Former President of Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev has written a piece in Time Magazine titled "It All Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War".
The article, however, is sparse on details. He based the possibility of war on some statements that go like this:
the militarization of politics and the new arms race.
More troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank.
While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.
Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.
I do not doubt the ability of that man to sense the war is around. Each of the statement made above is quite loaded. But it can be argued it is nothing new.
But is he right?
A fire is caused only when certain conditions - the presence of fuel or inflammable material (base), spark (trigger) and oxygen (enabler) are present. Take away one and there cannot be fire. Similarly, war too only happens when certain conditions are met. We get a sense of war from a few things.
First, there must be a technical capability to wage a war. The capability comes from technology. War tech is not about technology itself but how much of it is deployed. It is not easy to manufacture and deploy it quickly. So there is necessarily a lead time where powers of the world deploy advanced weapon systems.
The second element is people to fight the war. Large unemployed mass of youth means there are people. If people feel wronged then such population may be volatile.
Third, there should be mutual hostilities. Absent the hostilities, no amount of tech and people can enter into the war. Thus, say around 2001 there were no hostilities between countries. So when 9/11 happened it was a bit of a surprise and it was not a national act. Today, we have certain hostilities emerging. US middle class feels wronged by China. China feels wronged by the US intervention in the South China Sea. The western world has been targetted by the ISIS and its affiliates. ISIS believes US is to blame for all its ills.
Fourth, there should be a trigger. The trigger is the last and essentially the most dangerous bit of the whole deal. If the peoples of the world have made up their mind to go to war they will find a trigger. It cannot be avoided. Thus the doctrine of peace should rest on disabling the first three. Obama fought ISIS with capability attrition doctrine.
Are we there?
In a sense, we are at the threshold of major war. But the tech is not yet in place. Hostilities are rising, people factor is primed. Technical capability exists but lead time is not enough. The fellow who will get ready first will look for the trigger.
Russia, it seems, is not inclined to wage a war against anyone. It may go to assist Turkey and Syria and stuff but that is more operation than a war. Russia is tough when it is in trouble. But I doubt it will want to engage with the US.
In the present scenario, ISIS will not have the technical capability to wage conventional war. It can wage unconventional war. It is already waging this war. The counter strategy for such attacks is not well-evolved. The most development of these strategies was done by Israel. But Israel is small and homogenous and thus the strategies are simpler. At a large scale, we still do not have well-evolved strategy.
China has the technology to wage a conventional war with the US. But it is short of numbers. It needs more weapons. It is possible that China is developing them secretly. It is possible for China to do it. It is the only capable power which can threaten the US.
It is also possible that Chinese augment the ISIS capabilities with superior tech. In fact, that would be the most efficient way for China to attack the US. China does the tech and manufacturing and ISIS does the fighting. The problem is ISIS does not have the people scale to engage in conventional war.
Let us be careful
The conditions are fast approaching the break-point. The political leaders have the duty to step back from this brink. Looking at the political rhetoric and the media discussion, it does not seem likely. Brinksmanship is the new game in town, apparently. Let us hope sense prevails. War benefits no one.