This war is anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction by many authors all around the world. Concepts range from purely conventional scenarios or a limited use of nuclear weapons to the destruction of the planet.
With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered highly likely. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947.
Some neoconservative thinkers, including Norman Podhoretz, have suggested that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century should be considered World War III.
1 Greatest threats
1.1 Operation Unthinkable
1.2 Suez Crisis—Soviet threat (1956)
1.3 Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
1.4 False alarms (1983)
1.5 Pristina International Airport—NATO and Russian standoff (1999)
2 Difficulty in determining a "World War"
3 Popular culture
4 See also
Greatest threatsOperation Unthinkable
Territory of the western Allies (blue) and Soviet Union and its allies (red) in September 1945Main article: Operation Unthinkable
According to the Operation Unthinkable plan ordered by Churchill and developed by the British Armed Forces, the Third World War could have started on 1 July 1945 with a sudden attack against the allied Soviet troops. The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.
Suez Crisis—Soviet threat (1956)Further information: Suez Crisis
During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin sent a note to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden warning that "if this war is not stopped it carries the danger of turning into a third world war."
Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)Further information: Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was at its greatest. For example, Robert McNamara at the Cuban Missile Crisis Havana conference decades later claimed that if it were not for Vasili Arkhipov, who prevented a nuclear launch on the B-59 Soviet submarine during the heat of the crisis, World War III would have broken out, saying "A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world."
False alarms (1983)
Probable axes of attack of the Warsaw Pact through the Fulda Gap and the North German Plains according to the U.S. Army.Further information: Stanislav Petrov and Able Archer 83
On 26 September 1983, a Soviet early warning station under the command of Stanislav Petrov falsely detected five inbound intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov correctly assessed the situation as a false alarm, and hence did not report his finding to his superiors. According to a report by Geoffrey Forden, published for the Cato Institute, the most likely culprit for the false alarm was the Cosmos-1382 satellite belonging to the Oko early warning system.
During Able Archer 83, a ten-day NATO command post exercise starting on November 2, 1983, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. Some historians believe this exercise was a close call to a start to World War III.
Pristina International Airport—NATO and Russian standoff (1999)Main article: Incident at Pristina
On 12–26 June 1999, Russian and NATO forces stood off over the Pristina International Airport in Kosovo. NATO forces were tasked with seizing the airport, however the Russians reached it first and took control. In response, American NATO commander...