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World War III

World War III is a name sometimes given to the Cold War. This article is about a hypothetical superpower war of mass destruction which, if you can read this, has so far not happened.

World War III is the name given to a hypothetical world war, initially supposed to be fought between superpowers with weapons of mass destruction. Superpower confrontation was deemed to be the major threat at the end of the 20th century. This was presumed most likely to result in the utter extermination or technological impoverishment of humanity, due both to loss of infrastructure and fear of employing new technologies.

Such a globally destructive war with such pervasive weapons ranks with asteroid impact, a hostile technological singularity, and catastrophic climate change as an "extinction-level event".

Table of contents
1 Historical scenarios
2 Runaway technology
3 Fictional treatments
4 See also

Historical scenarios

Albert Einstein, commenting on these possibilities, lamented that regardless of what weapons were employed in the next war, the one after that would be fought "with sticks and stones". Effectively civilization would be ended.

However, not all scenarios for World War III have begun with the use of nuclear weapons. Operation DROPSHOT, a declassified U.S. plan, written in 1947, assumed a long period of conventional war between NATO and the Soviet Union before any nuclear weapons would be employed by both sides. The standard NATO war planning scenario assumed a Soviet attack on West Germany, in which tactical nuclear weapons would be used only if NATO forces were losing. In most war games, NATO conventional forces faced extreme difficulty defending West Germany without nuclear weapons.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and USSR was considered likely. The Cuban missile crisis is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest.

OPLAN (Operations Plan) 1000 was the standard U.S. military plan for the first hours or days of a national emergency such as World War III. Unclassified annexes included grounding all civil aircraft in the United States and controlling all navigation beacons. In the 1950s and 1960s, this included CONELRAD (Control of Electronic Radiation), in which all radio stations broadcasting in the U.S. would operate on low power on two frequencies.

World War III was almost started by accident on January 25, 1995 when Russia almost launched a nuclear attack after a Norwegian missile launch for scientific research was detected and thought to be an attack on Russia. Norway had notified the world that it would be making the launch, but the Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to notify those monitoring Russia's nuclear defense systems.

Runaway technology

The term Gigadeath War, first used by Hugo De Garis, described a confrontation not between nations or religions but between Terrans and Cosmists, determined respectively to resist or advance artilect ("artificial intelligence" on a godlike scale) evolution beyond humans - a "technological singularity" out of human control.

This is not an isolated concept - apocalypse literature throughout the late 20th century emphasized lack of human control over war machines, e.g. Doctor Strangelove.

The United Nations University Millennium Project participants, in 2001, ranked technological runaways (gene, prion, virus, robot, software, or new molecules acting like any or all) as greater risks to human survival than intentional acts by humans.

Fictional treatments

A vast post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the likely aftermath of either, describing the impact of weapons of mass destruction. None of it describes a very happy world.

The genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction often uses post-World War III scenarios. However, these stories were found only in Western science fiction publications; Soviet writers were discouraged from writing them.

Several notable movies have been made based on World War III, including the following:

Notable novels dealing with World War III include: More literature and movies:

See also

Doomsday clock, Nuclear war, Nuclear disarmament, World War I, War to end all wars, science fiction, John Titor