Many years ago, Albert Einstein said that he had no idea what weapons WW3 would fight, but WW4 would be fought with sticks and stones. And while I would agree that WMDs have come a long way since WW2, I dare to say that WW3 will not use them and will be somewhat limited to ‘’smaller engagements’’ and conflicts worldwide. The war in Ukraine that scared many of us is one of these ‘’smaller conflicts’’.
WW3 will be a war for your mind and soul. It will be an information war, just like in Orwell’s 1984. The battlefield will be dominated by those who control the narrative. Ever since the first time people fought a war, propaganda has been a crucial element. The battle is often won before the first shots are fired, weakening the enemy’s morale. After all, even Sun Tzu wrote in his Art of War: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war and seek to win. And that quote couldn’t be truer today regarding conducting warfare. China, Russia, and the USA invest billions into developing information warfare.
You may ask yourself now where this ominous World War 3 is that I am writing about. Is it the Russian aggression in Ukraine? Is it the civil unrest in Mynamar? Or maybe these numerous conflicts fought in the African Sahel? I will say that all these conflicts are part of WW3. But I must tell you, dear reader, WW3 is closer to you than you think and has been fought for far longer.
The Global Order is changing
Just think about the last couple of years. Since 2016, the year of the election of Donald Trump and the year of the Brexit referendum, how often have you fought with your friends and family members about the accuracy of the news, or what they believe to be true? How many friends have you lost? I believe that it is likely, we all lost at least one person who was close to us because of their political or other convictions. And overall, it looks like the whole political world is in shambles. And this is where WW3 comes into play.
WW3 is almost everywhere. The battlefield is not just the Internet, Ukraine’s fields, or the Sahel’s distant grasslands. The main battlefields of WW3 are our minds and hearts. It is a war of values and beliefs. The struggle’s aim is not to win our minds but to confuse us. To make us doubt the values we believe are universal for every human being. Ultimately, it is a war not just about democracy or freedom of choice. But this is the war about inalienable rights that our ancestors have built western society on; ideas like liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ultimately, WW3 is about the rules-based order.
The aftermath of WW2 saw the rise of a new type of international conduct in international affairs that was based on rules. Before that, the world was ruled by different coalitions that struggled to obtain as much power as possible. That, in turn, led to many wars, which caused countless tragedies. The biggest of them was WW2.
From the ashes of WW2, the new world order was born, an order based on rules instead of force. Albeit soft and not permanently binding. The liberal-based rule order has probably been one of the most outstanding achievements of humanity. The world, born out of the ideas of Hobbes, has tremendously contributed to keeping peace around the world and lifting millions of people out of poverty. In comparison, it can be debated if the current world order was not enough to prevent wars from happening. It was the rules-based approach that stopped WW3.
However, the liberal world order is showing cracks. The system designed nearly 80 years ago does not meet today’s realities. And undemocratic, illiberal powers, like China and Russia, try to supplant it with their ideas and exploit the rules of world governance. They want to introduce an authoritarian rule of might and power.
Origin of WW3 – Part 2
The 1990s and early 2000s were unparalleled times for Western domination. Human Rights and the number of democratic countries were reasonably high. Francis Fukuyama back then wrote his famous End of History. He argued that universal human rights are the apparent base for any government on Earth. At the same time, the USSR dissolved, and China was quickly modernizing while relaxing the CCP’s regime.
But that state of relative peace did not last very long (I should state that since WW2, there has been no single day of peace, and my bias is very western-centric).
If I had to search for where the first shots of WW3 were exchanged, that would be the Russian aggression on Georgia in 2008. It was the first time when a significantly powerful country invaded its neighbour without severe repercussions from the international community. (At the same time, I should add that Russian aggression on Georgia has been inspired by the Western interventions in the Middle East in the 1990s and early 2000s, which are very despicable acts that have no excuse).
However, Russia wouldn’t be able to fight WW3 alone. The ascension to power of Xi Jinping has enormously contributed to the development of this war. Both China and Russia think the current world order stifles their potential. And to a certain extent, they are right.
