How did the Third World War begin?

The key event was the Moscow Conference of 2022.

After months of Russian troop build-ups on the borders of Ukraine, a conference to resolve the crisis was convened in Moscow. It was the proposal of the two western attendees: French President Emmanuel Macron, who was about to face a re-election battle, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was under heavy attack domestically for his flouting of covid rules. The eastern attendees were Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose massive military forces stood ready to invade Ukraine, and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was encouraged to be there by the French and British who thought that he would be a restraining influence on Putin.

Representatives of the Ukrainian Government were in a Moscow hotel but Ukraine was not represented at the conference. All the four attendees judged that having the Ukrainians there would make it harder to reach an agreement.

In fact, the Moscow Agreement was concluded quickly. It was determined that Russia would occupy the swath of Ukraine located between the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and the Donbas region, already occupied by Russian-backed insurgents. Putin insisted that this would be the limit of his territorial aspirations. Pressure from France, Britain, Germany and the USA forced the Ukrainians not to oppose this further occupation in the interests of world peace.

Less than a year later, however, Russian forces occupied the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv which was only a short distance from the Russian military and the whole country rapidly came under Russian control. NATO forces did not intervene on the grounds that Ukraine was not a member of NATO.

Another year later, Russia occupied the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and took over the eastern half of Poland including the capital Warsaw. These four countries were NATO members, but American public opinion – still substantially influenced by the failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – was overwhelmingly opposed to the United States entering a third European war and the US Congress and even President Joe Biden did not feel able to act against such opinion as they approached the elections of 2024.

Emboldened by Russia’s success, President Xi mobilised air, land, and sea forces to take the island of Taiwan which had been an integral part of China until the end of the Second World War. Both political and public opinion in the US viewed this Chinese threat as different from the Russian aggression. It was seen as a key move in China’s wish to replace the USA as the leading global power and as such it was to be opposed. The US Navy immediately deployed a large battle group close to Taiwan.

A crisis conference was convened in Washington DC between the Americans and the Chinese. Senior Chinese diplomats attended the event and insisted that President Xi wished to resolve the crisis peacefully. While the conference was still sitting, China launched a hypersonic missile attack on the US fleet which largely obliterated it. Next day, it launched an amphibious attack on Taiwan.

Over the next few days, China’s success was the green light for North Korea to invade South Korea and for Pakistan to invade India’s part of Kashmir.

And so the Third World War began …

This scenario is not a prediction. It is a warning.

If you know something about the outbreak of the Second World War, the scenario may bring to mind certain events from 1938-1941. It is meant to do so – for two reasons.

First, it should be a reminder that the Munich Agreement of 1938 should never have been instigated and signed by Britain and France. The Czechoslovaks should have been supported in resisting a Nazi invasion. The Agreement did not buy us time to re-arm as suggested by the new film “Munich: The Edge Of War”.

Second, it should be a reminder that, the sooner one stands up against a totalitarian regime intent on creating a ‘sphere of influence’ by military force, the better. We cannot change history; we can shape the future.


  • George Curtin

    The lessons of appeasements failure were hard lessons, learned at a frightful price. Is every generation fated to grapple with these same issues? History is a great teacher if you have the imagination to understand what is the same and what is different in today’s challenges. Clearly you have that ability and your concern with the direction Putin’s actions have taken are spot on and appropriate.

  • Adrian

    Roger, as I’ve mentioned before, I remain unconvinced by the simple appeasement argument. There is a lot of evidence that if we had gone to war in 1938 we would probably have lost. Even Churchill (with the benefit of hindsight) acknowledged that and there was significant reluctance by our empire allies to get involved at that time. We know how long it took for the US to join in and I don’t think their participation would have been brought forward by a European war starting a year earlier.
    Also, we can learn from history but it doesn’t repeat itself. As someone once remarked, the past is another country.

  • Ronnie Landau

    All too believable on Russian irredentist ambition and territorial expansion, aided and abetted by US non-intervention. Not sure about China obliterating US fleet, though – or, rather, I’d prefer not to contemplate that scenario …

  • Brian Healy

    I agree with you Roger that The Edge of war tries to burnish the reputation of Chamberlain but really does not stand up to scrutiny. Chamberlains course of appeasement was driven by the fear of repeating the slaughter of the WWI. It was a by product of consequence that it did buy a small amount of time but not enough was done by the establishment to prepare for what was to come. There appears to be a consensus that the best time to confront Hitler was when Germany reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936. However, the establishment again opposed any intervention as well as public opinion driven by Rothermere’s Daily Mail support for Nazi Germany and Beaverbrook’s Daily Express campaign of Appeasement. Offensive occupation and the breaking of international treaties then as there is now. History repeating itself.

  • Peter Clark

    Putin may well take control of part of Eastern Ukraine (to give him a land corridor to Crimea and his naval fleet)but he can’t afford to go further than that. Invading the Baltic States would result in the death or imprisonment of the NATO forces stationed there and the American Congress couldn’t ignore that; even if the farmers of Idaho wanted to.
    My fear is that Putin might decide to test the resolve of the west with a limited strategic nuclear confrontation in the Baltic States. Putin would have no reservations about the population of that region – but what would we do?

  • Zdeněk Sadecky

    For Adrian: it is nonsense that the combined forces of Czechoslovakia, France and Great Britain lost to Hitler in 1938.

    For all, tensions would ease much if supranational capital stopped crawling on Russia’s mineral wealth.


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