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Are we headed to World War 3?

As of February 2024, there are numerous conflicts and crises around the world, with growing uncertainty about how they will be resolved. The international order is fraying, generating uncertainty about who will intervene and how these interventions might be funded.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, there are currently 32 ongoing conflicts worldwide, with some worsening, unchanging, or improving. Some of the most significant conflicts include the situations in Syria, Yemen, and the Sahel, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths, and even more refugees. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has now brought high-intensity, interstate warfare to the heart of Europe for the first time since the end of World War II.


In addition to these conflicts, emerging hot spots include Sudan and Myanmar, and any number of potential flashpoints, like the China-India frontier and the Eastern Mediterranean. The conflict in Africa and South America is also a significant concern. For example, the war in Ethiopia resulted in over 104,000 deaths in 2022, and the violence has spilled over into neighbouring countries, with isolated skirmishes taking place in Sudan and Somalia.


The possibility of an international escalation is a significant concern. The pandemic has upended much of the globe, and a major war rages in Europe, its architect invokes nuclear escalation, and several poor countries face debt crises, hunger, and extreme weather. None of these events arrived without warning, and yet a few years ago, they would have boggled the mind. They also come as the number of people killed in conflicts is ticking up, and more people are displaced or hungry, many due to war, than at any time since World War II.


If an international escalation were to occur, it would have a significant impact on the world economy for the next decade. The cost of war is almost unfathomable, and in addition to the human suffering, social unrest, and damage to infrastructure, the burden of war also impacts conflict-affected countries’ economies. The Institute for Economics & Peace found that the average economic cost of violence in the 10 most conflict-affected countries is 41% of their GDP. Conflicts drive 80% of humanitarian needs, and in 2016, the cost of conflict globally stood at an astonishing $14 trillion. That’s enough to end world hunger 42 times over.


As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to dominate headlines, another conflagration—the Israel-Hamas war—has emerged, bringing fresh challenges to the global stage. These conflicts have profound economic and geopolitical implications, affecting regions near and far.
Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine has strengthened its relationship with Iran, as Russia purchases drones and other military equipment from Tehran.


Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war has raised concerns about the potential for a wider conflict in the Middle East, which could undermine U.S. influence and bolster Iran’s status as a potential pole in Russia’s envisioned world order.


Both conflicts pose threats to global economic growth. The Israel-Hamas war has led to higher energy prices, which hinder central banks’ efforts to tame inflation pressures in most advanced and emerging economies, not to mention how the war could tip the global economy into recession if more countries are drawn into the conflict. European economies could suffer from lower regional trade, tighter financial conditions, higher energy prices, and lower consumer confidence. Moreover, the war could spur a realignment of global alliances, further complicating the geopolitical landscape.


These conflicts highlight the interconnectedness of today’s world, where regional disputes can rapidly evolve into global challenges. As the world grapples with these conflicts, policymakers must navigate a delicate balance between addressing pressing security concerns and preserving global economic stability.
The possibility of a third world war is a concern that cannot be ignored. The ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have the potential to escalate into a global conflict, with devastating consequences for humanity. It is essential for world leaders to prioritise diplomacy and peaceful resolutions to these conflicts, rather than resorting to military action. The international community must work together to find solutions that address the root causes of these conflicts and promote stability and security. We must learn from the lessons of history and strive to build a world where peace and prosperity are the norm, rather than the exception.


Roberto Silva

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