Iranian regime gets a nuclear weapon, they will use it … It needs to be made clear to Iran that if it advances its nuclear program, the world will not respond with words, but with military force.”

The likeliest scenario for World War 3 to erupt in the Middle East begins with Iran continuing to enrich uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. In an effort to protect their self-interest and right to exist, Israel conducts surgical strikes on Iranian facilities involved in the development of nuclear weapons. When responding to the attack on their nuclear facilities, the Iranian Government tries to “kill two birds with one stone.” They go overboard in their response to the attacks because they try to use their response to redirect the current ongoing protests against them into national pride or Iran versus the world. Their overreaction results in significant civilian casualties in Israel, or even an attack against American interests in the region since the “Great Satan” is responsible for Israel’s existence.

The current regime is failing to represent the will of the Iranian people. Since the end of 2022 and throughout 2023, Iranian women have led their countrymen in rising up against their theocratic dictatorship. It falls on America and our allies to not cheer from afar as we did during the Iranian Green Revolution, but to proactively support their cause to prevent WW3.

When Is WW3? Potentially, 2027 in Taiwan

Pacific Ocean seen off the coast of Taiwan

Photo: Pacific Ocean seen off the coast of Taiwan – Dumitru Croitor (June 16, 2020)

In February 2023, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns shared intelligence that Chinese president Xi Jinping had instructed his country’s army to be “ready by 2027 to conduct a successful invasion” of Taiwan. He cautioned that it was not clear whether Xi had actually decided whether to use military force for unification.

Taiwan is Important to the U.S. for economic, strategic, and political reasons that cannot be understated. Taiwan’s 70 years of self-rule is in more danger today than it has been at any point in its history. The Xi regime in China seems determined to bring a decisive conclusion to its long-term strategic dance with its former territory. One way or the other, the status quo will be shattered.

As with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it will ultimately fall to the US and the world to decide whether an autocratic regime gets to decide if its neighbors should be free. That choice is likely coming sooner rather than later, and with so much at stake – economically, strategically, and most importantly with the lives of 23 million people hanging in the balance – we would do well to be prevant World War 3.

Is WW3 Coming to the South China Sea?

China will invade Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not going to give up its claim on Taiwan without a fight. The island has been part of Chinese territory for centuries, and the Chinese government has made it clear that it will use military force if necessary to reunify Taiwan with the mainland. An invasion of Taiwan impacts Japan, South Korea, Australia and the majority of Asian countries in the Pacific.

To prevent an invasion of Taiwan, the Taiwanese must get to a point where it is so clear they can win a fight that China decides against using violence to get its way. The United States could prevent WW3 from coming to the South Chian Sea but we can’t make the same mistakes with Taiwan that we made with Ukraine by not helping them be prepared for a war with Russia before an actual invasion.

The United States and our allies need to continue helping Taiwan’s defense forces close the performance gap between them and the People’s Liberation Army. It’s also time for American leaders to transition from a position of strategic ambiguity to a firm clear declaration that we will support Taiwan in their forceful resistance to an invasion. We are already entangled with Taiwan and to act any other way would be against our interests.

What Countries Will Be in World War 3

Map of the world with Ukraine, Taiwan and Iran highlighted.

Photo: WW3 Map, the likely countries where World War 3 would start – Ukraine, Iran, and Taiwan

Predicting the exact countries that would be involved in World War 3 is a complex task due to the intricate web of global politics and alliances. However, current geopolitical tensions suggest a few key players.

If the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalated into World War 3, then the 29 European countries of the NATO alliance and it’s two North American members – Canada and the United States – would most definitely be drawn into the conflict.

An Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities could provoke a response not just from Iran, but also from other countries in the region turning this potential conflict into World War 3. Since the Obama administration, the Sunni Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia have been improving bilateral relations with Israel in an effort to build an alliance against Iran. However, the Biden Administrations poor relationships with traditional Arab partners like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have caused the Saudis and its Gulf allies to pursue a detante with Iran. Depending on U.S. foreign policy at the time, Israel could be on its own with the Arab World coalescing behind Iran.

Should World War 3 erupt in East Asia, because of China’s ambitions towards Taiwan then the United States and our allies in Asia – Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Philippines would potentially be involved. North Korea, with its nuclear capabilities and volatile leadership, is another potential participant on the side of China.

Places That Have Almost Started World War III in the Past

Potential conflicts in recent history have almost sparked World War 3.

Little Rocket Man

A potential trigger for World War 3 has always been North Korea. The rogue nation has been developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for years. It has repeatedly threatened to use them against the United States and its allies. In 2017, tensions between North Korea and the US reached a boiling point. Both sides exchanged hostile rhetoric and threats. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un continues to be provocative. Kim’s continuous testing of his strategic arsenal, keeps the region on the brink of a conflict that could erupt into WW3.

The Great Game

India and Pakistan have had a long-standing rivalry. It has brought the two countries close to World War 3 on multiple occasions. Both countries possess nuclear weapons and have fought three wars against each other since partition in 1947. In recent years, tensions have been high, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. In 2019, a terrorist attack in Kashmir killed 40 Indian soldiers, leading to a military confrontation between the two countries. The situation was diffused. However, many worry that a future conflict could quickly escalate into a nuclear war, drawing other countries into WW3.

Will World War 3 Happen?

Whether or not conflicts in Kyiv, Tehran, and Taipei will lead to World War 3 is impossible to predict. However, what is clear is that these three regions are powder kegs that the world should be watching closely. As we’ve learned in the past, all it takes is one spark to set everything off. Could the efforts of BRICS nations to form a One World Currency be that spark?

Being prepared for all potential conflicts is not warmongering or paranoia. It’s smart policy that will save money and lives and prevent WW3. By that same token, foreign policy is not foreign. Solving foreign crises where they start is less expensive for the American taxpayer than waiting until the ripples of those crises arrive on our shores.

Will there be a World War 3? The short answer is it doesn’t have to happen. While the potential for conflict always exists, so does the potential for peace. If nations worldwide commit to diplomatic resolutions, prioritize mutual understanding, and uphold international law, World War 3 can be prevented. It is in our collective hands to ensure that the horrors of another global conflict remain confined to the pages of history. The future will be shaped by our actions today, and if we do the right thing, we can avoid such a catastrophic event.


First time reading? If you want rational takes on foreign policy, politics and technology then sign up below or click here for “The Brief.” It’s a twice-a-month email on things that aren’t being discussed but should – all in 5 minutes or less.

AI Summary

Paid for by Hurd for America