I understand why a number of interest groups would welcome a conflict over Ukraine that would result in WWIII. It is indeed possible a combination of regional conflicts converges and blows up into a larger war that is difficult to contain despite rules of engagement on all sides. It is also possible that out of a mistake by someone in the military chain of command goes out of control and we have a chain reaction that follows. Here are some scenarios.
First, there are those in the defense industry in the US, Europe and Israel that stand to make money just by the talk of a war, let alone an actual conflict. The more peddlers of WWIII talk about this, the more cautious governments would become and purchase more arms. After all, the theory is that wars help to stimulate the economy and many actually believe this is the case as though the bills for the war never come due for the taxpayers.
Second, there are the ideologues in political circles and private sector that want a conflict between East and West because “hot war” never took place during the Cold War. Now that the Cold War is over and the US prevailed over its rival and remains the world’ sole superpower, why not teach Russia a lesson and put it in its place, while also sending a strong message to China and all other potential rivals great and small?
Third, there are the nationalists in Ukraine and Russia that want to see this through to the end not through a political solution but a military conflict because that is how things are settled in absolute terms instead of relative terms through diplomacy. Ukraine itself could push matters to the point of no return.
Fourth, there are Europeans who detest Russia for having so much leverage over them because it supplies energy to Europe. This energy dependence relationship can be settled once and for all through a conflict with Russia using Ukraine as the pretext. Dealing a definite blow to Russia would humble it into submission at least; many hope so.
Fifth, there are Russians who resent the West for imposing very painful sanctions at a time of economic and financial problems, partly because of low energy prices. The sanctions are by themselves a form of war, so why not have it out with the US-NATO forces, threatening Europe with smaller tactical nuclear weapons that would cause enormous damage for decades. Russian nationalists and militarists already feel humiliated by the West, so what does it matter that they go the next step toward a military confrontation.
Sixth, the media in the West has been obsessed with the prospect of a global war with Russia, peddling it almost on a daily basis. Arguing that Russia wants a war, the Western media rarely focuses on exactly what is the national interest of the US in the Ukraine and why can the crisis not be resolved through diplomacy? The media obsession is that Russia is on the offensive, when all statements from Moscow, as well as its actions indicate Moscow is on the defensive and acting out of fear from a position of weakness. Nevertheless, US magazines portray Putin as the world’s most powerful leader, thus projecting an image of a Russian aggressor. In fact, Russia is running scared to China, India, Iran, the former Soviet republics and just about anyone that would forge ties with it to deter what it sees as the US-NATO aggression over Ukraine.
Seventh, the Republican victory in the November election of 2014 paves the way for more defense spending and the desire of the militarists who have been crying out for massive re-militarization and greater reliance on unilateral solutions with reliance on the military. In short, the threat of a conflict with Russia over Ukraine provides the excuse militarists need to justify pouring more money to DoD. Even if nothing happens over Ukraine, the goal is accomplished.
Eighth, there are regional powers that want a conflict between Russia and the West because they see that in such a conflict they would benefit. Turkey is one such power, but so are the Baltic states as well as some among the former Soviet republics, that may include Kazakhstan. Smaller powers lining up behind larger powers to divide the spoils of war the day after is nothing new when there is a prospect for a wider conflict.
Ninth, a war between Russia and the West, which would in reality mean Russia and whatever allies it can line up – with China as the wild card - against NATO, would actually revitalize NATO and propel the US into the undisputed number one global status that would send a strong message to Beijing and US allies as well. NATO revitalization is the way to secure greater US influence because in the absence of an enemy in Moscow, why is NATO really needed?
Tenth, there are those who really do not want WWII, but fear it would take place if the deadlock between Russia and the US continues. This group of people, mostly intellectuals and some politicians, is simply trying to alert the public that no one should be surprised if things get out of hand and we go from small confrontations into a full blown global war.
The above are the reasons that many are peddling war or at least warning about war between Russia and the West. What are the reasons of the very low prospect of WWIII?
First, Russia has nuclear weapons and those are made to be used one as a deterrent, not for combat. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration taught us that it is possible to have nuclear war on a limited basis as though it is no different than conventional war, as long as it does not take place on US soil. If even a single nuclear weapons is used no matter how limited its impact, the genie is out of the bottle and mass destruction awaits the planet. This is something that Washington and Moscow know, but more importantly, the European would never permit the US to go this far because they know Europe will be the victim.
Second, exactly what is Ukraine worth geopolitically and economically that the US would risk war with Europe as the ultimate victim to pay the price? Even if the war last a few days, it would cause such grave economic and political instability that regimes may collapse and social uprisings would ensue in a number of EU countries.
Third, China is the wild card that has really no choice but to support Russia because of US refusal to negotiate a solution on the Ukraine issue, at least as far as Beijing is concerned. Not that China is blind to Putin’s megalomania, and of Russia’s possible designs to expand their sphere of influence in all of the former Soviet republics. But what does China gain by having the US-NATO alliance strengthened through a war with Russia?
Fourth, does American and EU public opinion really favor WWIII over the Ukraine? According to US poll only 50% of Americans believe the US is headed back toward another Cold War, and most of those still see Russia from the prism of the old Cold War. If the majority did not have the stomach for Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that ended in disaster for the countries invaded and the US, why would they back WWIII over Ukraine that they see as a European affair?
Fifth, despite all the defensive noise Putin has made about war, would Russia risk everything for Ukraine, considering it already has the Crimea? What exactly would it gain vs. lose?
Sixth, would not a Russia-West war mean instability in other parts of the world where the US and its allies have vital interests? For example, how would Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, and other Latin American republics react to American militarism, as they see it? I doubt the US would secure their support as it did in WWII. How would African countries and a number of Muslim countries react? Is this worth the risk?
I believe that policymakers in Washington, assisted by very able analysts, know everything I have outlined above and would think twice before taking the ultimate act of recklessness. One could argue that Truman dropped the bomb when Oppenheimer had doubts about its use; that Johnson escalated the Vietnam War when his own advisors explained it was really over; that Bush went to Iraq even after Powell explained it would be very difficult to achieve publicly stated goals. In other words, decisions are not always made rationally, and there is nothing to suggest Russia may not make a unilateral move that so outrages Washington that it decides to risk the world, not just US interests. All of these are possible, but very highly unlikely as the peddlers of crisis and leftist critics are warning.