As the world grapples with increasing tensions stemming from Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the Russia-Ukraine war, instability in the Sahel region, and other conflicts, prospects for global peace are slimmer than ever.
But there is another region that is boiling, albeit in a cooler fashion: East Asia.
While US warships continue to sail through the Taiwan Strait and keep drawing China’s ire, the state of non-conflict has thankfully remained intact in the region.
Nevertheless, should an armed confrontation take place between US and Chinese naval forces over Taiwan, it would be a war too many, says David F. J. Campbell, an associate professor for comparative political science at the University of Vienna.
Campbell spoke to Anadolu on Saturday in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Stratcom Summit in Istanbul organized by the Turkish Presidency’s Directorate of Communications.
Igniting a war on a global scale
Asked whether a confrontation in East Asia would lead to a third world war, Campbell said there are enough conflicts brewing all around the globe already and the catastrophic ramifications of such a confrontation would indeed be the final straw.
Taiwan stands out with its geographical importance but also with its political ambiguity: it is de jure Chinese territory according to the so-called “One China” policy of China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Chinese government claims sovereignty over Taiwan as an “inalienable part of China.”
The US government’s policy of deliberate ambiguity toward Taiwan, which Washington also recognizes as part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has prevented the already high diplomatic tensions due to US arms exports to Taiwan from increasing further.
“If there is a direct military confrontation between US and Chinese forces, then perhaps a World War III might be on the table,” he said.
“It would be a war too many.”
Campbell also pointed to the other conflicts going on in the world.
“Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and while Israeli forces are moving into Gaza, now you have the Chinese and the Americans fighting in the Pacific … So where does this leave us?” he said.
He also noted that there were debates on whether the Russia-Ukraine war makes a direct military confrontation between China and the US more likely before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up on Oct. 7.
Campbell also referred to the renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s famous maxim, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” highlighting the most powerful deterrent of wars: nuclear weapons.
He also cited the Budapest Memorandum, a 1994 agreement in which the US, UK, and Russia pledged to guarantee Ukraine’s security in exchange for the denuclearization of the country, which had become the third-biggest nuclear power overnight after the Soviet Union collapsed.
“I’m not sure whether Russia would invade Ukraine if the latter did not turn over its nuclear weapons,” he said, pointing to the fact that both the US and China are fully nuclear-armed states and that nuclear deterrence contributes to the state of non-conflict in East Asia.
“Of course, China is also seeing the military trauma Russia is facing in Ukraine. Also, from a military perspective, how easy or how difficult would it be for China, so to say, to invade Taiwan?”
“China is facing certain economic difficulties too,” he added.
Campbell also said that the governments of both countries know full well that the stakes are too high to risk such a conflict.
“There is rationality associated with the Chinese and American leaderships,” he said.
“Chinese and American leaders are realizing that any conflict over Taiwan would perhaps be the final straw before a World War III.”