Can the world afford the cost and consequences of third world war?

By Sudeep Sonawane
November 5, 2022

The world totters on the brink of another costly war in the 21st century. This comes a little more than 103 years after the allies of World War I winners signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
The United Kingdom, France, United States, Italy, Russia, Japan, and Romania comprised the Allies in the 20th century. They defeated the Central Powers led by Germany supported by Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.
The deadliest four-year war of modern world history between 1914 and 1918 left more than 20 million people dead and 21 million wounded. Military personnel comprised 9.7 million and 10 million ordinary citizens of the total death toll. The Allies lost around 5.7 million soldiers while the Central Powers lost about 4 million.
The first world war cost around US $208 billion and destroyed private and public property extensively all over Europe. The destruction choked the economies of the belligerents and triggered recession that affected most of the world.
The world did not learn its lesson. Germany licked its wounds of the first war and seethed for payback in the 1920s. Adolf Hitler declared himself the Fuhrer on February 27, 1925 in Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich, but seized Nazi Party power only in 1933. Hitler survived an assassination attempt in the same beer hall on November 8, 1939. Two months earlier, on September 1, 1939, Hitler’s army invaded Poland. Two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany that started World War II.
The six-year WWII between the Allies and Axis Powers comprising Germany, Italy, and Japan, involving over 100 million military personnel from 30 countries, cost a little over US $1 trillion. In WWII Russia, later Soviet Union, first supported Germany then switched over to the Allies after Hitler attacked it on June 22, 1941.
WWII saw the horrifying devastation of the first atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9,1945. The two bombings killed around 135,000 and 80,000 people in the two Japanese cities in the world’s first use of nuclear bombs.

Hiroshima today. The United States dropped two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945. The two bombings, the only use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict, killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people mostly civilians.

Much realignment has taken place in the 100 years since WWI. Ally has become enemy and enemies have become allies now. New political, business and trade partnerships have emerged. Nonetheless, the clash of competing political ideologies, mainly capitalism versus socialism, remains the flashpoint which continues to simmer.
China is at the centre of this flashpoint that started with the trade war with the US. China did not take part in WWI barring sending over 135,000 labourers to the British Army in 1917-18. China actively supported the Allies in WWII while it simultaneously engaged in hostilities with Japan for eight years from 1937 to 1945.
Now China has grown into a super power. It has ambitions to expand its trade through its Silk Road Economic Belt into Central Asia and beyond. Closer home it aspires to dominate the South China Sea. This economic corridor riles the US and cause of the standoff. China is wary of US influence on Taiwan and Hong Kong and vice-versa.
Russia’s story is similar. President Vladimir Putin is wary of US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] allies’ growing power in western Europe. Putin remains intent on reclaiming glory of the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the gigantic transcontinental country spanning across Eurasia from 1922 to 1991.
Reclaiming Ukraine is part of Putin’s ambitious plan. “Modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia,” he reasoned in a speech after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Putin forgot Ukraine citizens voted in a 1991 democratic referendum to leave the Soviet Union and become independent state.
All these developments combine to make the world a dangerous place. Doomsday prophets have already said and written reams about the consequences of WWIII. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute the worldwide total inventory of nuclear weapons as of 2021 stood at 13,080. Operational forces deploy around 30 per cent of these warheads. Russia has 5,977, US 5,428 China 350, France 290, UK 225, France, Pakistan 165 and India 160 warheads.
These nuclear warheads are enough to destroy all living creatures on Earth. A nuclear war would not leave anyone alive to count destruction costs. A conventional WWIII would leave many alive to lick wounds and count costs.
In a paper on the Costs of War, Brown University’s Watson Institute International and Public Affairs says, “Through Fiscal Year 2022, the US federal government has spent and obligated $8 trillion dollars on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.” This conventional war cost shows the world does not need a third world war.

[Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia. Email: []


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