At the Republican debate, recently, Rand Paul said if you want World War III, Chris Christie is your candidate. Christie had said we should establish a no-fly zone in Syria and tell Russia that their planes would be shot down if they entered it.
We have no authority to establish a no-fly zone
#1. We have no authority to unilaterally establish a no-fly zone in Syria. No authority from the Constitution or in international law. An ad hoc international coalition or NATO might be a sort of international law as a practical matter. We had no-fly zone in Iraq, I assume based on a U.N resolution since the Desert Storm War was a U.N. operation.
Turkey shot down a Russian plane—no World War III
#2. Paul’s notion that Russia would launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. as a result of our shooting down a Russian plane is what has been wrong with American strategic thinking since the Korean War. One piece of evidence is Turkey, a NATO member, just DID shoot down a Russian military plane and Russia did not even declare war on Turkey. He did not even fire a shot at Turkey.
This World War III fear stems in part from sloppy thinking about the so-called World Wars I and II. The name “World War” was politician and media hype, like the “World Series”—especially when I was a kid and all the teams were in the Boston-Milwaukee-DC triangle.
Two or three enemies in the ‘world’ wars
South America and Africa had no combatants to speak of in either war, although part of the Second War was fought in North Africa. And the number of enemy countries was quite small: Germany, Austria, and Hungary in WW I and, ultimately, Germany and Japan in the Second World War.
Russia has no allies; we have lots
Russia has no allies, unless you count Syria and a couple of goofy ‘stans. The U.S, has military alliances with NATO, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and probably some others. So it would not be a world war. It would be Russia committing suicide by nuking America and thereby triggering all its allies’ militaries.
Russia would be far worse off if they went to war with the U.S.; so they won’t
More to the point, it would not happen. All the Americans terrified of “World War III” are guilty of failure to look at it from Russia’s perspective.
The nuclear part of the war would last about one hour and devastate a bunch of each country and kill tens of millions of people in each country. Then it would turn conventional. Russia may have nukes, but not after they shoot them. And their conventional forces are a fraction of the size and strength of those of the U.S. and its allies. Their last war was in Afghanistan which they got run out of.
All Russian assets now located beyond its borders would either be destroyed or confiscated. They would lose all trade with any countries not on their border and many of those, too.
When all was said and done, Russia would have far fewer people. They now have the same population as Japan—even though their land mass is 45 times as large! After this war, their population would likely be so small in relation to the enormous size of their country that neighboring countries would probably do Crimea-like seizures and Russia would not be able to stop them.
Russia would be far smaller population-wise and much poorer. They already are something like 60th in per capita GDP. It would be a disaster for Russia, maybe an existential one. You can quibble about projected body count and so on but there is NO plausible scenario that makes Russia better off from such a war. Therefore, they cannot even consider starting such a war.
Russia is a large Potemkin Village; Putin, a Wizard of Oz wannabe
Russia is one big Potemkin Village and Putin is the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain using amplifiers and an Imax screen and other elevator-shoe-type enhancers to make himself seem terrifying.
Cartographers often change the proportions of countries in world maps that reflect the countries’ “size” in terms of variables other than just land mass. Russia might be the biggest in a map using nuclear warheads, as they are using land mass, but after those two, and maybe oil and gas, they would look pathetically small in terms of defense spending (below Saudi Arabia), GDP (similar to Canada), population (Japan), exports (below Netherlands and Hong Kong), military personnel (below Israel), and so on. Any nuclear war would send them plummeting down to even smaller “size” in virtually all categories and probably land mass as well.
They threaten us because of people like Rand Paul
So why do the Russians and Chinese continually threaten such wars with their May Day missile parades and “Don’t mess with us” rhetoric? Because A. they have no fear of us starting such a war and B. They have absolutely no plans to start one and C. because they know there are a lot of terrified Rand Paul’s in the West who will sound retreat whenever they rattle their nukes.
President John F. Kennedy stood up the the Soviets in 1961 in the Berlin Crisis and in 1962 in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember walking to high school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and wondering if I would be alive to walk home that night because of nuclear war starting.
There was no World War III. The Soviets backed down in each case. Russia is smaller and less powerful than the Soviet Union was.