Is World War III about to Start ... by Accident ?
Byline: by Max Hastings
PERHAPS it is possible -- and how nice it would be to believe this -- that war between the greatest nations on earth has been abolished.
The cost and the threat of nuclear escalation is so horrendous that reason argues that nothing remotely resembling the 20th century's vast global clashes can ever happen again.
Assuredly, there can be no more Dunkirks or D-Days, because no Western nation -- even the United States -- can deploy a mass army.
If conflict does come, it will be waged with the high-tech weapons of our own time: warplanes manned and unmanned, missiles, cyber-attack weapons and the many instruments of destruction guided from space satellites.
But this would not make a great power conflict any less catastrophic. And this is why a shiver will have run through the leaderships of Asia and of the Western powers this week when China's ambassador to London argued that Japan risks 'a serious threat to global peace' by 'rekindling' the bellicose attitude that hastened the expansion of World War II into a global conflict.
He even compared Japan today to Lord Voldemort, the arch villain in the Harry Potter novels.
This comes just a few weeks after China -- with absolutely no warning -- declared hundreds of thousands of square miles of airspace above the East China Sea as its own Air Defence Zone.
This includes the eight tiny uninhabited pimples, called the Senkaku Islands by Japan and Diaoyu by China.
Taiwan also has a claim to the islands -- nationalised by Japan from private sellers in 2012, much to the anger of China.
The United States responded to this bitter dispute between Tokyo and Beijing by dispatching two USAAF B-52s bombers to overfly the islands, emphasising its commitment to the right of free navigation.
Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, declared gravely that China had started 'a whole new game'. His government threatened to shoot down any Chinese drones that appeared over the Senkakus. Beijing responded that this would be an act of war.
Nobody, including the Chinese, wants armed conflict. Indeed, an analyst for the International Institute Of Strategic Studies has said that China 'aims to push rather than break limits'.
Yet the tensions between Tokyo, Washington and Beijing have been increasing for years.
For the moment, China, the U.S. and Japan still maintain courtesies between governments. Most crucially, Beijing holds trillions of dollars of U.S. debt.
BUT many of history's wars have been triggered by miscalculations while nations have been testing each other's strengths. Indeed, there is a profound fear in Washington, in Tokyo, and maybe also in Beijing, that one day something unspeakably ghastly could happen by mistake.
Remember that in 1914 before the outbreak of World War I, Britain and Germany were each other's largest trading partners. Professor Peter Dutton, of the U.S. Naval War College, has warned of the growing tensions, saying: 'China's challenge to existing maritime norms is creating hairline fractures in the global order.'
This comment followed an authoritative Washington defence guru who said that, whatever short-term bother terror groups such as Al Qaeda might cause, 'in the middle-long term, there will only be one main concern of the U.S. armed forces, and that is China. China is reshaping the military order in Asia, and is doing so at our expense'.
China has an ever-growing fleet of missile-armed warships -- thought to number around 80, as well as nearly 300 amphibious assault ships -- including fast-attack craft specifically designed as 'carrier-killers', to engage the U.S. Navy's behemoths.
In response, the huge U.S. Andersen air force base on the Pacific Ocean island of Guam has become host to a [pounds sterling]10 billion reinforcement programme.
As a result, its hangars now hold B-2 and B-52 bombers, air-to-surface and cruise missiles, Global Hawk drones, F-15 and F-22 fighters, the latter just a 20-minute flight from the Taiwan Strait. …