China and Russia are now making their stake in world control and waging an invisible war against us. They challenge the claims that human rights are inalienable to every human being but are relative. They don’t want a world dominated by free and democratic countries but crave a world run by autocrats. The conflict in Ukraine is not just the war of a single nation but a part of the bigger war where our values and freedoms are at stake. It’s a war that we have been silently fighting for the past 14 years and were unaware of.
Tools of WW3 – part 3
WW3 is fought using many tools, from disinformation to more conventional weapons, like tanks and airplanes. Primarily, WW3 is information warfare. Ever since the end of the 20th century, we have been bombarded with more information than our brains can process. This is the root cause of the plethora of problems trapping our modern societies, ranging from depression to other disorders. In this state, we are constantly processing information that we are bombarded with everywhere. Anyone with malicious intent can use that state of constant agitation to achieve their nefarious goals.
The objective of China and Russia is not to go directly to war with the West but to confuse our societies into a state of apathy and disarray. Their goal is to wear us down mentally so long that in our tiredness, we won’t notice when the world around us is not free anymore—but ruled by autocrats and their proxies. The aim of WW3 is ultimately world control. It is about the rules that govern our world; rules that were designed by institutions that were created at the end of WW2.
It’s about the rules-based order. Something that gave predictability to the international order. However, I must admit that these rules need to be amended to fit the needs of the modern world, and they are skewed to favour certain countries more than others.
TikTok, the Internet, and algorithms
At the dawn of the digital time, in the early 1990s, when the internet was invented, it was thought that proliferation of the access to the internet would contribute to the liberalisation of societies worldwide. Then, in turn, the world will become more accessible and democratic. Sadly, these predictions didn’t come true. According to Freedom House, the number of democratic countries worldwide is shrinking, and authoritarianism is rising. The same can be said about access to the Internet. Not everyone has access to the web. About 63% of the world’s population is connected to the Worldwide Web. The prediction that access to the Internet would lead to the overthrowing of tyrants didn’t come true.
That’s because where the Internet is free and not controlled by anyone, we can find all sorts of information. However, in many countries, access to the internet is heavily regulated. The best example of such restrictions is China. You likely already are familiar with the Great Chinese Firewall, the social credit system, and how the CCP uses algorithms to control society. When the internet was invented, the CCP undertook the monumental task of building various means of control of access to different information on the Internet.
A handy tool that helps manage ungodly amounts of data is Artificial Intelligence. These days AI and algorithms can be found everywhere, from social media websites to smartphones we carry inside our pockets. Undoubtedly the rise of machine learning in the mid-2010s helped to develop Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning is a concept in the field of data science that relies on feeding large amounts of data to the AI and having it find specific patterns, trends and solutions. Patterns that humans can later interpret to make better decisions.
From the mixture of the need to control society and large amounts of data, the CCP created the social credit system. Another tool that arose from similar conditions were the West’s social media networks. We all know that social media networks have led to untold divisions in our societies. Instead of uniting people, social media started to divide us. It led to the creation of multiple bubbles and cranked up the social polarisation to the next level.
China has created the perfect tool for WW3. A device that tracks you more than Google, Facebook and Instagram. But a tool that also erodes your already limited attention span. I am talking about Douyin (抖音), which ByteDance, a company in large part controlled by CCP, introduced to the Chinese market in 2016.
You may ask yourself, what in the world is Douyin, and what does it have to do with social polarisation, or how can it be used in WW3? In the first part of this article, I wrote that WW3 was a war to control people’s minds and opinions. So, what exactly is Douyin? Douyin in our part of the world is better known as TikTok.
No direct concrete proof exists that the CCP or ByteDance use TikTok to influence people’s opinions worldwide. However, there is evidence to suggest this and all major western countries advise service members of their militaries and their families to remove TikTok from their phones. Cyber security experts concluded TikTok so far is the most intrusive app on the market, which harvests untold amounts of data on you. The same can be said about the algorithms used by ByteDance, which track many more metrics than their western competitors.
Based on our current experience social media networks like Facebook toyed with people’s emotions/opinions and contributed to the most extensive social polarisation in recent history. It is not difficult to imagine that a social network from a totalitarian country like China can lead to far more significant damage soon.
What can we do?
Am I suggesting that you delete TikTok? No, I am not, but educate yourself first about what potential cyber threats apps like TikTok pose. And most importantly, never give up the fight for our rights and freedoms, whether online or in real life.