The thirty-fourth President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, once remarked that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Indeed, when a world war breaks out, money, time, and talent from world economies go to waste. It thus seems like an irrational decision for countries to be embroiled in a conflict, much less a world war that puts the prosperity of countries at stake. Yet, I believe that the possibility of a world war can be entertained despite the shifting trend to soft power, due to the development of nuclear weapons research, the desire of countries to dominate and the failure of sanctions to prevent a world war from occurring.
For some, the possibility of a world war in the near future cannot be entertained because of the growing emergence of soft power as a tool to reduce conflicts with other countries. Soft power – a term coined by Joseph Nye – is defined as a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence. According to Nye, a country’s soft power rests on three resources: its culture, political values and foreign policies. With an attractive culture, strong political values and legitimate foreign policies, a country is able to establish an internal presence in the global scene. Hence, the possession of soft power is often advocated as a useful model to resolve external conflicts today. Soft power provides a country with the ability to gain more alliances – translated to political strength – that would play an ever more crucial role in avoiding a world war in the future. An example would be “Hallyu”, also known as the Korean Wave, which refers to the increase in popularity of South Korean culture. The Korean Wave is used by the government as a soft power tool to engage with the masses of young people all over to reduce anti-Korean sentiment. South Korea’s entertainment industry – which prides itself on its ability to attract multitudes of fan bases comprising adolescents and adults worldwide – is cited as one of the most important factors in contributing to the spread and exposure of South Korean culture to people abroad. When other countries have a positive impression of South Korea, they are more likely to give it the support it needs in terms of political solidarity – which is no doubt, indeed a useful counter-balance vis-à-vis North Korea. Instead of resorting to hard power – the use of military and economic means to influence the behaviour or interests of other political bodies – it seems possible for countries to rely on soft power as a tool to establish good foreign relations with other countries.
Yet, despite the ability of soft power to reduce a world war from occurring, this view neglects the fact that soft power available to a country can be exploited and abused by others, to devastating effect. US brands such asTwitter and Facebook – social media tools that the United States uses to enhance its soft power, is currently being exploited by the extremist jihadist rebel group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to glorify their monstrous behaviour to such a formidable degree that it can terrify adversaries into surrendering territory; and persuade Europe’s troubled Muslim youths to quit Western lifestyles and join ISIS. The capability of soft power to reach out to more people across the world in its quest to build a caliphate utopia proves that the prospect of a world war in the future can be entertained. Moreover, the effectiveness of soft power is subjective. More often than not, soft power is only a futile effort against countries which already hold deeply-ingrained grudges towards a country. Russia, despite a relentless campaign to advance its soft power by providing markets for foreign goods, has received much flak for its support for Ukrainian separatist rebels and the annexation of Crimea. In this case, the notion of soft power’s ability to prevent world war is misplaced.
Additionally, the development of nuclear weapons research is a threat that results in a higher risk of global destruction occurring in the near future. The rapid development of nuclear weaponry may heighten tensions between countries, especially in countries whose motives of conducting nuclear weapons research are questionable. An arms race results when countries with no nuclear weapons are threatened by neighbouring countries with nuclear weapons. With more countries equipped with nuclear arsenals, other countries are on tenterhooks and tend to behave recklessly which may trigger a world war in the near future. Despite Iran’s claims that its atomic bomb research is peaceful, Israel disapproves of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog decision to withhold reports of suspicions that Iran researched on how to make an atomic bomb – a potential hazard to Iran’s neighbouring countries – for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity. It is understandable for Israel, which is the only nation in the Middle East comprising Jews, to feel threatened with its Islamic neighbouring countries possessing nuclear weaponry. For Israel, this will be the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and a world war may likely be triggered if Israel is pressurized to attack countries in the Middle East in the name of ‘self-defence’. Therefore, the prospect of a future world war in the near future can be entertained or even, acknowledged with serious consideration, due to the greater risks of global destruction posed by the development of nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the ultimate reason that sparks a world war – the desire for power – has remained unchanged throughout the years. Like the Cold War, which broke out between the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc in a futile attempt to gain more geopolitical power, who is to say that another world war will not break out in the near future whereby countries attempt to monopolise global influence? Although there are regional and international policies implemented today that are serving their purpose in allocating resources in a fair and equitable manner, there are, however, exceptions where countries are not content with their lot. The innate desire of countries to dominate power, coupled with the global issue of resource depletion, increases the possibility that a world war may break out in the near future as countries engage in a desperate struggle for resources. A recent event that has been dubbed as a potential world war event is the China-Japan conflict due to Japan’s acquisition of the Senkaku islands. While Japan claims that the disputed lands were vacant before 1895, China argues that it owned the islands before 1895 based on ancient Chinese texts and maps which show that the Chinese regarded the islands as theirs. In other words, Japan’s seizure of the islands violated China’s rights. But ultimately, is it not the desire to gain more power from the acquisition of lands the sole reason for the disputes between countries? In addition, with the ability of countries to lend, or remove, support to countries in conflict today due to the growing interdependence of countries, there is a possibility of a future world war if many countries are involved in the same conflict. Saying that the possibility of a world war in the future cannot be entertained is thus naïve taking into consideration that the desire for power of countries has remained largely unchanged throughout the years.
While some may argue that economic sanctions imposed can deter a future world war event, the truth is that there are ways to circumvent these as there will always be other states to supply and provide supplies and markets. In recent times, economic sanctions, rather than military force, are often employed in a crisis to interrupt commercial relations and weaken the economy, and by extension, the military potential of the country being sanctioned. Sanctions buy time, allowing adversaries to consider the repercussions of countries acting on a moment of impulse to trigger a world war. This ultimately deters a future world war event from occurring. However, sanctions are largely ineffective in achieving this primary aim. Despite imposing economic sanctions on Russia by countries like Germany and the United States because of its aggressive actions in Crimea to hamper trade and cripple its economy, there are other countries such as China, who are willing to supply and trade its goods with Russia. Russia is still able to get by, even with the meagre source of income from trade with only a few trading countries. Worse, sanctions may sometimes provoke the victim country instead to retaliate in other ways, possibly by resorting to military violence. Therefore, the possibility of a world war in the near future can be entertained for the fact that economic sanctions – one of the factors commonly used to prevent a world war from occurring – is actually proven to be largely ineffective.
To conclude, it may seem that the chances of a world war occurring in the near future are becoming smaller because in today, more and more countries are increasingly interdependent on one another for trade and other relations. However, the possibility of a world war occurring in the near future must still be entertained.